David and Tom Gardner Sit Down With the Idea Man of the Century

Legendary adman Roy Spence, who has worked with Sam Walton of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) and Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV  ) , has been called "Idea Man of the Century" for his invaluable insights about business and leadership. Business guru Jim Collins notes that Spence has "inspired and changed leaders in every sector."

Spence is chairman and CEO of GSD&M Idea City, a marketing communications and advertising company based in Austin, Texas. He's also the founder of The Purpose Institute and author of It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For. Spence recently caught up with Motley Fool co-founders David and Tom Gardner at the Conscious Capitalism Summit. The wide-ranging interview is available here in its entirety. A full transcript follows the video.

TOM GARDNER:
We're here in Austin, Texas at the Conscious Capitalism Conference. David and I getting a chance to sit down with one of our business heroes, Roy Spence, who's one of the co-founders of GSD&M. Author of, It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For and so many other ways Roy's influenced businesses from a marketing perspective and from a conscious capitalism perspective. Roy, thanks for spending time with us.

ROY SPENCE:
Well, it's always a joy to be with my brothers.

TOM GARDNER:
Does that mean you've adopted us into your family Roy, because we're ready to join...

 ROY SPENCE:
No, you've adopted me and I need money. So, I love you all. I'll change my name and everything. Roy Gardner. It's great. It just kind of rolls off the tongue. Roy Mythos.

TOM GARDNER:
Just give us a little GSD&M — just for somebody out there who's never heard of it before. We have investors and business owners. Just a little background on the firm.

ROY SPENCE:
Real quick — I know I look fabulous — but I started the business 42 years ago at the University of Texas. We had a little company called Media 70. I met three partners. We did multimedia shows. People paid us fifty cents to come watch these little shows.

And we graduated I think — pretty sure — and one of my partners looked at me and said, "So what are we going to do now?" And the other one said, "Well, let's start an advertising agency." I said, "Awesome. What is that? What is one?" I was an English and government major. I was going to be president. Go, "My name's Roy Spence. I'm a ..."

TOM GARDNER:
Might still...

ROY SPENCE:
As you know, I went down to the bank. I had a brand new tie-and-dyed t-shirt. My ponytail was looking fabulous and I needed to borrow $5,000. I walked into a guy named John Oliver, City National Bank and his office. He said, "Excuse me. Do you have an appointment?" I went, "No, but you're not like busy." I didn't know.

He said, "What do you need?" I said, "Well, I need to borrow $5,000 to start GSD&M, the advertising agency." He said, "What's your business plan?"

"Well, um, we want us like to stay together and we want to like stay in Austin and we'd like to make money making some kind of difference." Forty-two years later, the four partners are still together...

TOM GARDNER:
That's the G, the S, the D and the M...

ROY SPENCE:
...and we're still in Austin and we're still trying to make a difference. And the long story to it — he actually loaned us the $5,000 and we paid it back a couple of weeks ago.

TOM GARDNER:
That's patience. That's love.

ROY SPENCE:
Here's the story of purpose on that. I went to a reception about 10 years ago. A man walks up to me here in Austin and said, "Do you see that elderly gentleman over there with a cane? Do you know who he is?" I went, "Yeah. His name is Robert Sneed. He was a lawyer in town and a mentor of all of us in college."

He said, "Do you remember that $5,000 that you borrowed 25 years ago?" I went, "Like it was yesterday." He said, "Do you know that he co-signed that note and never told you? Because he wanted you to believe that you got it on your own." Lesson learned — somebody helps you, you help somebody else. Herb Kelleher walked in my life. He had like 28 airplanes at Southwest Airlines. I was like 28 years old.

TOM GARDNER:
What year would we be there?

ROY SPENCE:
Probably 1979, 1980. Eighty-something like that. And I don't even know if I'd flown before. But we'd run a political campaign and we'd beat his candidate, so he wanted to hire the enemy. For thirty-some-odd years, we've done Southwest Airlines. Then Sam Walton called collect...

