September 18, 2017
Executive Profile

Maier ending well-composed ad career

HBJ Photo | John Stearns
HBJ Photo | John Stearns
Bill Maier stands next to a framed display commemorating his firm's 25th anniversary in 1996.

VIEW: Executive Profile: Bill Maier

Bill Maier

Maier True Communication, Farmington.

Highest education: New Britain High School, 1957.

Executive insights: Never be late for an appointment, recognize the value of people around you and trust them to do good work, what he calls the "3 D's" of deciding to delegate, then delegating, then disappearing.

Bill Maier is still getting used to letting go of the Farmington advertising agency that bears his name — after all, it was his life for 46 years.

"I don't want to call myself an obsessive workaholic," said Maier (pronounced Myer), searching for an alternative to the expression, "You don't go to work if you love your job."

Maier, who remains owner of Maier True Communication and on its board through 2019, passed day-to-day operations to I. Todd Russell, who was made president retroactive to January and who manages the firm with Laura Kennedy, CFO, and Rick Mellon, executive vice president-creative.

"Even in the worst of times — the economy was down, the client didn't pay their bills — it was still, one way or another, a challenge and an excitement to get up in the morning and head here and resolve it," Maier said.

But Maier, aging and seeing technology transform the industry, began transitioning out of operations recently, deferring to his executive team, and will leave completely by year end.

"Honestly, I think the technology just started rushing ahead of me," said Maier, 78, who also knew the time was approaching to slow down and spend more time with family.

Maier praised his hiring four years ago of Russell as EVP-chief marketing officer.

Technology wasn't the firm's bailiwick then, Maier said, but Russell changed that.

The agency — primarily doing business-to-business communications in the energy, healthcare, industrial manufacturing and technology sectors — focuses on developing strategies and brands and providing creative, Russell said.

"Now what we're doing is bridging the gap between what we've done for a long time well, with technology, and now we're beginning to do that very well," he said.

The firm had about $6.5 million in gross billings last year and is up significantly this year, Russell said.

Strategy, creativity and technology represent the three sides of Maier's triangle logo and its operating focus. The bridge to technology includes working with clients to optimize their customer relationship management, marketing automation, web analytics, social media, optimization for mobile and other devices, and definitively measuring results, Russell said.

Maier has witnessed a revolution in the industry he entered after serving in the Navy from 1959-1963. Needing to find work, he became an office boy at Chirurg & Cairns, a Farmington ad agency, where his wife, Joan, worked as a receptionist. An executive at the firm, George Frey, saw something in Maier and made him copywriter and account executive and built his confidence and inspired him.

Frey died before Maier started his firm in 1971, but believes Frey would have celebrated the move despite losing an employee.

"I itched to get out on my own," he said, remembering his first desk was a door on two sawhorses. "I couldn't understand the bureaucracy of a large agency."

Maier, though, knew his limitations and hired people to do the creative work while he focused on business.

He practiced what he called the "3 D's:" decide to delegate, then delegate, then disappear and let people do their job.

Maier has a staff of 24 full- and part-time largely senior employees. It has a satellite office in Manhattan and could open others before the end of the year elsewhere in the U.S. to expand its reach and services, but Russell doesn't see the firm exceeding 35 people. It already has networks around the world, doing work for global companies like Agilent Technologies.

The firm's list of longtime clients runs the gamut. Among projects Maier is most proud of is helping Shelton-based Hubbell Inc. about 10 years ago focus its several dozen companies on one clear message for customers, including architects, lighting engineers and contractors.

Russell described Maier as passionate about clients, his staff and work they produce. And he has a soft side, Russell said, recalling a client about four years ago who, after meeting Maier, described him as a "big teddy bear."

Maier now has time to be a softie with his three grandchildren, ages 12 to 20, and wife of 56 years, with whom he had two children, and maybe play his violin more often.

In high school, he was selected as concert master for the All New England Orchestra, playing lead violin in the orchestra at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts for three years.

He could play "Hora Staccato," which he called one of the most difficult pieces to play on a violin, and today performs simpler pieces like "Silent Night" or "Ave Maria" for family at Christmas.

"Honestly, I don't pat myself on the back on a lot of things," he said. "I was good."

But violin wouldn't pay the bills then like it might today and advertising instead proved his life's composition.

Check out a video clip of Bill Maier's interview at hartfordbusiness.com.

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