Tim Reeves | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Tim Reeves

Background:  

Allen & Gerritsen is a digitally focused marketing firm based in Philadelphia and Boston. The firm's clients include the Boston Celtics, Yuengling, Sunoco, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Dietz & Watson. 

The Mistake: 

Earlier in my career, I was a journalist. I was a reporter covering government, and covered the election for the Pennsylvania governor's race in 1994. After that election, [Gov. Tom Ridge] asked me to be his press secretary. When I joined Gov. Ridge, it was a pretty incredible time in many different ways. For me, as a kid from Pittsburgh, the notion that I was the press secretary for the governor was pretty heady stuff.

Right from the beginning, I found myself quickly becoming a close adviser to the governor. To my surprise and delight, he was asking my opinion on not only press matters, but on matters more broadly as well. It was euphoric for me on a professional level. It was almost surreal. I was able to give him counsel and he responded well to it and it even worked out a couple of times. It was going great, I was having the time of my life, and if you had asked me, I would have told you it couldn't be going any better.

Then, one morning, our chief of staff, Mark Holman, hit me on the intercom and asked me to come down to chat. I went down there thinking that he was going to ask me my view on some issue—and I would have been thrilled to give it. But instead, Mark shared with me that I was ticking off all of my colleagues.

Now, you could have knocked me over with a feather. I was floored. I think I went through all of the stages of mourning in a very short span that morning, including anger. But Mark was a superior chief of staff and he was a very wise person as well, and his work as the leader of our administration was focused on making us into a great team. Because only great teams accomplish great things.

What Mark did for me in that moment was help me understand that, yes, of course, if the governor is asking your opinion you need to give it. But for the administration to be a great team, your colleagues needs to know that you have their backs, too, and they need to genuinely believe that you believe the team will be better overall if they are involved, too. I came to understand that I could give him my opinion, but I also needed to help the governor understand that he had other members on his team who have important points of view on those issues too.

Any organization that is trying to do big things on a big scale has to operate as an effective team.

The Lesson:

I had until that point lived a very individualistic career. There's no more individually focused way to make a living than being a reporter. I was alone in our paper's state capital bureau. I came in every morning, I called my editor, I'd say, "I'm doing this," or "I'm doing that," they'd say "OK, go do it," and the next day I'd see a story there with my name on it. It was incredibly individualistic.

But any organization that is trying to do big things on a big scale has to operate as an effective team. What Mark helped me understand was that my obligation was not just to position myself well with the boss, but also to act as an advocate for the team. That's why my colleagues were getting grumpy with me. 

It's been a lesson that has stayed with me. I'm a proud capitalist and I believe deeply in the idea that great things happen to those who aspire to achieve for themselves. But I also know that, whether it's the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or an agency like Allen & Gerritsen, we are only going to be as successful as we can be as a team.

Follow Tim Reeves on Twitter at @Tim_Reeves.

Pictured: Tim Reeves. | Photo courtesy of Allen & Gerritsen.

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.