Stan Richards’ Crisis Put a Spotlight on His Polarizing Way of Running an Agency

‘It’s the weirdest place I’ve ever worked'

Stan Richards founded his eponymous agency 44 years ago in Dallas. The Richards Group
Headshot of Minda Smiley

It was only last week that The Richards Group found itself embroiled in controversy due to racial remarks made by its founder, Stan Richards. But the Dallas-based agency’s rapid, downward spiral has brought a new level of attention to its culture and the leadership style of Richards, who at nearly 90 years old, remained actively involved with the agency until “firing” himself days ago.  

While many agency founders essentially become figureheads in their later years, letting new generations of leadership shape the organization, Richards is described by former employees as someone who continued to insist on being in creative reviews, though he also had a reputation for occasionally falling asleep during them.

Most visibly, he maintained an uncompromising focus on timeliness, including mandatory daily check-ins by 8:30 a.m. and financial penalties for late time sheets that one ex-employee described as a form of “communal shaming.” Some appreciated the order and punctuality that Richards’ priorities brought to the agency. But the impact of his leadership style could also be seen in places outside official policy, such as how some former employees felt he would offer different opportunities to employees based on gender, only inviting men on fishing and skiing trips that offered valuable networking time with leadership.

Richards was in the national spotlight last week for referring, in an internal agency meeting, to a multicultural campaign concept for longtime client Motel 6 as “too Black” and implying that some of the company’s customers are white supremacists.

He subsequently said in a statement to Adweek that he was trying to suggest the campaign idea wasn’t “multiculturally inclusive enough” because it only included African Americans. On the white supremacist aspect, he later told Texas Monthly, “The point was simply that our client doesn’t need to be losing any of its current business, even if it was white supremacists who chose not to do business with them.”

Richards stepped down and left the reins to his previously named successor, but not before extensive damage had been done to its client roster. Motel 6 quickly fired the agency after learning of Richards’ statements, and other clients—including The Home Depot, H-E-B, Keurig, Dr Pepper and Salvation Army—followed suit.

As his 44-year run at the agency comes to an end, Adweek spoke at length with five former staffers of The Richards Group, each of whom painted a picture of an agency founder who kept a firm grip on the company and fostered a very particular (and peculiar to some) working environment.

That’s certainly not to say employees were consistently unhappy at The Richards Group. On Glassdoor, the anonymous site where people are asked to rate and review their experiences with employers, The Richards Group generally scores high marks, with an average rating of 3.8 out of 5 stars from 240 reviews.

The Glassdoor reviews consistently praise the “good people” working at the agency and the caliber of clients that teams get to work on. But a quick glance across the reviews also shows the polarizing aspects of the agency’s policies and Richards’ personal role in enforcing them.

“Great work-life balance, nice people, decent-to-good ads of all kinds and all clients. Accounts run like well-oiled machines,” notes one Glassdoor reviewer under the upsides of working for the agency. The downsides? “Really different culture, especially for ad creatives, including signing in by 8:30 every morning, and Stan Richards’ other rituals and personality traits that everyone has to deal with.”

The Richards Group declined to provide comment for this article or discuss any of the workplace details outlined by former employees below. A spokesperson said the agency is “not going to engage in this. Stan has stepped down.”

@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.