All of us in The Best of Friends (TBOF) were changed in profound ways by our experience in building and managing discotheques. We were fully immersed in a social environment that taught us a lot about how to relate to many different types of people, and the importance of treating everyone with respect. The level of diversity in our clubs was unusually high. With patrons ranging from CEOs to mail room workers, from Bootsy Collins to Madonna, and from big time mobsters to FBI agents, it’s difficult to imagine such a diverse gathering at any other purely social function. Every member of TBOF was informed by this experience in a way that enabled each of us to perform at a higher level in our subsequent endeavors.
After resigning from TBOF, I joined Ogilvy & Mather Advertising where I helped develop an exciting new campaign for Schaefer beer. The folks at Miller Brewing took notice and hired me to run their Miller Lite business. At Miller, I recognized the need to build an emotional connection with African American consumers, which led to the creation of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. I originally conceived it as a Miller Lite program but recognizing the magnitude of the opportunity, established it as an independent, non-profit organization. As of this writing, the Fund has raised $300 million and helped 260,000 students by providing scholarships and leadership training.
After eight years at Miller Brewing, I joined Moet Hennessy USA (nee Schieffelin & Somerset) where some of the brands, like Hennessy cognac and Moet & Chandon champagne, were missing an opportunity with African American and Hispanic consumers. Brand managers were so busy, they couldn’t spend much time in black and Hispanic neighborhoods to learn about these consumers. Also, some were uncomfortable going into these ethnic neighborhoods at night, which was unfortunate because that’s when consumption takes place.
I addressed this problem by instituting an annual two-day multicultural conference where brand managers presented their plans to street-level distributor sales reps. Every day, sales reps see and hear consumer and store manager reactions to our brand programs as well as those of competitors so what they know, they know better than anyone else. After each brand presentation, the sales reps would render their opinions. Based on their comments, brand plans were changed, timing adjusted, etc. to create stronger, more relevant programs. The result was elevated sales. I started the multicultural conference at Moet Hennessy USA in 1998. As of 2020, it was still an important part of the brand planning process.