Richard Edelman, in Atlanta last week, talked about how his Jewish heritage helps drive ethical development and growth at the world’s largest PR firm.
“I believe that business cannot inject value into society without being driven by a core set of values as well,” he said March 31 during a speech at the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. “As members of the business community, we each have a role to play in the former, but we bear greater accountability for the latter.
His firm’s soul is "shaped by more than these principles, but values which can be defined as essentially Jewish."
Richard said his father Dan, who founded the firm, "deeply believed that being ethical in business was the most important manifestation of his Jewish faith."
He recalled how a foreign client, who dropped by Dan’s office to congratulate him on winning the account, then demanded a five percent commission for delivering the business to the firm.
"My father raised his voice, got deeply red and said, 'Get out of my office before I kick you in the pants. You have some nerve coming in here shaking me down. We are a professional firm and you insult me deeply,'" Richard recounted.
Dan was a believer in the ethical practice of PR and banned front groups and covert operatives from spreading malicious rumors.
The senior Edelman once took on a competitor who accepted the Church of Scientology as a client because he rejected the notion that every client deserved representation.
Edelman said running a Jewish family-owned business also means dedication to local communities and “the relentless pursuit of self-improvement -- is at its core the Jewish experience.”
Said Edelman: "I tell you the about the values of my Jewish family business, not simply because I am proud of them. But because I believe that business cannot inject value into society without being driven by a core set of values as well.
"As members of the business community, we each have a role to play in the former, but we bear greater accountability for the latter."
The Kiddush cup of Richard’s great grandfather Abraham occupies a central spot in his office. Edelman considers the cup a symbol from where he came from. It's a "suggestion that amidst the memos and press clippings, the photos and tchotchkes something more vital endures and lives at the heart of how we operate."
Though technology is spurring change in the PR field, the sector’s principles remain constant.
"The values that are the essential force for business to want to do better in this world do not. Family, community, decency, honesty and hard work do not," said Edelman.
He concluded: "Each of us in this room has our own story, of the persistence of our values, our essentially Jewish values, over time."