Michael Druckman has never been short on gumption.
In his 20s, he was in an executive development program for Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal. During the intermission of a New York Philharmonic concert, Druckman spotted a top executive.
A big title didn’t threaten Druckman. He approached and stuck out his hand, “I work for you and you should really know me.”
They got to chatting. Later, the boss, who became a mentor, asked if he liked the job. “Not really,” he recalled telling him. “It’s like clubbing seals.”
But Druckman understood it had to be done and worked longer and harder than his counterparts. He would arrive in the office by 7 a.m. and work Saturdays. “You have to be willing to pay the price for success,” says Druckman, now in his early 70s and a master certified life coach in Naples. Sometimes that price included not being liked. “People I worked with would say, ‘What are you doing? You’re making us all look like we don’t do enough.’ I’d say, ‘Then do more.’”
In his coaching work, he applies the skills and intuition he honed in his high-flying advertising career spanning from The New Yorker to Playboy magazine and USA TODAY and on. “This was wild times. I was living Mad Men,” he says, referencing the popular TV series about New York City’s ad world.
Druckman was tight-lipped about the particulars.
“I can’t tell you what went on because you can’t print it.”
A few tidbits he did share:
“At The New Yorker, they’d go get an Italian suit and put it in as lunch and no one cared,” Druckman says of advertising staff. “Expense accounts were unlimited.”
In 1978, he landed at Playboy and was a vice-president in advertising. “It was OK except I had to wear those damn bunny ears,” he says with a laugh.
What he found was an under-marketed magazine. “The men really thought they were playboys and they didn’t work hard.”
During his time at Playboy, the magazine went from having never sold more than 900 pages of advertising in a year to selling more than 1,300 pages, he says.
He was recruited to USA Today shortly after the newspaper launched in 1982 to expand the national sales team. From there, he became the president of National Lampoon, a now-defunct humor magazine, and held other media leadership positions before joining his wife to sell luxury real estate in New York City.
But long before that, he credits lessons from his grandfathers, self- made men who emigrated to the United States, for steering his career. As a teenager in Philadelphia, he worked sweeping the floors of the dressmaking company his Polish grandfather began.
“The biggest influence in my life were my two grandfathers, and they taught me to never ever let anything get in your way. These were strong, physically imposing men but more importantly, they were street brilliant.”
You can do anything, they told him.
This attitude became ingrained.
In his coaching, Druckman teaches the importance of positive thinking when it comes to achieving. “You feel the way you think.”
His transition to coaching had personal roots. He was feeling a sense of loss, unsure of what to do next, and visited a therapist a few times. But he felt like he was whining. There had to be a better approach, he thought.
Druckman set out to become a life coach. He noted several coaching certifications he’s accrued and a client list that includes professional athletes, entrepreneurs, Broadway performers and rock stars. “I help people get to places they couldn’t reach on their own. I help them find the resources within themselves to make the transition. I help people to get from where they are to where they want to be.”
Though his Mad Men days are over, Druckman still draws from what he learned during his rise into the executive echelon of advertising.
“Talent, as conventionally defined and measured, plays a secondary role in determining one’s success,” he says. “Far more important is real talent, a combination of character, attitude, and devotion, which makes greatness possible.”