My Favorite Entrepreneur

Thirty years ago, I attended a political fundraiser in my native Cincinnati, Ohio. It was a poolside event. As a 20-something wannabe there on a complimentary ticket, I mingled awkwardly among the mostly older guests until I happened upon a friend who said, “Come here. I want you to meet someone.”

The late ’70s/early ’80s were by no means the golden age of fashion. I’ve defended myself over the years from fashion’s diversions by staying strictly Brooks Brothers. The fellow to whom I was now being introduced was a man dressed for the era. His suit was polyester; his shirt a patterned silk. He was wearing no tie, long before it was fashionable not to wear a tie. His hair was at his shoulders. I was, as always, pinstripes, bow tie, horn-rims, wing tips.

Our mutual friend said, “You two need to get to know each other. You are a lot alike.” We shared the same confounded glance at one another. Little did we know.

This same friend brought the three of us together in a company he had founded that was, among other things, focused on developing maintenance manuals and assembly instructions for capital equipment. My fashion-sensitive new acquaintance was already working there as a graphic artist. I came aboard as a peddler of the company’s services. As we served companies in the preparation of their technical literature, we also began shaping some of their marketing materials. We built a small industrial advertising agency inside the technical documentation company.

Well, our matchmaker employer got into the weeds during the recession of 1981 and came to us with the proposition, “You can either buy your little industrial ad agency from me, or I’ll close it next week.” Thus, Mike Hensley, I and a couple of others founded the agency that would eventually become the North American foundation of the global ideas shop known as gyro.

Not every entrepreneurial venture begins with a business plan, an angel round or an infusion of capital of any kind. I wish I could say that we had a well-developed vision. We didn’t. We had no working capital that we couldn’t borrow from the bank, and at that time the bank was charging 22 cents for every dollar it lent. We were just doing something we enjoyed, were motivated by the idea of being accountable for our own destinies and, most of all, we liked each other.

Today, 30 years later, that still-fashionable friend, Mike Hensley, received the G.D. Crain Award and was inducted into the Business-to-Business Hall of Fame. Who’d a thunk it?

I would have. Since the day I first met him, Mike sought to be the very best advertising professional he could possibly be: always learning, always growing. I wouldn’t regard him a workaholic, but I can tell you he has put more than 100 percent into every single day of his occupation. Like no one I’ve ever known, he has always, always sought to serve others in the most complete and deferential way he possibly could. This is the stuff of entrepreneurial greatness, indeed of a great life in any field.

As the “outside guy” of our team, my persona was always swaggering about, my jaws always flapping. Mike always quietly went about making sure that we delivered on the promises we made and that we were continually improving such that we could make even bigger promises. And I have never known a man in my lifetime more loyal to his firm, clients, employees or, honestly, even to me.

That little gear-and-widget ad operation in the back room of the maintenance manual shop has grown to be blended with others into the largest independent advertising agency in the world, focused on serving business-to-business clients. Six hundred employees. Eighteen offices. Ten countries. It was by no means an easy journey. The path, gracefully, enjoyed a margin of joyfulness that over time exceeded the many heartaches, setbacks and disappointments. gyro wouldn’t exist today without the extraordinary talent, sacrifices and efforts Mike has made.

Today the industry takes note by welcoming him into the pantheon of its most accomplished practitioners, ever. He enters the B-to-B Hall of Fame.

I have a personal library full of biographies of the captains of industry, titans of commerce and iconic entrepreneurs. But the one entrepreneur from whom I have learned the most, to whose example I would most quickly point and who embodies all the heroic qualities of the true adventurer of enterprise, is the one along whose side I have labored all this while.

Mike Hensley is my favorite entrepreneur. He is truly a Hall of Famer.


by Rick Segal
President Worldwide and Chief Practice Officer

Follow Rick on Twitter @MrBtoB

Originally published December 1, 2011 at Ignite Something on the Forbes CMO Network