TOM GARDNER:
I love that...

ROY SPENCE:
No kidding...

TOM GARDNER:
That's Made in America right there...

ROY SPENCE:
...and he said, "Oh, Roy, I love what you're doing for Herb. This is Sam Walton. We're a little ol' company in Bentonville, Arkansas." He called me Ol' Roy because that's the name of his dog food. And he said — no really — "Can you come to Bentonville? I'm shaking."

And so I went to Bentonville. That's back when you used to carry those big briefcases with nothing in them to look important. I was sitting there — no kidding...

TOM GARDNER:
Are you in a suit?

ROY SPENCE:
Yeah, I rented it. I had a clip-on. I was looking awesome.

TOM GARDNER:
You had a brand new suit, clip-on...

ROY SPENCE:
I did my hair cut. I cut my hair a little bit. There was Sam and David Glass and all these executives. Robert McNett. Finally Sam looks at me and he says, "We're sure glad you're here. Where's the rest of your staff?"

And I had the briefcase in front of my knees because it was just like this. This is Sam Walton. I was frozen. Finally I just said, "Well, you know, there's an ol' saying in Texas — one riot, one ranger. What kind of problem you got?" No. It was going out and I was trying to catch it.

He falls on the floor, gets up and he said, "You are hired." And for 17 years went from a $13 billion to a $300 billion. So, we got to ride with him. Then Norm Brinker had about 30 Chili's stores. Hired us. Charles Schwab. Worked for the Clintons on a lot of foundation work and campaigns. So, we got real lucky.

TOM GARDNER:
You say luck, but why did Southwest stick with you after the second year, the fourth year, all the way through thirty years. What were the early year reasons for them to say, "We're reupping?"

ROY SPENCE:
Well, I'm fabulous...

TOM GARDNER:
You look good...

ROY SPENCE:
This is what we think about and we have to teach and reteach ourselves and our people every day. I never was in the advertising business. We were in the business to build our clients' businesses. And because we weren't on Madison Avenue, we didn't know that you were supposed to be in the ad business. It didn't matter whether it was helping with strikes or employee relationships or doing great ads or inventing the Rapid Rewards stuff. We were built to build sales, and advertising was simply one of the tools.

I think that we also were working with the CEOs, which was fabulous, and I hope this trend is coming back. When we first started doing our business, the CEOs were deeply involved with the marketing. It wasn't just something we gave over to somebody else.

DAVID GARDNER:
Presidents used to write their own speeches back in the day...

ROY SPENCE:
That's right. And so, I'm seeing more of that happening now. I think it was our commitment to do whatever it took and it's also our commitment to 'fess up when we messed up. And advertising people have a hard time doing that. Well, it's perfect. Well, it didn't work. Well, it's the salespeople's fault. So, combination of working with good people. Believing we are in the business to build our clients' businesses — not do advertising. And 'fessing up...

TOM GARDNER:
Right on.

ROY SPENCE:
...and then trying to make amends and doubling down to help them. And great people, by the way.

DAVID GARDNER:
Roy, let me ask you about purpose. You have your Purpose Institute. You've written at least one outstanding book and I want to say it again — It's Not What You Sell, It's What You Stand For. It's a book I read and I recommend it to many people. When did you get the purpose bug? Gene? How'd you switch on? Was there a magic moment there?

ROY SPENCE:
There really was and we didn't know it. There were two of them. One was mid-eighties. A guy named Mark White was governor of Texas and a man named Bob Lanier, who ended up being the mayor of Houston, was the head of the Highway Commission. And all the highway department people were presenting budgets.

And the people who were doing the litter presented every year — every year litter goes up in Texas by 17% and so we need an increase in the budget of 17%. And Bob Lanier — love him, smart — pulls his head through his glasses and he said, "Has anybody ever thought about reducing litter so we could reduce what we spend picking it up?" And the room was deadly silent. He said, "Let's try that."

