On February 14th, Robert Delay, my mentor and former President of the DMA, passed away at age 96. His passing made me reflect on my career and how my memories of him will be forever intertwined with me.
When Bob and I first met, I was a broken-hearted young woman adrift in the sea of life. My resume made me a candidate for ‘Who’s Who in Unemployable’. It would not impress any employer, let alone a man of Bob’s stature.
Bob’s accomplishments included helping the post office establish the ZIP code. This worldly CEO had made hundreds of radio and TV appearances, and was the face and spokesperson for the Direct Marketing Association for 26 years.
My career had spanned 26 minutes.
I remember it as if it was yesterday. I was too naive to be nervous about my interview with him. As I sat before this distinguished, talented gentleman who had met with three Presidents, I could not imagine why he wanted to talk to or hire me. I had responded to a ad in the New York times for an Executive Assistant for a Trade Association. What I did not know was it was he would be my direct report.
I knew that my typing skills were really excellent, but did not have a clue about any other task I would need to perform for him.
That fateful day, Bob saw something in me that I didn’t know myself. He believed that I would succeed at any task because of my drive, tenacity, and refusal to accept the word ‘no’. I asked ‘why’ throughout the interview and offered suggestions about how I thought the job should be handled by whomever he hired. He hired me on the spot, and I started an hour later.
I was Bob’s Executive Assistant for exactly 24 hours.
He called me in to his office after a long tedious day and told me I was not the right candidate for the job. He had misjudged me and made a mistake. I was devastated at my failure to perform and impress him with my work.
And, just as the door was about to slam loudly on the Direct Marketing industry forever, Bob looked at me and asked ‘can you write and will you travel’? I felt so humiliated, I would have gone to the ends of the Earth if he told me to at that point. As for my writing skills, I had achieved a perfect score on my English SATs.
The rest, as they say, was history.
I became the Direct Marketing Insurance Council’s Administrator, and acted as the DMA representative with the Board of the DMIC. I interacted with all the top insurance carriers and created the monthly newsletter for the insurance community (I was responsible for content even back then).
Bob Delay, this magnificent human being and savior, gave me the ability to accomplish something significant with my life. He opened the door that gave me a career that has spanned more than three decades.
Bob and I lived on the same block in New York and saw each other in passing frequently throughout the years. As my career continued to evolve, from employee to shareholder and eventually to CEO of my own firm, I never forgot the person who gave me my start. I have tried to make Bob proud of me. I have given my time, knowledge, money, and heart to my employees, clients, and partners.
Thank you Bob for taking a chance on me. You have given me more than I could have ever imagined possible. Rest in peace, my mentor and friend.