I can’t remember where it came from, or when I started calling him it, but “Sparky” just seemed like the perfect nickname – even though his personality and demeanor was anything but that. He was poised, polished and very even-keel. He was, after all, our Vice President of Investor Relations so he was used to dealing with CFOs and Wall Street – not the hyperventilating PR managers and Marketing Directors we were used to on the PR side of the agency.
He was also known as the grown-up in our agency – the voice of reason. His years of experience in growing and large corporations was hugely respected among staff members and clients alike. It was that experience – and his professional credibility – that led me to chase him for nearly six months in a bid to convince him to join a fledgling PR agency that had an inexperienced 27 year old as a co-founder. Somehow it worked. He decided to join Kaufer Miller Communications as our first “executive” hire and the agency was never the same.
Tonight I was shocked to learn that my former colleague and friend John Snyder (aka “Sparky”) left our world – a victim of cancer. I found out the way we find out about so much these days – via a Facebook post from another former employee and friend. And even though I had not had an opportunity to see or speak with John for a number of years now, I still feel like I’ve been punched in the gut with this news.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a tremendous amount of respect for John when we worked together. He was a mentor and friend in so many ways. He was a much-needed Devil’s Advocate counter to my crazy ideas and ambitious plans.
But what made John so special to me was not only what he brought to me and the agency professionally – but how he adopted, embraced and protected our unique and special company culture. Those who worked at Kaufer Miller Communications know exactly what I’m talking about when I say that we created an environment unlike most professional workplaces…and John was often leading the charge (even though he tagged me as the “Corporate Culture Cop”).
One of our first early traditions was “Bad Music Fridays.” Once a month, we would knock off a bit early, bring in some beers and bring in some of our old albums, tapes and CDs to share on the company boom box and stereo system. Given that John was about a decade ahead of most of us, he usually won the honor of bringing the “best” bad music – and he loved it. When we interviewed potential new employees, we all knew that one question that would be asked was “what album would you bring to our Bad Music Friday?”
As the agency grew, I continued to lean on John for advice and counsel – both personally and professionally. In those days, it was still fairly unique to have twenty-something CEO, so I very much appreciated his experience – not to mention his dry sense of humor when dealing with stressful situations.
I’ve told many people that KMC was like my first practice family – and it had all of the characteristics of any normal (i.e. dysfunctional) family. But like all families, those who were in it were (and still are) fiercely protective of it. And nobody was more protective of it than Sparky. He explained to me once that I had no idea how special it was to work in a company where you actually liked your colleagues – and could have fun with them on a daily basis. And he was right – it was something that was very easy to take for granted when you don’t know any better or different. I certainly learned this lesson personally in later years but I think its something John very much took to heart.
The last time I saw John was nearly a year after Renee and I returned to Seattle. I was able to track him down and we set up a coffee date to catch up. I was still in the middle of GreenForGood.com launch craziness as well as coping with life as a new father of twin boys. I was breathlessly telling him about everything going on in my life and he asked me a simple question: “so what are you doing for fun these days?” He told me that since I had moved to the Bay Area and returned, he had a bout with cancer and had defeated it (at that time) and that experience forever changed his perspective (even more). I wished I had a good answer for him – there wasn’t much room or time for me to have fun in those days. But I was happy to see that he was focused on quality of life, and hope that these past years were filled with lots of fun and joy for him. He certainly deserved it.
Goodbye Sparky – I hope you launch Bad Music Fridays on the other side. Thanks for everything.