The value of names


WHEN THE fi­nan­cial cri­sis oc­curred nearly a decade ago, it was in­ter­est­ing to note how anony­mous the sec­tor had be­come. With the found­ing fa­thers long-gone, there was less per­sonal eq­uity at stake for the de­ci­sion mak­ers on Wall Street. There was no Lehman run­ning the epony­mous in­vest­ment bank when it col­lapsed in 2008. Would the bank’s founder, Emanuel, or any of his de­scen­dants, have made the same de­ci­sions that ul­ti­mately led to the dis­ap­pear­ance of one of Amer­ica’s most fa­mous in­sti­tu­tions with their own name on the line? A good name takes decades to cul­ti­vate, yet only mo­ments to de­stroy.

Names tell a story. They speak of his­tory and her­itage. Of cul­ture and per­son­al­ity. They can de­fine who you are and where you come from.

When Don­ald Trump wanted to pur­sue a war-of-words with Jon Ste­wart, he re­minded his Twit­ter fol­low­ers of the co­me­dian’s ori­gins. “I prom­ise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Lei­bowitz — I mean Jon Ste­wart,” he quipped. The dou­ble-whammy. Not only “re­veal­ing” Ste­wart as a Jew but also in­ti­mat­ing that the talk-show host wanted his back­ground con­cealed. A fine bit of an­ti­semitic dog-whistling.

It was there­fore re­fresh­ing that one of the world’s lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, Grey Lon­don, an­nounced last week that it was tem­po­rar­ily chang­ing its name. For 100 days, Grey will be­come Valen­stein & Fatt. The Jewish ori­gins that were once hid­den be­hind the colour of their of­fice wall­pa­per will now be promi­nently placed above the door of their Hat­ton Gar­den home. A very pub­lic state­ment, says the com­pany, against in­tol­er­ance and prej­u­dice.

That Lawrence Valen­stein and Arthur C. Fatt launched an agency un­der the name “Grey” is a re­flec­tion of the per­sonal anonymity the pair hoped for in 1917. The white, male, Protes­tant dom­i­nated in­dus­try that would go on to in­spire Mad Men was still in its in­fancy. Yet it was clear that ad land was not a nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment for Jews. An­ti­semitism was rife. Their names could have cost them busi­ness.

The name change, although tem­po­rary, is sig­nif­i­cant. It has been timed to launch the firm’s five-point di­ver­sity plan, cen­tral to which is the no­tion that cre­ativ­ity em­anates from peo­ple be­ing them­selves and not try­ing to be like some­one else. This at­ti­tude could change the way busi­nesses view di­ver­sity al­to­gether, show­cas­ing peo­ple rather than data as a re­al­i­sa­tion of pol­icy. For di­ver­sity to be achieved it needs to be seen. Pie charts and bar graphs aren’t role mod­els. You won’t be­lieve you can be an Arthur C. Fatt if you’ve never seen an Arthur C. Fatt.

Valen­stein & Fatt is a proud state­ment that, were it not for a Jewish Found­ing fa­thers: Lawrence Valen­stein (top) and Arthur C Fatt duo, and many more like them, hun­dreds of busi­nesses would not have been es­tab­lished. Mil­lions of job would not ex­ist. It should also send out a mes­sage to those from mi­nor­ity back­grounds. Be who you are. Put your name on the door and build a brand around it. Di­ver­sity will not truly flour­ish un­til it is the norm.

Barry Frank­furt is Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Cre­ative & Com­mer­cial, which re­ally should have been called ‘Kno­bil’s’.

Back to ba­sics: new brand­ing at Grey Lon­don, for 100 days.

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