Long story short, they put an RFP out on trying to prevent litter and we were part of it. And back then there were these two great campaigns — "Give a Hoot-Don't Pollute" with the little owl and then the crying Indian, because we were messing up the land — and the agency we were pitching against had some background in that, and so we were terrified. We had no idea.

Long story short, my partner Tim McClure the day before the pitch wrote a line called, "Don't Mess with Texas." And I said, "What does that mean?" He said, "Trust me." We go and pitch this thing and at the end ... I'd now really studied up and we knew what the competition was and the guy said, "We don't get it." And I said, "Good. It's not for you. Here's the deal. The crying Indian and Give a Hoot-Don't Pollute appeals to the Sierra

Club. They don't litter. Billy Bob Bowtree from Tyler, Texas litters."

We launched Don't Mess with Texas. A lot of controversy — people don't remember. Stevie Ray Vaughan was our first guy, then the Hell's Angels and then Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Lyle Lovett. Don't Mess with Texas. And in five years, litter was reduced by 76%. We know that because there was a guy in California whose job it was to count litter. And so we looked at that and we said, "How in the world? No regulations. No penalties. No new laws." And we realized we laddered up from litter to pride. And we said, "There's something here. We're not in the litter business. We're in the pride business."

We go to Herb Kelleher and we have a whole campaign. "You're not in the airline business. You're in the freedom business. You set out to democratize the skies." And that all started helping our company to realize that there's a higher calling to every business. You think you're in the stockbroker business, but you're really doing something else.

Finally what nailed it — we were 25 years anniversary and I'm flying on Southwest Airlines. Herb Kelleher says, "I'm the only CEO in American whose attention span is so short that I get USA Today summarized in the morning. I can deal with that. I'm working though that."

We were having problems at my company. The partnership was rocky. We were doing great revenues, great top line, great bottom line — but the culture was rocking. Four of us. And there was this big article on a book called Built to Last. I get off the phone. I can't pronounce Jerry Porras's name, so I called Jim Collins.

And he said, "You're the first person to call me." I said, "Well, I don't know you, but I don't know if our company is built to last." And you remember the centerpiece — besides Level 5 Leadership — was visionary companies always have a purpose beyond making money.

Collins comes into our life. He helps us design and articulate our values and purpose. We got on the purpose journey early in life and when we wrote the book, I had no idea — I had no idea — how powerful this idea was going to be because the whole world knows what you sell. Now they want to know what you stand for and the wave is huge.

TOM GARDNER:
Particularly with the Internet and the ability for everyone — not just your customers — but anyone who's ever affected in any way by your business to get out there and start talking about you.

ROY SPENCE:
Totally. There was an article written not too long ago in Forbes or Fortune that said they're predicting that one-fifth of all the S&P companies now in five years will be converted to purpose-inspired, purpose-driven companies. Because if you have a choice in doing business with a bank X ... and you don't what they stand for is exactly what you believe — and Bank Y who's totally transparent about "we're in the business to improve lives" or whatever it is — you're going to want to go and do business with people who you love what they stand for.

The old model was in business, "I'm going to make a ton of money and then I'm going to contribute to some cause." The conscious capital movement, which I didn't even know what the words were — and we were — is going to improve the lives of our associates and employees. We're going to improve the lives of our customers. We're going to improve the lives of our stakeholders. Our vendor partners. We were the only advertising agency that had parties for our vendors. And we're going to improve the lives of our community and our country. We didn't know that.

So, the real model, the conscious capital model is that regardless of whether you do charity or not, the biggest thing you can do is everyone you touch, you improve their life. And in the process of improving their lives, if you know anything about business, your bottom line will be improved, too.

DAVID GARDNER:
We talked a little about it at The Motley Fool. You said, "Hey, you guys. You should say that you're in the life improvement business..."

ROY SPENCE:
And you are...

DAVID GARDNER:
...I think that we are, but that's not a tag line. We haven't been able to afford GSD&M...

TOM GARDNER:
Are you blaming me?

DAVID GARDNER:
Not at all...

