A ‘Firm and Fast’ Rule

Michael Kempner, President and CEO, MWW Group

My first “real” job was when I began working for the Governor of New Jersey in his Washington, D.C., office. At the age of 19, I was hired to be a Special Assistant to the Governor; in essence, the federal transportation lobbyist for the State of New Jersey. As a young kid entering the workforce, you think you know what pressure is—studying for a test, handing in papers on time—but working in politics and trying to get people much older than you to take you seriously is an entirely different ball game. My boss at the time was Marilyn Thompson. She was (and remains) a smart, talented pro. Marilyn also was tough. I didn’t know it at the time, but she was demanding because she was making me a professional. She taught me how to think, write, act and comport myself in the workplace. Her work ethic shaped my own.

Politics is an amazing training ground, perhaps the best, in learning how to be strategic, juggle competing priorities and understand the needs of almost unlimited stakeholder groups.

The biggest risk I took in my career is also the first risk I took in my PR career: starting MWW. Prior to that, I had never worked at a PR agency. In fact, I had never stepped foot into one. In many ways, that was the secret to our success—we didn’t know what we didn’t know [and] we weren’t encumbered by a bunch of obsolete industry rules.

Coming to work every day to do the right things for my employees and clients. I have one firm and fast rule—if it makes sense, do it, if it doesn’t, then don’t. Don’t worry about how you have always done it. Look at everything fresh, and do your best; the best that comes from your heart as well as your head.

There’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I particularly enjoy. He said, “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” If you don’t love what you do, find something else, because passion drives greatness. And besides, you should love what you’re doing every day. I know I do.


Michael Kempner, mkempner@mww.com

This article originally appeared in the February 2, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.