Reflecting upon the ten years at Grip, there are many noteworthy moments and experiences that I could mention. But there was a time during our first few months that struck me as being the perfect example of the ridiculously unglamorous part of starting an agency; in some ways, a harbinger of our fledgling agency culture.
Opening our doors in January 2002, we worked in an old brick and beam office that was the former location of Dave Crichton’s former agency. The walls were quite porous (you could literally see the daylight through the mortar) and the winter wind would often be felt in the office. This probably wouldn’t have been much of a problem if the building was properly heated. Or even heated, for that matter.
So, we purchased space heaters for our offices. Lots of them. With multiple space heaters running, the office’s electrical breaker would continuously overload and trip. After multiple resets we worked out some sort of running order where we would each take a turn flipping the breaker. Everyone, regardless of title or position, took turns flipping the breaker. At the time I wondered whether there were other people across the city in various professions with a similar problem (“I’m sorry, but the neurosurgeon who is operating on your husband had to leave to flip the hospital’s breaker.”) Everyone was on breaker duty, because there was no established hierarchy. With only twelve of us, we literally didn’t have enough people to create one, even if we wanted to.
Perhaps I look back on this somewhat minor annoyance as one of the first instances when we all hunkered down and did what was necessary to keep things moving forward. There were larger problems, like staffing enormous pieces of business with bare-bones infrastructure. Or the constant barrage of so-called industry experts who saw our model as being unworkable, and would gleefully announce our imminent demise. Or any number of other setbacks that followed alongside our victories and growth.
I can’t help but think that it was the hard times and the setbacks, big and small, that shaped the culture of the agency. It’s great to grow, expand and win. But it’s the downturns, account losses, bad press, senior defection and the occasional unforeseen disaster that really test the resilience and character of the people you’re working with. Throughout the years, the people who work (and have worked) at Grip have managed to pull through each setback perhaps a bit stronger and a bit wiser; with a greater sense that these challenges are part of the natural life cycle of any size of independent agency. Our resilience has been strengthened by a cultural willingness to tackle whatever problem is being encountered because that’s just the way it’s always been done here.
I’m sure we’ll be celebrating our success in the coming months along with appreciating all the great people and great clients that we have had the privilege of working with. But maybe it’s also healthy and humbling to reflect upon the challenges. Because in the end, how they were faced speaks to the character of all the great people with whom I have had the privilege of working with since Grip first opened its doors, ten years ago.