TOM GARDNER:
It seems like you are...

ROY SPENCE:
Are y'all getting along OK?

TOM GARDNER:
There's a lot of love here, Roy, now that you're here.

ROY SPENCE:
On that real quick — it doesn't have to be a tag line. When we do our purpose work — and The Purpose Institute — now I'm spending full time on it because first of all it's rewarding. We get to go around the country and the world taking companies that have lost their way and I know something about that. And normally the companies that have lost their way — they don't have that anchor and North Star called "purpose."

Purpose is that definitive you're trying to make in the world. Aristotle said it the best: "Where your talents and the needs of the world intersect..." By the way, I think your course to steer is your purpose. It's the only thing that will trump chaos. A course to steer will wear out the chaos. And if you don't have that, then you're reacting to everything that's going around. It's really been a fascinating journey — and rewarding, actually.

DAVID GARDNER:
One reflection on some of the companies you've worked with, Roy, and how you work with them. In marketing terms — at least in my undergraduate one marketing course mind — you reframe things really well. You 're like, You thought you were about this, but you're actually about this. It's a very powerful thing to do — not just in marketing but in lots of areas of life.

Often I noticed you find the brands and you really help the ones that democratize things. Is that fair...

ROY SPENCE:
I love that. Yes...

DAVID GARDNER:
You're like Wal-Mart — it makes things affordable for everyone. Southwest...

 

TOM GARDNER:
Freedom to fly...

DAVID GARDNER:
Freedom to fly.

ROY SPENCE:
Yes. We love those because it's actually more fun to be in a movement than in an ad campaign...

DAVID GARDNER:
It's much bigger...

ROY SPENCE:
It's bigger...

DAVID GARDNER:
More disruptive...

ROY SPENCE:
It's more disruptive and it's more fulfilling when you're democratizing things. I used to be a little bit narrow-minded about that — that's really all I want to do. And then I started realizing that every company, every founder had some reason to start a company. T.S. Eliot said it the best: "We'll never cease to explore but when it's over, we'll go back to where we started and know the place again for the first time."

Whether it's Blue Cross or GE Aviation, it's thrilling to take the associates and the senior management and reunderstand why this company was built and then put it in terms that inspires people inside that company. And what happens — and y'all know it — when you have purpose driving your business, you never have a job. You just have work to do. If your business is to improve lives, you've got work to do.

TOM GARDNER:
You said of us at one point I remember (and I love this) my feeling about The Motley Fool is the people who are not connecting with you — you're cheating them by not getting in the game of the transparent environment where they're going to ask questions and make decisions that have context rather than being sold something in isolation. You're cheating them if you don't get out and give them access to what you're doing.

ROY SPENCE:
And I really believe it. And now, because of the Internet and so many other things, you can reach people you normally couldn't reach before. But when you've got a purpose-inspired culture... And by the way, I'm just going to say it. I've got a new book coming out called, The 10 Essential Hugs of Life.

TOM GARDNER:
Guys, we're ending this conversation with a hug. There's going to be a group hug at the end of it, but it's going to be one of the essentials.

ROY SPENCE:
And by the way, the people who endorsed the book are Kip at The Container Store, Walter Robb at Whole Foods, Maxine Clark at Build-A-Bear, Colleen Barrett at Southwest Airlines and our buddy Doug at Trader Joe's.

The future of business is the people who build love cultures are going to win. I love what I do. I love the people I do it with. I love the fact we're improving lives. I love the fact that the company is built on tough love and not fear. And you're not going to be afraid to say that. We're building a love culture.

TOM GARDNER:
Southwest Airlines' ticker symbol...

ROY SPENCE:
LUV. And the Millennials are coming into the market. I remember when the Boomers came in — y'all are in-betweeners, which sucks. Just like armadillos, you get run over in the middle of the road. Here's what the Boomers were saying. We don't know what to do with you — was the generation before me. We don't know what to do with you. You've got all this hair and we don't know what to do with you. And GSD&M rode that wave. We'll tell you what to do with us.

