When the dust settles

By David Rivett

I got back from a holiday in France last week to discover numerous obituaries and tributes to Wally Olins, the father of corporate branding, or as it used to be known, corporate identity. It always shakes one to read of the death of a former colleague and set me to reflecting on how he launched me in to the world of branding and design.

Back in the very early eighties I saw a BBC documentary that Wally had made on the German pencil company Staedtler and how it had used a re-brand to completely re-energise and re-launch the company. This was the spark, the “YES” moment when I saw how to combine my love of business strategy and the creative world. I had to join his agency. Two years later after an MBA and a project on Aston business park with Wolff Olins I ended up as joint managing director of that eponymous consultancy. Working with Wally was a revelation, his obsession with integrity and detail, his love of good writing and clarity of expression and above all his espousal of the “Corporate Journey”. That devastating tool whereby one walked through all the user interactions of an organisation with its customers and staff and highlighted how they often failed to support, and in many cases were downright damaging to, the reputation and brand of the organisation. Always done with wit but to devastating effect it is no less powerful today than 30 years ago. In one famous pitch we filled reception with dirty coffee cups and overflowing ash-trays and kept the client waiting to the absolute limit of his patience. His fury was quickly spiked when he was shown that this was exactly how his organisation behaved. Job won.

At Wolff Olins I really learned the power of re-branding to, initiate, support and signal organisational change in a far less threatening way than conventional management consultancy. Wally was the absolute best, master of his game and I feel privileged to have worked with him and to, in some way, carry the flame for the power of design to change lives. Thank you Wally.