Eddie Chan is a former CEO of Meridien Advertising, AdMan and MDA/Mojo, past President of 4As and former ‘Advertising Man of the Year’. The piece below is taken from his forthcoming book.
As I decided to make advertising my lifelong career, my ambition was to be the best in the business. I realised that I would not be able to achieve this unless I get the best training possible. The agency that offered young bright executives the opportunity of overseas attachment was Masters. It also was the largest agency in Singapore and had a list of ‘blue-chip’ clients. Through the years, advertising attracted some of the most colourful characters into the business as there were no barriers into entering the business. In fact, some of the most successful advertising personalities who entered the ‘profession’ were ex-waiters, salesmen, and teachers and would-be pastor dropouts. Many others got into the business by being mailroom boys but through talent, hard work and determination rose through the ranks to become creative directors, CEOs and chairmen of their agencies.
Among some of the most colourful characters in business I had the chance to work with were copywriters, art directors, account executives and media people.
Ralph Modder was the most unforgettable character of all. He was an ex-radio presenter and was hired at the time when radio was becoming a popular medium for advertisers. Ralph, a rather casual personality like John Wayne, would normally wear an open-neck shirt. However, management had told him that he had to wear a tie to attend meetings with clients. He was a radio scriptwriter but could not tie his necktie properly even if his life depended on it. He could not get the front end and the back end to be of equal lengths. Being a creative person, he naturally came up with a creative solution. He was frustrated that the front end of his would hang way below his belt and decided to snip off so the front-end tip would just touch the belt buckle. This was like cutting through the Gordian knot. The only problem was when he did that everyday for a week snipping off the excess lengths, he ended with rather short tie, which looked more like a small napkin and also he had to get a new tie every week!
There was one incident, which showed the true grit of Ralph in getting what he wanted. Ralph was involved in the opening of the new Guinness factory in Petaling Jaya in Selangor. As he was staying in a house in Johor Bahru, he would commute from his home to the office in downtown Singapore. On that morning, Ralph had to drive down from Johor Bahru in his Rover 80 to catch a flight from Paya Leber airport to Subang in Petaling Jaya as he was the Master of Ceremony for the official opening. Unfortunately, Ralph had overslept, was running very late and had to rush to the airport to catch the morning flight. After getting through the causeway, he was belting Dunearn Road at 80 mph in a 30 mph zone. The ever-efficient mobile squad policeman saw him zooming past, gave chase and flagged him down. When the policeman took now the details of his driving license, Ralph told him why he was speeding, as he had to catch his flight to Kuala Lumpur for a very important appointment. Obviously, the officer was not impressed as he must have heard such lame excuses from all the drivers he had caught speeding. After the officer had recorded his particulars and warned Ralph against speeding, he took off in motorcycle to continue his patrol. A few moments had just passed when Ralph overtook the mobile squad police and was zooming down Dunearn Road again at 80 mph; the officer was perplexed at the audacity of this motorist whom he had just booked. He throttled his high-powered motorbike and went after Ralph like the roadrunner. He managed to catch up with him at Adam Road and booked him a second time. Ralph repeated his excuse that he had to catch the K.L. flight or he would lose his job. The officer had heard it all before and was not going to fall for this excuse.
Before the officer could mount his motorbike, Ralph had zoomed off again for the third time hitting 80 mph within minutes. The officer was shocked that this errant motorist was not the least remorseful and the chase was on again. Finally, he caught up with Ralph along Braddell Road and booked him for the third time.
Ralph pleaded with him that he had to catch that flight and truly he would lose his job if he did not get there in time. The officer finally believed him and took compassion on him. He decided it was better to escort him to the airport and even turned on the siren to clear the traffic in front so that he would not be held up. Weeks later, Ralph appeared in court and even the judge took compassion on him and fined him $250, a princely sum in the ‘60s for the multiple speeding offences!
Article published in AdAsia Jan/Feb 2004