The Millennial generation I'm getting really involved with because there's a guy named Jason Dorsey right here in Austin, Texas who is the best in the world at articulating what the generation is about. He calls them "my people." While the generation before us didn't know what to do with us, we don't know what to make of them. And he says, "You can always tell you're not one of them when you still write cursive." No, it's hysterical.

So, part of this whole purpose thing — one of the things that's driving the Millennial group is that they simply don't want to do business with nor do they want to work with companies that don't know what their purpose is ... that's going to run a company on fear and intimidation. They're not buying it. I think love cultures are going to be the ones that win. Maybe they always have been, but I think importantly now more than ever.

TOM GARDNER:
We're going to run a little exercise here. We'll see if this works. We're going to create a fictitious company run by some Millennials. They've started a business and it's succeeding. It's four bakeries in the Midwest and they're focused on absolute health for everyone who comes in. I'd say maybe the two drivers for them are community and the healthiest bakery that you've ever eaten at.

They've got four locations. They've got $10 million in sales. Thirty-two employees. And they want to grow their business in a life-improving way with Roy's guidance. One of the best talks I've ever seen — no political statement here on either side of the aisle — was by James Carville. He talked about how he built a campaign from the ground up and the steps you had to take to really become what you needed to become to win that election.

What are a few of the steps that this random bakery — let's call it Franklin's Bakery ... they're really focused on bringing people together for the healthiest alternative in bakeries.

ROY SPENCE:
It's in the Midwest?

TOM GARDNER:

It's in the Midwest.

ROY SPENCE:
So, the name of the company is Midwheat Bakery and we also have gluten-free, too. Step number one is why are you doing this? For what purpose? Why are you building it?

DAVID GARDNER:
If I'm going to play the Millennial (and I don't quite understand my kids either) I would say it seems like fun. Something to do.

TOM GARDNER:
And I'm going to add in also, again, restating we want to be the healthiest alternative out there. We want you to come in. We know that there are a lot of things about baked goods that aren't a healthy solution out there and we want to provide the healthiest version — the tastiest, healthiest version. Have fun. But we love each other.

ROY SPENCE:
Now that I know it seems like it's just for fun — and y'all love each other — first of all, I would start by thinking about what is that definitive statement that you want to make — for what purpose. And it seems like you want to have fun helping people live well. Our purpose is to have fun helping people live well. That's the purpose.

Let's deal with the culture. You've got to have a fun culture, but in the end, that culture has to produce living well, because we're going to hold you accountable for that. Secondly, the theme line of the whole campaign — I've already got it. And it's "The Midwheat Bakery — Where Goodness Rules."

DAVID GARDNER:
Alrighty.

ROY SPENCE:
Where Goodness Rules. And so where goodness rules — first of all, we're going to have good people. And by the way — I like people who like me.

TOM GARDNER:
We all do.

ROY SPENCE:
My point is they don't have to be like me — but you don't have to live your life around bad people. If they don't like me, I don't like them.

DAVID GARDNER:
But you don't have to work with them.

ROY SPENCE:
It just seems like the right thing to do unless they're clients — and then you do.

DAVID GARDNER:
I was wondering about the clients...

ROY SPENCE:
First of all, if your brand positioning and theme line is The Midwheat Bakery — Where Goodness Rules — you start with a good purpose ... have fun so people can live well. You then start with good people, and you would design your own "good people" ingredients. This is good! What are the ingredients of a good person?

DAVID GARDNER:
Let's go with generosity.

TOM GARDNER:
Optimism.

DAVID GARDNER:
I mean, there's any number. How about derring-do? A little bit of spitfire there. How about...

TOM GARDNER:
Service-minded. They love being around other people and helping. They'll do anything at any hour.

ROY SPENCE:
I think a number one thing with Millennials is "we're all in this together." We're not going to hire selfish people and we're going to design a whole mix. It's about what decides a good person — service minded, trustworthy, work ethic or their terminology. Honorable people, likable people and we're all in this together.

