From a pool table and tiki bar to his modern take on the classic three-martini lunch, Andrew Graff MBA ‘93, chief executive officer of advertising agency Allen & Gerritsen, has fashioned an unconventional workplace that, he believes, fosters a creative environment vital to the firm’s success.
I believe that the more people like coming to work, the better quality work they’ll produce,” says Graff, 47, as he relaxes in his spacious office in Watertown, Massachusetts, west of Boston. Others have noticed. Last year, Advertising Age recognized the agency as the “Best Place to Work” in marketing and media nationwide. The magazine cited the agency’s relaxed workspace, as well as Graff’s attention to encouraging input and ideas, and promoting a fulfilling work/life balance for his 120 employees. Commonly known as a&g, the agency boasts such clients as the Boston Celtics and Zildjian, the renowned cymbal maker.
“People should not only feel like they have all the benefits and perks, but that they also have a place where you can learn and grow, feel valued, and feel like you have opportunities in the company,” says Graff, who has been CEO since 2000. One of the ways Graff embraces the opinions and ideas of his staff is in his monthly “three-martini lunch,” a riff on “Mad Men” days when ad agencies’ competitive juices were often fueled by hard liquor. Graff hosts the lunches in his office for eight to 10 staffers. Anyone can sign up to attend. No topic is off limits, and lunch is served in martini glasses. Graff wants to preserve the freewheeling spirit of the three-martini lunch without the spirits themselves.
“People ask him about the decisions he makes, the clients we have, the clients we go after. He’s very open, and he tells us what he’s thinking,” says Eric Leist, an emerging technology strategist, who has attended the lunches. “He’s accessible. He’s a CEO, but can talk to anybody on any level.” That also why Graff launched the agency’s reverse mentoring program last year. Seeking to learn more about social media, Graff chose Leist, then the agency’s youngest employee, as his mentor. “Knowing him, I wasn’t surprised that he was smart enough to know he didn’t know everything and could learn from me,” Leist, 23, says. Graff has also sought Leist’s “Generation Y perspective on a&g’s move to downtown Boston’s Seaport, now called the Innovation District, this fall.
Raised in Peabody, Massachusetts, Graff first caught the advertising bug as a boy when he watched his advertising men create campaigns for the life sciences company where his father worked in global sales and marketing. “I would watch the progression of an idea as it came to life, and I’d think, ‘Hmmm, this is kind of interesting.’ So when it came time for me to think about going to college, I said I wanted to major in advertising.”
All these years later, Graff is still enthralled by watching an advertising campaign, whether online or in more traditional venues like print and television, come to fruition. “I love all the things that go into the process of launching a great campaign, and I love working in an environment that encourages people to bring their best ideas and know that they’re going to be heard,” he says. “After all these years, great ideas still fascinate me.”