Jack Anderson

Jack Anderson • Written March 2013

Jack Anderson is the CEO of Hornall Anderson, a multi-disciplinary, media-agnostic design consultancy comprised of an eclectic group of 160 individuals, and located in Seattle and London. Jack founded Hornall Anderson with John Hornall in 1982 with the belief that if you invest in your people and your clients, great work will flow from there. Over the past 30 years, lasting relationships with a diverse group of clients such as Starbucks, Microsoft, Holland America, Weyerhaeuser, Hewlett-Packard, The Limited, McKesson, Kroger, OMD, Evolution Fresh, Chicago’s Willis Tower, Empire State Building, Madison Square Garden, Redhook, PepsiCo; and UK clients Unilever, ASDA, Heinz, L’Oreal, and Virgin Atlantic have built an organization that is committed to delivering category defining work typically centering on brand creation.

Not only has Jack spoken at a number of industry conferences, he has also been interviewed by and contributed to thought-leadership pieces for FOX Business Online, The Economist, Forbes, Fortune, MSNBC.com, and the Wall Street Journal. Most recently, Jack was named the 2011 honorary Chair for Seattle’s first-ever design festival, and AIGA Seattle presented him their 2012 Fellow Award. Jack has received an Honorary Doctorate by his alma mater, Montana State University, as well as numerous awards from design competitions including London International Awards, Mobius Advertising Awards, AIGA, Graphis, National ADDYs, Clio Awards, Webby Awards, among many others.

This year, Jack welcomes the release of the firm’s book “Happy Accidents” that reflects and celebrates three decades of Hornall Anderson’s work in the industry.

When I was asked to write my own Immortals commentary covering the first 38 years in the business, my initial thought was that’s for people being put out to pasture. Cowboys hanging up their spurs.

For those of you who don’t know me, in a nutshell — I’m curious about everything, fearless (most of the time), a dog lover, right-handed, a sports enthusiast, a sushi-lover, shoe freak, competitive to a fault, and an architectural groupie. And…I’m not ready to hang up my spurs. I can credit or blame a lot of who I am with growing up in Montana—home of big belt buckles, cowboy boots, rugged land, big sky and a strong work ethic. Actually, a strong work hard/play harder philosophy. In high school, partying, girls and cars earned me a “gifted” 2.0 grade-point average. Making fake IDs my junior and senior year provided me with beer money. It also was my first appreciation for layout and design. With grades not worthy of the state university, and a high draft number, I headed off to a voc-tech in Littleton, Colorado. I was required to attend classes 4 hours and work in a factory 4 hours each day. The school was surrounded by razor wire, chain link fences, gravel parking lots, and one-story concrete block buildings. A light went on. Somehow, I needed to reset; I needed a second chance to attend a real school.

My journey into design really began when I enrolled at Montana State University. I started out dabbling in engineering, architecture, industrial design and interior design, before finding my niche in graphic design. While there wasn’t really a formal design program back then, they did have what was called “Professional Design,” part industrial arts, part art (ceramics, sculpture, drawing), part photography, interior design and graphic design. Initially, I felt handicapped for graduating with no deep skills in any one area. Today, I’m convinced that particular borderless experience and belief in a media and medium agnostic approach to problem solving was the best way to deliver breakthrough ideas. This became the foundation for how John and I would build Hornall Anderson.

My first job out of school was with the architectural firm TRA (The Richardson Associates). I built models, designed signage systems, proposal covers, title blocks for drawing sets, did photography…all for $3.50 an hour — about $7,000 a year. It was a great experience and gave me a lot of autonomy. At night and on weekends I worked on a lot of small projects for friends, family and small businesses. Eventually, I realized I needed to be in a more open environment than just architecture. I decided to make the leap.

Back when I was still at MSU, I’d made several trips out to Seattle to meet with some design firms. On one of those visits, I was to have a meeting with David Strong Design Group, but David stood me up. Serendipitously, John Hornall (who also worked with David) agreed to take the meeting and review my work because, as he explained later, he was really interested to see what a hayseed from Montana had in his portfolio. After that, we kept in touch for 5 ½ years, ultimately working together when I took a position at Cole & Weber (where John was running the design group). We worked for a year and a half on the massive Westin Hotels account, during which time we grew the design department to 12 people. We ultimately left Cole & Weber when they asked the Seattle office to move to Tukwila. At the same time, Ron Elgin, Dave Syferd and Terry Kirkland were forming Elgin, Kirkland, Syferd. They asked John to head up the design group inside their new agency. Rather than run their in-house group, we convinced them to partner with us as investors in our own company.