The first thing you do, because you're small, is that first employee that you hire (that first associate, that first partner) you might want to think about the criteria that's where goodness rules — if they're worthy of a small piece of the ownership. Maybe every person you hire, they get a little piece of the action. That will make you think about whether they are really a good person.

Secondly, you've got to have good ingredients based on your criteria. If you want to be organic, you have to define Where Goodness Rules — We Have Good Stuff. And let your associates and you decide what is that good stuff.

And then we're going to have (in the morning since you're a bakery) a good morning cheer for your company. It's, Good Morning — it's not good morningit's Good Morning and so somehow it becomes part of the culture. This company is going to have more good mornings than any company in the world. Every customer walks in. What does it look like? What is our uniform? It's a sun coming up. You're putting sunlight in. It's a good morning.

And in the end, we're going to do good for the community. From the get-go, we're going to decide, even if it's going to be painful, that there's going to be a percent of everything we bring in (and it could expand) to share and spread the goodness from this place.

So, Where Goodness Rules — and then you have the goodness rules. And right then and there you're starting not from scratch but from strength, even though you're a start-up...

TOM GARDNER:
We never start from scratch...

ROY SPENCE:
No. By the way, we make our foods from scratch, but we don't start from scratch. The Midwheat Bakery — Where Goodness Rules.

DAVID GARDNER:
Love it. Would you like a share?

ROY SPENCE:
Yeah! I'm in! Let's call the Panera guy and say, "Buckle up! We're the Midwheat — Where Goodness Rules." Basically if you can get start-ups — this is where I'm trying to create this movement called Dream It, Build It.

Just a final point on all this is that this country was built differently. Leif Ericson was an explorer in 970. He was a Viking and he discovered America. He was an explorer. Christopher Columbus was not an explorer. He was an entrepreneur. He conned the Queen of Spain. "Hey, I've got an idea. Let me sell East and end up West." He was looking for commerce and trade.

When he hit this called America, he put something in the ground that is our DNA and that DNA says, no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what your last name is, or should be, what your zip code ... if you can dream something and you're willing to pay the price, you can build something.

It's probably the only sustainable entitlement in America. Three hundred years from now, I don't know if there will be pensions. I don't know if there will be social security. But if we lose this entrepreneurial birthright — and no one talks about it in Washington...

DAVID GARDNER:
I want to just build on that and ask you...

DAVID GARDNER:
We don't spend a lot of time at The Motley Fool thinking that much about the political world, and probably we've saved ourselves a whole bunch of time...

TOM GARDNER:
And money...

DAVID GARDNER:
I know you definitely participate in the world. You've added a lot of value to the lives of some people. My question isn't about that. It's about our country. You're headed there anyway, but I wanted to hear the Roy Spence definitive if you have something.

What is the purpose of America in your mind and does America have core values? Have they been articulated? Finally, if you have good answers, why aren't those out there? Because I feel like a big part of the division is that there hasn't been an agreed-upon set of core values.

ROY SPENCE:
Well, it's such a piercing question and I won't take long. America — basically I believe in generational seasons. I believe that every nation, every person has a spring and summer and fall and winter. And every nation has that, too.

A great book called The Fourth Turning was written in 1998 by Strauss and Howe. They predicted in 1998 that our winter in America would hit in 2007. Our winter. The last winter before this — I call it winter — that means a downturn, something terrible. The last winter in America was World War II. That was my grandparents' winter. The one before that was the Civil War. The one before that was the American Revolution. And you go throughout the world. Every generation has a spring and summer...

Every other winter (World War II, Civil War, America's beginning) the American people knew what we were fighting for. Every one of them. Freedom, the salvation of our nation and the birth of our nation. The failure of leadership right now is that no one has articulated what we're fighting for, and so we fight against one another in a democracy.

I believe the purpose of America is to allow people to dream big, work hard and create whatever they want. And the end game I believe it is about — when Disney said, "After all, I started with a big dream and little mouse."

