In Memoriam:
Anthony P. Mikes

In early July, we laid to rest our Managing Director, Anthony P. Mikes, founder and head guru of Second Wind Ltd.

When you work for someone for nearly 40 years, you have stories to tell. There are funny stories, like how at his first agency, The Answer Group, Tony would invite the employees to the local watering hole, suggest a round of Old Granddad, and then turn out not to have any cash in his wallet.

Sometimes, when working late, he would raid the office fridge and dip into employees’ uneaten lunches, then pretend he couldn’t imagine who would do that. One co-worker booby-trapped a lunch bag with a “science experiment” from home to deter him.

Another co-worker was excellent at aping his walk, a distinctive, Weejuns fast shuffle; you could always hear him coming down the hall. And when he was younger, he tended to rush through the door and start a sentence with, “Um, um…,” because his mouth couldn’t keep up with how fast his brain was moving, even as he sort of danced in a circle. Low energy was never a problem for Tony.

Yes, there were times when we clashed over HR or financial issues, or had crossed wires over creative input and scheduling. But Tony learned from any missteps, and he wasn’t afraid to apologize. The business acumen and people skills acquired over a lifetime as a agency owner and then Second Wind guru became Tony’s brand equity. He figured out that his gift was to be able to share that wisdom, and the wisdom of others like himself, with the many small business owners who comprise the Second Wind membership. As he helped our members, he continued to learn; sharing insights helped clarify the tenets by which he came to run his own business. He’s passed those tenets to the next generation.

Here is how I’ll remember Tony.

Tony loved people. His greatest asset was that he was truly interested in every person he met. He cared about their success, their ambitions, and their lives outside of the workplace. He enjoyed talking with them about their agencies, or just telling them a good joke. He loved when they called to tell him a good joke. Any day when he renewed a connection was a good day.

Tony believed in relationships. Every client was a potential best friend. Some of his favorite clients became life-long cronies, long after we stopped working for them. Employees were regarded as family. He enjoyed hanging out with our best vendors after hours. He never forgot a face. He seldom burned bridges, so old relationships could be renewed when the time was right. He was always glad to hear from past acquaintances, ready to pick up where the last conversation left off, no matter how much time had passed. “Guess who I just talked to,” he’d say, leaning in the door. “Remember so-and-so? He’s rejoining.”

“You do business with people you like,” he always said. It was a personal philosophy as well as a favorite business tenet.

Tony loved our business. Advertising was not Tony’s chosen career. He slid into it by owning a restaurant. Unhappy with the menu design, he ended up buying a small printing firm, added some in-house designers to help customers who needed design work, and finally spun the design business off into a free-standing design and advertising studio. It became a full-service agency, where Tony segued between account service and creative direction, entirely in his element. He found his calling and never looked back.

More than just being happy in his work, he loved the ad business because he believed in its power to change behavior, grow businesses and help people achieve success. He loved the history of our business, especially its creative legends; I think he’d have loved to be reborn as Jay Chiat or Lee Clow, or perhaps David Ogilvy. And he was totally star-struck when he got to meet and talk with a legend first hand.

The Big Idea was everything. He loved to brainstorm, but he recognized that he had a great team, and would let them lead when he saw their ideas were better then his own. He was willing to yield when someone else had a better take on things, but he never compromised by doing just okay work. He always wanted us to be known for being the guys who made “watercooler moments.”

Tony was a great storyteller. A vivid writer, he could set the scene and colorfully describe any situation, and make it accessible. He never really embraced spellcheck, and an occasional malapropism (parody-parity) made our editors laugh and cry. He could sling clichés with the best, making it fun to illustrate his work in The Second Wind Newsletter. But his great gift was his ability to convey dry business advice via highly entertaining prose, making the ordinary memorable.

Tony couldn’t draw worth a damn. His sketches were notoriously awful—stick figures, strange oblongs and boxes, lots of arrows. His handwriting was even worse. We spent a lot of time deciphering his creative input. (“Hey, can YOU read this…?). Even his own daughters had trouble reading his scribbles.

Tony was a natural salesman. He couldn’t help himself. He loved the opportunity to make his case, whether for a Second Wind service, the latest Apple product, his most recent favorite book or piece of music, or a personal viewpoint. He could pitch with the best of them, and his enthusiasm was contagious. If he hadn’t been born Greek, he’d have made a great Irishman.

Tony was innately kind. I met a former co-worker at the funeral, who said he always remembered how kind Tony was to his employees. He made you feel he cared about what was going on with you and treated you with respect. His door was always open, and so was his heart. I’ve tried to remember if he ever lost his temper; I can’t really recall a single instance.

Tony loved to visit members… but not being away from home. He was seldom able to sleep in hotels or on airplanes. All of the traveling he did as a consultant and seminar moderator was hard on his body. But he stayed in shape, especially as he got older. He was more fit at 70 than at 50, and smarter about his health. But when away, he worried about how things were going at Second Wind. If he could have packed his entire family and the business in an extra suitcase, we would all have been invited along, luggage fees be damned.

Tony was always “all in.” He would get really passionate about his pet projects. Sometimes that didn’t pay off as anticipated. (Ask his daughters about the Pretzel City Outlet Guide. They had stacks of those things in the basement for years…)

But that enthusiasm also made him a fantastic marketing partner. He was all in for his clients, and for every member of Second Wind. His purpose in life was helping each person he worked with to be more successful. Even during his illness, all he really wanted was to be in the office making calls and taking care of his “peeps.”

I hope all of our members who knew Tony will reflect on the man we’ve lost and remember him with the fondness and sadness I feel. But I like to picture him now schmoozing with his creative idols and assembling a pitch for a big PR campaign… “God really needs to get into social media, maybe do some viral, a round of guerrilla events…”

Great ad men never die, they just find new clients.

I’m lifting a metaphorical shot glass of Old Granddad; I’ve got the tab. Here’s mud in your eye, boss.