From day one, we envisioned Hornall Anderson as a small garage band — homegrown, working with clients, generating great work, with great designers. The dream was that someday we might earn the right and privilege to work outside the Seattle footprint on a regional and ultimately a national canvas, all the while maintaining our uniqueness. And along the way, we’d get better and better. Slowly, step-by-step we achieved some of those benchmarks. I think it was imminent that we would feel the need to be part of a larger organization if we were really going to do significant work on a global stage. In 2005 we joined Omnicom. Although the field is awash with firms that went backwards when they took similar steps, it’s now been 8 ½ years and I’m extremely proud of the advances we’ve made as a part of Omnicom. We created a more competitive organization with stronger creative, focused on actionable innovation.

We opened our first office at 200 West Mercer—an odd building with zero personality that felt more like we should be selling life insurance than creative design. In our first month, we competed for and won the sizable Princess Tours account, while continuing to do a lot of Westin Hotel work. These two clients really allowed us to properly launch ourselves. Almost overnight, we grew to a staff of between 15 people (led by John, myself and another junior partner, Ellen Wenrich) with Dave Syferd and Ron Elgin serving as investors and board members. It was a lot of 15-hour days the first several years. What we lacked in skill, we made up for in hard work. Every project was critical.

Things seemed to be just smoothing out, then without warning, we lost Princess Cruises — our biggest client. Our investors/board members had resigned their advertising account with Princess Cruises to work with the bigger Holland America Cruise Line, and as a result, P&O decided to sever all ties, including ours. Our bread and butter, our anchor client…gone. I remember the awful gut-clenching response, especially since we were currently under construction on our brand new office space at Merrill Place.

You never forget your first firing. John and I took that experience and learned from it. We were fortunate to compete and win the design account with Holland America Cruise Line. To this day, almost 28 years later, we continue to enjoy a relationship built on trust and relevancy. By 1987, after we’d been in business for five years doing exactly what we’d dreamed of doing—meaningful work for meaningful clients—something in our bones told us there had to be a smarter way to do it. I called the heads of four firms in New York that I’d admired from afar for many years including Tom Geismar of Chermayeff & Geismar; Richard Danne of Danne & Blackburn; Colin Forbes of Pentagram; and Martin Pederson who had been with Jonson, Pederson, Hinrichs & Shakerey Inc. and owned Graphis Magazine. All four were very willing to meet with us, despite not knowing who we were, and to share their view of the business. So John and I flew to New York. That was the most inspiring, humbling and enlightening experience. There we were, sitting across the table from some of the most high profile design firms in the US and hearing stories about how they started and the problems they’d faced and continued to face. John and I left inspired, and with a renewed confidence and comfort that there really wasn’t an easy way through the minefield—that it really was a daily game of block and tackle. And it’s still that way — it’s about getting up every single day fighting to stay relevant. It’s about the daily battle to do the best work you can.

We continued to steadily grow year after year, both as a firm and with internal creative leadership. In 1988, Jeff Baker came onboard to lead our marketing and new business efforts. He became a Partner in 1991. John Anicker joined as a designer in 1992, and we wooed Lisa Cerveny away from Pentagram in 1994. By 1999 both were Partners alongside John, Jeff and myself. With their leadership and that of countless others, we were able to grow the firm from a handful of employees at 200 West Mercer to approximately 160 with offices in Seattle and London.

Each step up the ladder to realizing our dream has only been possible with the help of our phenomenal clients. While each of those relationships has added to the firm’s success in different ways, there are a handful of early clients who served as pivotal turning points for the organization.

Waiting for the other shoe to drop
In the mid-eighties, we were doing a lot of work with Diadora. We were hired to design some specialty catalogs, packaging, shoe designs, and soft goods. We were really excited about the opportunity to influence Diadora in North America. And as a result of this work, we eventually showed up on Nike’s radar and were invited to create and launch a new line of casual men’s shoes. They wanted us to start working right away to fully develop a breakthrough concept then present to Phil Knight. I was so excited, I could barely see straight. In my mind we’d hit the big time. I mean this was Nike! I assembled a team comprised of the best designers, writers, photographers, and illustrators. After a week of working day and night, we got the dreaded phone call to say they were killing the project. It turned out Nike corporate had decided to buy Cole Haan instead. The huge high we were riding plummeted to a heart-wrenching low. But, it ultimately gave us the hope that the work we were doing at such an early point in our tenure was grabbing the attention of other significant companies.

Saplings in an old growth forest
In the late eighties, we were invited to compete to design a massive tradeshow for Weyerhaeuser slated to debut at the Atlanta Home Show. This was a huge coming out moment for the company – they were going to expand their offerings to non-wood products. We were up against some very reputable exhibit designers and fabricators up and down the West Coast. At that time, we’d done nothing in the way of meaningful exhibits. While John and I had some way-finding background at the time, our chances of winning the work were extremely low. We took on the challenge, spending countless nights and weekends conceiving of an elaborate, two-story exhibit made out of steel (not wood). On the day we presented our work, I remember walking out of Weyerhaeuser into the bright morning sunlight, riding the exhaustive high after 3-4 days of no sleep; so beat and so excited that again we’d earned the right to sit at the table with some stiff competition. When we won, not only did we feel like David slaying Goliath, that one project gave us the credentials to go on to do many other client exhibits over the years, including those for Bollé, K2 Skis, Smith Sports, T-Mobile, Pacific Dental Services, and many more.