I think that we're way too caught up in no pass, no play and no child left behind. Look at the words "standardized testing." Stay with me here. Well, they're doing it in Japan and China — but I've got an idea. Why don't we try to be like them and be a worse them. America is about diversity when we're at our best. I want no strength left behind. No talent left behind. No dream left behind. And we're doing some stuff in the Austin school district that's going to blow your mind.

A quick story. I was in the eighth grade. My mom was a teacher in Brownwood High School. My little town. Go Lions! I turned in a paper on Emerson in the eighth grade and I had nine or ten misspelled words (that's when we did cursive). It was all red and got a C.

Cs were not celebrated at the Spence home. I got home and tried to hide it. My mom didn't say a word. I went, Yes! Ninth grade comes around. I have a new teacher and we're studying Emerson again. And I went to my mother and I said, "I can't turn the paper in because I'm going to make a C." And she said, "Just do the best you can."

I had two more misspelled words. The whole paper was red. And at the top there was a tiny A-. I went home and put these papers in front of my mom and said, "I don't get it." She said, "You can't spell, but you can write." And she said, "I'm going to strike a grand bargain with you at fourteen years of age. I don't want you to spend another second of your time trying to be average at what you're bad at. If character is involved, we're going to work on that, but I want you to spend your entire life trying to be great at what you're good at." Then a pause — you can hire a speller.

I was writing a speech for the Clinton Global Initiative this morning. I put "initiative" into spell check and it had "no suggestion." That's how bad I am. Here's my point though.

TOM GARDNER:
I think, then, you had "initiative" right...

ROY SPENCE:
America needs to play to our strength again. When we're at our best, we inspire people to dream and build. Think about this language. "We going to fall off the fiscal cliff." I want to talk about climbing the big mountains. America is not about falling off the cliff. "We're forcing a shutdown." I want to create start-ups. The leadership of our country needs to understand America is always on the move. We're not whiners. We're not complainers. We don't fight each other in public. We join together and build momentum.

I think the purpose of America is give everybody the opportunity to dream and build if they're willing to play by the rules and work hard. And we can regain that momentum of entrepreneurial energy whether you're a teacher, or you want to be a florist, or you want to be a yoga instructor.

Parents — quit asking your kids what they want to do. You don't even know what you want to do. Get over it. Ask your kids, "What do you love to do?" They'll tell you. And then start saying, "Oh. Juan loves cars. He's in the ninth grade. I'm going to have a conversation with Juan every night about buying cars or building a car maintenance company."

Ask them what they love to do. And they'll tell you. Sooner or later, all three of my kids have taken me up on it. They're out there building stuff. And by the way as parents — that's what we're supposed to do — help our kids build stuff. Dream it, build it.

TOM GARDNER:
I know exactly how I want to end the conversation. It's going to require that we're allowed to edit in this little spot, but we'll see how we can make it work. Roy, I want you to tell the story of the PSA in 2001. 9/11. What happened to the work you did and then hopefully we'll be able to play that spot out of the interview.

ROY SPENCE:
Everybody knows where they were in my generation knows when John Kennedy was shot and Bobby Kennedy was shot. Then of course, everyone knows, regardless of generations, where you were when 9/11 happened.

We happened to be in Annapolis and I had the core team from agencies in Austin. And we had the Air Force — it's an account client and Southwest Airlines. We were all trying to get home. We get in the car. Everybody in America was basically trying to figure out what can I do to help. What can we do. We were all just trying to drive home.

I kept thinking, "I'm really worried here. Not about another attack. I'm worried that in America, because we are so diverse, that as the process is striking our enemies, I didn't want to strike one of our own." Because they look different, they sounded different.

My daughter was at Duke and so I went to rush to her to hug her and we all talked. And that night we all decided — my creative teams Jeremy, David and a bunch of people — we're going to call every director we know in America and we're going to ask them to go out into the heartland and to the cities and ask people of all race and gender and ethnicity and religion to say one thing, "I'm an American." Of course, all of the directors, "Yes, we're all in." We started filming the next day at Duke with students. "I'm an American. I'm an American."

