I remember it perfectly. It was a beautiful spring morning and I was driving up the DVP heading north of the city to a prospect meeting. I had just incorporated MAVERICK PR a week before . My business cards were literally still drying. I had no employees, no office space, no presence on the web. Most of all, I had no clients. This was my very first pitch I would make as a “maverick.” I was no longer a VP at a large multinational agency. I was a starving entrepreneur.
When I got to the offices of Atelier America (rebranded now as Brushstrokes Fine Art), my jaw dropped to the floor. I felt as if I had walked into a Paris museum. The reception area was stunning, with magnificent oil paintings adorning the walls. I recognized some of the works of art, but surely, I thought to myself, they can’t be real.
I was greeted by a woman named Christine, who led me to another spectacular room. The boardroom was large but comfortable. There were 10 high-back cushion chairs around a dark mahogany table. Beautiful Chinese lamps were scattered throughout the room and historical artifacts were peppered throughout the area. The walls were covered with more gorgeous paintings. Monets next to Renoirs .. it was sublime.
An older gentlemen walked in whom I figured to be in his sixties. He was impeccably dressed in a pinstriped suit, crisp white shirt, red tie, and manicured nails. His eyes sparkled with the enthusiasm of a child and his smile was warm and inviting. He held out his hand and introduced himself as Harvey Kalef.
We started the meeting discussing his business. Art. Art reproductions, actually. So perfect were these reproductions that they maintained the integrity of the artist, right down to each brushstroke. Harvey had invented a patented process by which he could copy art so faithful to the original that it was almost impossible to discern the fake from the original. His business was doing well, but he wanted to use PR to tell the world about his invention.
My mind was spinning. I was practically writing the PR strategy in my head as Harvey explained his vision of offering “art to the masses.” I was impressed with the business and smitten with Harvey. What an amazing human being, I thought. He was special. I knew I was in the presence of a remarkable human being. I wanted Harvey’s account but, moreover, I wanted to work alongside this man.
A week later I was up at his offices again, only this time with my PR proposal in hand. I had worked night and day developing a PR recommendation. I had researched art magazines, studied art books and literally scoured the Internet for art information. After I presented the strategy, I boldly asked Harvey for the business, but I knew I had to sell him on MAVERICK too. I launched hard into my sales pitch. I had to make a winning case for MAVERICK and myself. I wasn’t desperate, but this man knew full well I was a one-woman show. At the end of my sales soliloquy, Harvey said, “Ok kid, you’ve sold me. I’m one of the best sales guys in the business, and you’ve managed to sell me.”
His next move was one I will never forget: he came back into boardroom with a cheque, a two-month PR retainer upfront. He didn’t question my quote. He didn’t haggle or ask for a discount. He paid what I quoted on. He said he knew I would be hard up for cash as a sole PR practitioner and he’d hope this would help kick-start my company. Wow, I thought, were all first-time meetings going to be like this?
Our relationship blossomed over the years and Harvey stayed my client from Day One. The launch event for his company in New York was – and still is – one of the highlights of my career. Over the years I learned more from him than from any other client. He was the most inspirational man in business I had ever met.
This past Saturday, Harvey passed away from cancer. He fought the battle well and continued to work up until his frail body could not stand anymore.
Every entrepreneur needs that first big break – the first client who believes in your vision and gives you a chance to prove yourself.
For me, that client was Harvey. I will miss his storytelling, his generosity and his unrelenting passion to invent and create. He was my client, my mentor, my hero. But most of all, he was my friend.
You never forget your first, and I will never forget Harvey. Rest in peace, dear friend. And thank you for believing in me.