An epic coffee break
Over twenty years ago, we had a fearless employee on our small marketing team named Kaye Callison. One day in the early nineties, she called up Starbucks and got the name of the then head of marketing George Reynolds, and although he didn’t know of us, she convinced him to take a meeting. He came in and sat with his arms folded, reasonably friendly, although little standoffish, as if trying to decide if he was wasting his time. By the conclusion of our presentation, we’d piqued his interest. He awarded us a small project — the opportunity to redesign Starbucks’ coffee bag. Through a series of meetings with various people at Starbucks and many exhaustive rounds, we finally netted out solutions for each of the five team member’s individual visions. The next meeting was to show Howard Schultz – this was my first meeting with him. Howard looked at everything, shook his head then furrowed his brow and said, “I don’t get it.” Definitely not the reaction anyone wants from Howard, of all people. He proceeded to launch into a very impassioned, hand waving, description about coffee—coffee was about connecting, about ritual, it was of the earth. He sent us away to start over from scratch. Our reset created a new Starbucks visual expression and voice that not only captured the moments of connections and coffee rituals, it launched a 22+ year-long relationship with Howard and Starbucks.

Partnering with a global entity
In the mid-nineties, we received a call from a previous client who had taken a very senior position at Novell to say the company was planning to refresh its brand. This led to a casting call of many notable firms—from California and New York—including the sobering knowledge that we were up against the legendary Pentagram. The day we heard we’d won the work I happened to be Park City, Utah. The client asked me to travel to Salt Lake City to formerly engage. After driving through a snowstorm to sign the substantial contract, I pondered the obligations of delivery and timing that came with this incredible win. It was a surreal moment. I was so proud that we’d earned the right to work with a company of that global stature – that we’d beat out a bunch of companies that were much more our senior. And I was paralyzed by the thought of how to actually attack the project. It was the classic case of trying to build a parachute after jumping out of the airplane. But we ended up doing a body of award-winning work over the course of 5 years, which was one more milestone for us. Navigating the complex engineering-driven world of Novell gave us the chops to go on to work with the likes of Intel, Microsoft, HP, HTC, T-Mobile, and GE.

More than a bad hotdog and a crushed penny
Another momentous win for us was the opportunity to rebrand the Space Needle in early 2000. The “ah ha” moment came when the Space Needle approached us looking for a simple logo and we had the guts to push the pause button. Instead of just a logo, we recommended they rethink the whole customer journey at the Needle and turn it from a tourist destination (ride the elevator up, have a bad hotdog, crush a penny, then ride back down) into what we coined a Vertical Village. As simple as that sounds, it gave them the permission to think of the Space Needle as a Village of different experiences, ultimately becoming Space Base—the gift shop at the base of the structure; SkyLine, the 100’ level used for special events; SkyCity, the 360˚ rotating restaurant; and O-Deck, the observation deck at the top of the structure. That one recommendation led to a richer, deeper conversation with the board of directors, allowing us to touch all aspects of the Space Needle experience from the view, to live the view, to extend the view, to point of view—together, creating a virtual portal. All of which culminated into a digital installation at the top of the needle that really set the tone for a whole body of work with other iconic venues around the world including Willis Tower in Chicago, Madison Square Garden, Empire State Building, Microsoft Visitor Center, and Sydney Opera House. It was the foundation of a way of thinking, of turning architecture into dynamic environments.

Gaining shelf-appeal on a global scale
For years, we enjoyed designing boutique packaging for the Seattle Chocolates and Emily’s Chocolates of the world. We made a splash in a variety of juice and water companies— Jamba Juice, Kombucha, Talking Rain, Alta Water—and a number of other specialty companies. Because of those smaller projects, we began showing up on the radar of the bigger food and beverage companies, which earned us an audience with the likes of Kraft, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Mars. Today, our work with brands like Life, Quaker, Tropicana, Lay’s, Hershey’s, Marmite and Ballantine’s represents some of the more tangible, meaningful ways we’re connecting with consumers on a global scale.

Fast-forward to today and I find myself humbled by the success Hornall Anderson has achieved over the years. Our garage band has grown into a globally recognized brand consultancy, partnering with iconic brands that touch consumers at every level. Many of our clients have become steadfast friends; many of our friends have become clients.

Most recently, 2013 has ushered in the release of Hornall Anderson’s book entitled “Happy Accidents,” which is a celebration of three decades of design and discovery. It’s the result of years spent embracing tensions—big and small, work and play, and the juxtaposition of handcrafted and digital. It’s a look at what we’ve done, who we’ve done it with, and the beliefs we’ve held to along the way. While to some this may sound like the perfect wrap-up to 30 years of hard work, to me it’s just the beginning.