We rushed home. We started editing and in ten or twelve days, we had this commercial called, "I'm an American." And by the way — a little story about this. I woke up in the middle of the night right before we finished the edit, and I kept thinking, "E pluribus unum. E pluribus unum." I took four years of Latin because I thought I was going to be a lawyer. Can you imagine? That's all I know. But there was something I kept — E pluribus unum.

I get on the Internet and sure enough — I literally still have chill bumps. The first motto of the United States of America was E pluribus unum. And it says, "Out of many, one." And we ended the spot with E pluribus unum. It ran more than maybe any PSA ever in history. Then in ten years, we did a celebration and ran it again. It's the proudest moment of my life because in the end, we were all in this together.

Here's my theory and then we'll stop. When we're at our best, our leaders build a ship of state. They find the American dream flag. When we're at our worst, we build partisan-ships flying special interest flags. This country needs to have leaders who want to be in the shipbuilding business again — not partisanships — but the ship of state.

The American people want to get onboard. We just need to know what we're fighting for, what we're defending. And I think it is the American dream — is what we're fighting for. No matter who you are or where you come from, you can dream big and we're not going to let you fail just because you can't spell or you can't do math.

God gave everyone the ability to have talent and our job is to develop their full potential — not to run them out because they can't pass a test. The big test in America is are you willing to work hard, dream big and play by the rules? That's the new test. And it was the old test, too. That's what I think we ought to be doing.

TOM GARDNER:
Love it.

DAVID GARDNER:
From your lips to God's ears.

[End] 

No Pitch


Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (30)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On October 29, 2013, at 6:12 PM, ddepperman wrote:

    The great entrepreneur, Columbus started to enslave the Taino on Santo Domingo(not yet named I believe.)

    And then contributed to their annihilation.

    The conquistadors, great entrepreneurs as they were,

    raped Mexico and Peru looking for gold, not ideas. They had the idea--gold.

    They built San Luis Potosi one of the largest silver mines anywhere, and thousands of indians suffered and died there.

    Your enthusiasm sounds good, however.

    And you ain't ever going to bring islamists around to your thinking!

    Cheers,

  • Report this Comment On October 30, 2013, at 2:54 AM, VikingBear wrote:

    The conquistadores had horses, swords, pikes, rudimentary firearms and artillery. They had writing and relatively advanced military organization. AND they had the idea that GOD wanted them to obey the King and Queen of Spain or Portugal, because their priests and the Pope said so.

    The indians had agriculture up to complex irrigation works, some metallurgy, stone and wooden tools. Their GODS demanded sacrifice of female virgins--an effective method of population control for an agricultural society--and they communicated with knots on strings.

    Oh, and the Conquistadores brought venerial diseases and rats.

    A short ways above in this column of articles there is a story about Singapore trying to get some sophisticated radars and munitions, Singapore has the resources and technology avaliable to duplicate these weapons once they have the samples and manuals in hand. It could conceivably be possible for copies of the manuals to be in the air to China within hours, or by fax.

    At least we do not sacrifice virgins...

  • Report this Comment On October 31, 2013, at 10:11 PM, jvgfool wrote:

    Great interview and a great ending. Didn't see that one coming;-)

  • Report this Comment On November 01, 2013, at 2:55 PM, SeekTheFire wrote:

    Wow. Great interview. Thought provoking. The best, most relevant interview I have ever seen from the Fool. Roy Spence has vision and brings it with powerful clarity.

  • Report this Comment On November 01, 2013, at 5:29 PM, torfool wrote:

    That is the best, most inspiring "interview" I've seen at Motley Fool. If Roy Spence ran for president, I'd vote for him.

  • Report this Comment On November 02, 2013, at 12:07 PM, ipapajoker wrote:

    Guess you cant have goodness with a "C"

    And it looks like the primary attribute for a company is a touch of, ney, a barrel full of the blarney

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