Don Maurer Is Remembered

Don Maurer, say those who knew him best, was defined by his two loves: for advertising—which he pursued with the same cool ferocity that made him a standout quarterback in high school—and for his teenage daughters. At a bittersweet memorial service on a bright autumn afternoon last week, those who knew him best also recalled Maurer’s humor and vitality, and his complex mix of strength and compassion.

Maurer, 47, president and CEO of McKinney & Silver in Raleigh, N.C., was killed in a single-car accident near his home in the early morning hours of Oct. 20. His girlfriend, Heidi Neese, was injured in the wreck and is expected to recover.

His parents, Jerry and Marilyn, and his daughters, Rachael and Sarah, were joined by hundreds of mourners at the Raleigh service. Looking at the overflow crowd of family, friends, colleagues and clients that lined the room, Maurer’s former wife, Suzanne, said, “Somewhere, Don nie is saying, ‘You should have known! You should have hired the big convention hall!’ ” A cell phone buzzed and she added, “Go ahead, answer. Donnie would want business to go on.”

A native of Oceanside, N.Y, Maurer joined McKinney in 1996 from The Timberland Company, where he was director of worldwide marketing. Just months after his arrival, the Southern shop was rocked by a dizzying series of buyouts and disastrous e-commerce mergers.

“Don went through so many machinations in his short term as CEO that I was constantly amazed,” said Ed Eskandarian, chairman of Arnold, who came courting when one of those merger partners, marchFirst, self-destructed last spring. “He may have been boiling on the inside, but he had the calmest exterior. He figured out where he had to end up and never panicked.”

Maurer closed the deal with the clock ticking—a march First bankruptcy would have immensely complicated Havas’ purchase of McKinney last April. “I thought to myself,” said Eskandarian, “God, this guy has a lot of confidence.”

It was that confidence and an endless optimism that delivered the $30 million Nasdaq business last August against New York’s Bou chez Kent + Co. and J. Walter Thompson; that led Maurer to create an executive committee to help him run the 150-person agency; and that allowed him to keep McKinney’s vital Audi account in the hands of management supervisor Cameron McNaughton. “Don gave me the space to do what I could do,” said McNaughton, now overseeing the shop’s day-to-day operations. “He could have been all over me, but he had faith I had the business in hand.”

Maurer’s death triggered hundreds of e-mails and phone calls to the agency from friends and colleagues he had made in his 24-year career. But there was one thing that took precedence over his career. “His girls were everything to him,” said McKinney creative director David Bald win. “He was the busiest guy I ever met, the most driven guy, but he would interrupt the most important meeting if one of his daughters was on the phone. Of all things, Don was best at being a dad.”

His eldest daughter, Rachael, remembered a weekend when a high school kid showed up selling magazines: “The doorbell rings … most people would blow off the guy. Not my dad. He hung out with him for two hours!”

Maurer was “one of the most approachable, down-to-earth straight shooters I’ve ever known,” said Ken Kaess, president and CEO of DDB Worldwide. “He made you feel proud to be in advertising.”

Kaess, who met Maurer in New York in the late 1970s, also remembered him to Adweek as being as generous with his “guidance, counsel and friendship” as he was with his Maca nudo cigars.

“Don was more than just a great account guy, he was a great guy,” said Lee Garfinkel of D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, who first met Maurer in the late ’80s. “A real rarity.”

In Wenham, Mass., Mullen CEO Joe Grim aldi said it was Maurer’s leadership ability that stood above his other talents. Maurer had served as Mullen’s director of client services in the mid-1980s. “He saw himself as a general,” Grimaldi said. “Some people envision themselves that way, others aspire to the position, get there and do everything necessary to survive. Don wasn’t that way. He was a general.”