Virginia Dandridge “Dandy” Stevenson departed this world one year ago today. She may be gone, but she is most assuredly not forgotten (at least by the employees at Peppercomm and just about anyone else who had the distinct pleasure of knowing this true force of nature).
When I wrote last Summer’s homage to Dandy’s untimely passing, I had no real idea how much I would miss everything about her. Let me go on the record by saying, I miss everything about her.
Dandy was the heart-and-soul of Peppercomm. And trust me when I say a little piece of Peppercomm died when Dandy did.
It’s difficult to describe how important she was to me, our clients, our employees and pretty much everyone in our greater ecosystem.
I first met Dandy when she worked for Bob Druckenmiller, the former CEO of Porter-Novelli. I’m guessing the year was 2000, the absolute peak of the insanity otherwise known as the dotcom era.
Having named my start-up Peppercomm in honor of my black Labrador retriever, I inadvertently positioned my embryonic firm as a dotcom specialist in publicizing start-ups who possessed endless amounts of cash (offset by a complete ignorance as to how to become profitable).
But that was their problem, not mine. At the absolute peak of the insanity, we assigned three, full-time employees who did nothing else but field and vet the 40 or so new business calls we received every single day. It was an other-worldly moment in time that, while it lasted, propelled Peppercomm from a tiny start-up to a formidable “Go-To” firm that was on every VC’s or dotcom’s shortlist.
But I digress.
Since we were an incredibly hot property, Peppercomm was courted by larger agencies who, lacking dotcom creds, were prepared to move heaven and earth to acquire us.
Acquisition offers came in at almost the same level of frequency as the unsolicited calls from nascent dotcoms.
I was simultaneously humbled and eager to capitalize on our unique position in the market.
As a result, I took meetings with everyone from Paul Hicks at Ogilvy and GCI’s Bob Feldman to Ketchum’s Ray Kotcher/Rob Flaherty and Porter’s Druckenmiller and David Copithorne.
Cutting to the chase, I absolutely adored Druck and Copithorne (whose firm had been recently acquired by PN).
I called Ray Kotcher and told him we were going with his Omnicom-owned competitor. Ray was Ray and gracefully bowed out.
And that’s when Dandy Stevenson entered stage left.
I had retained a great life coach/business consultant by the name of Richard Harte, Ph.D.
Dick’s job was to play “bad cop” as Druck, Copithorne and I discussed multiples, whether Peppercomm would retain its name (a very big deal, btw) and what role I would play after the earn-out (btw, this was very heady stuff for a guy who had launched his two-person firm only 60 months earlier and was now salivating at the prospect of becoming an overnight multimillionaire).
In the midst of the negotiations, Dandy and I connected. While her loyalties were with PN, she would often pull me aside to tell me exactly what I’d be dealing with in terms of reporting to Druck/Copithorne and Omnicom.
Thanks in large part to Dandy’s sharing what she probably shouldn’t have shared, I was ready to sign on the dotted line.
And then a funny thing happened on the way to a house in the Hamptons and my own private jet: the dotcom bubble burst.
Omnicom froze every transaction. Druck called me and said, “Hang in. We’ll get through this and consummate the deal.”
The bubble had burst, and the firms that had been in great demand yesterday (Niehaus/Ryan, Peppercommm, etc.) became toxic in a nanosecond.
Omnicom immediately withdrew their offer.
Meanwhile, we scrambled and did our very best to quickly reposition ourselves as a corporate/Btob/financial specialist. Talk about retrofitting on the fly!
And, hold for it: Druck called me to say that he and Copithorne were being let go by the sensitive souls at Omnicom.
He asked if I could hire his now erstwhile assistant, Dandy Stevenson.
Stunned, but intrigued nonetheless, I agreed to go to Druck’s hastily-arranged farewell party. The only people I recognized were Druck and Dandy. He suggested the Danderoo and I convene a private convo.
We did. I was smitten and realized how much professionalism Dandy would bring to what was still, in effect, a start-up (that would be Peppercomm, btw).
I easily overcame the objections of some colleagues who thought Dandy’s best days were behind her and we made The Danderoo an offer.
The rest is (or was) history.
Although she’s been gone for a full year now, I know Dandy would be beyond proud of Peppercomm’s achievements.
We’ve won eight mega accounts in the past 90 days, been named US AOR by such global brands as Pirelli and trivago, and are poised to replicate the same rapid, double digit growth that first attracted the likes of Ketchum, Ogilvy, Porter, Edelman and god knows how many others.
I wish my mom, dad, older brother and Dandy were still alive to see Peppercomm survive and, yes, thrive.
Knowing Dandy, she’d pop open one of her patented cans of Diet Coke and say, “I knew you’d win in the end.”
Missing you big time, Dandy (and so wishing you could see what we’ve accomplished since you left). But I know you know and that’s all that matters.
Note to Repman readers: Count on an annual Dandy Stevenson homage for the foreseeable future. Some may have moved on, but I will never forget her countless contributions.