Stevie Spring recently gave a talk at our agency.
I knew Stevie from GGT.
Stevie had done a law degree before getting into advertising.
After GGT, she went on to be Chairman of Y&R.
Then CEO of Clear Channel, the massive poster contractors.
Then CEO of Future: the publishing giant with 17,000 employees in the UK and USA.
What I always liked about working with Stevie was there was no flannel, no waffle.
She would take a problem on board, turn it over, walk around it, and eventually have an insight.
Then explain it in the clearest, simplest language.
So anyone could understand it.
Most people don’t have Stevie’s level of thinking.
Because they don’t have that level of confidence.
Which is why they depend on waffle.
To disguise the lack of thinking.
I always wondered where Stevie’s confidence came from.
While she was giving the talk I found out.
Someone asked Stevie who her heroes were.
Without pausing, she said “My dad.”
Then she went on to explain why.
When Stevie and her sister were little, their mum left home.
This left her dad to bring up two young daughters on his own.
Unusual nowadays, but the was the 1950s.
It was unheard of.
Stevie’s dad worked for the railways.
He downgraded his job so he could finish at 3pm every day.
That way he could make sure the girls had a proper home.
Stevie’s dad was working class.
But a side that isn’t portrayed by the media.
The intelligent working class.
And with a sense of humour, a lightness.
Stevie said, he didn’t treat the girls as babies.
He treated them as intelligent human beings.
Capable of understanding, and using their minds to work things out.
The most influential thing for Stevie was they would have regular formal meetings about virtually everything.
At these meetings, Stevie’s dad was Chairman, and would keep minutes.
Her sister Sandi was Secretary.
Stevie was Treasurer.
And the dog was The Committee.
Issues were raised, and discussed in a rational manner.
For instance, if anyone wanted something, say a bike, that was tabled for discussion.
The financial situation was examined.
Dad’s wages were (say) £10 per week, rent was (say) £4 per week, food £2.50, clothing £1.50.
That left £1 per week for unallocated expenditure.
If the bike cost £18, was that the best use of the money?
How many people would benefit?
What were the alternative uses of that money?
Everyone examined and discussed the various implications.
Eventually a consensus was reached that worked for everyone.
Calmly, logically, mutually.
Also on the agendas for these meetings, Stevie’s dad would add a broader issue.
Or the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Or the National Health Service.
Did they work, were they fair?
If so, why?
If not, why not?
Stevie enjoyed the discussions.
But she didn’t realise her mind was being trained.
To be able to look at any situation in life.
Not to be frightened of calmly and logically understanding it, unpacking it, and repacking it.
Also, because her dad worked for the railways, they got free train travel.
And her dad would make sure they made maximum use of all the opportunities for free entertainment and education.
So he might take Stevie and Sandi to Manchester to see a free art exhibition.
Or they might go to Birmingham to see a free film or hear a free talk.
And they’d bring their free library books to read on the way.
They’d go all over the country to see and do really interesting things.
Things they wouldn’t have seen or done otherwise.
Because Stevie’s dad treated having no money as an opportunity, not a problem.
All you had to do was use your brain.
And that was the most important thing Stevie’s dad taught her.
To use her brain.
And if you use your brain, you don’t have to be frightened of anything.
Which is where Stevie’s confidence comes from.