Gary Goldsmith On the Spot

Lowe’s chairman and chief creative officer is a Texan with a small “t”: Goldsmith’s slight drawl accompanies a quiet, measured demeanor. His 22-year ad career traces back to DDB, but it was Goldsmith/Jeffrey, the New York boutique he opened with Bob Jeffrey in 1987, that raised his profile and attracted Lowe, which bought the shop in 1996. While Jeffrey went to J. Walter Thompson, Goldsmith stayed on, becoming sole creative chief after Lee Garfinkel left two years ago. A golfer with an 8 handicap, Goldsmith, 48, navigated Lowe through its merger with Bozell in February, the second one (following the absorption of Ammirati Puris Lintas in 1999) on his watch.

Q. How did you get into advertising?

A. I was an architecture student at UT [University of Texas], and I took a class with an ex-Y&R art director who taught down there. I took a lot of journalism classes too. And this was something that combined the two. So it was perfect. I didn’t know it existed.

How has your architecture background influenced your approach to advertising?

I tend to work in a very analytical way. I spend a lot of time upfront identifying all aspects of the problem: Where is it going to run? What are all the essential ingredients?

How did you meet Bob Jeffrey?

Bob and I worked at DDB together. DDB was starting to slip, and we were trying to figure out how we were going to change the agency back to what it stood for. We finally decided it would be easier just to start another agency.

Do you miss running a small shop?

No, that was then. It was great for then. I was driven—and that is certainly part of my Texas background—toward an entrepreneurial mission. But deep down, I like a big organization. I like the energy of a big company too. I don’t think good has anything to do with big or small. The Yellow Pages are full of small agencies that nobody has ever heard of. … The only small agencies we’ve heard of are because the people are good. So, it’s all about talent.

Who had the greatest influence on your career?

Probably Roy Grace and Helmut Krone. Roy obviously was probably the best TV art director of all time. Helmut undoubtedly was the best print art director. Totally different styles. Both started with an idea—very conceptually based work and meticulous execution in each case. Amazing attention to craft. And it was great to see people who were at that point in their career—they weren’t young guys at that point—who were still doing great work.

What’s the biggest misconception about Lowe?

What happens a lot is people come in and see the reel, and they’re like, “You guys did that? You guys did that? I’ve seen that. I like that.” I don’t think people have fully connected the dots with all the work we’ve done. And that has started to change, fortunately. But through all the stuff we’ve been through as an agency, when people see the work that was done—even through some of those difficult periods—it really holds up.

Do you miss working with Lee?

I liked working with Lee. We have pretty complementary styles. And what we had in common is, we’re both very intense on the inside and yet calm on the outside.

Who taught you to play golf?

One of my early teachers was Harvey Penick, a very famous golf teacher. He was the golf coach at the University of Texas. He also taught Ben Crenshaw and Tom Kite. That used to be the big joke among my friends—they ended up winning the Masters and the U.S. Open, and I ended up in advertising!

You became a dad last year. How has fatherhood changed you?

When I walk into what used to be a very minimalist living room, it’s now full of multicolored plastic junk. And I don’t even care. Well, as the Johnson & Johnson campaign says, having a baby changes everything. The best way I can describe it is, it doesn’t necessarily make you less intense about what you do as much as it adds another dimension. All the clichés that you hear before you have kids—they’re all true. You look at things fresh again, you discover things. It reawakens a certain innocence and openness in you. You know, after years in this business and what we go through, you’re ground down, and it does reawaken that.

Do you have a motto?

No. … Always be merging! No.

Do you think you have another merger in you?

No! I think two is sufficient.

What purpose do awards serve?

It’s a measuring stick. It’s one measuring stick; it’s not the only measuring stick. But it’s a way to have people you respect rate your work and acknowledge great work when it’s being done. The day that you don’t care anymore about being the best at what you do and having your peers’ respect is the day you should get out of the business.

What do you do to unwind?

I build stuff. I’m restoring an old house now. I do everything except plumbing and electric, because one is very messy and the other one you can die from.

What’s the dumbest thing a client has ever said to you?

“I’m willing to take risks, as long as there’s no downside.”

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

That’s a tough one. There will be two agencies left, and they’ll be merging.