PR legend David Finn, who co-founded Ruder Finn with Bill Ruder more than 70 years ago, celebrated his 100th birthday on August 30.
Besides his role as a founding father of modern PR, Finn is a true Renaissance Man. He’s a celebrated photographer who published more than 100 books on the photography of sculpture.
O’Dwyer’s asked his children, Kathy Bloomgarden (Ruder Finn CEO), Peter Finn (Finn Partners CEO) and Amy Binder (RF|Binder CEO), for their thoughts about their father.
Below are their words:
“My dad had incredible foresight about the PR industry and how we as PR practitioners would add value to the business world.
“He was always hungry to learn and grow himself as a person—for example, he had a friend who was an Italian professor at Columbia University tutor him in Italian so they could read Dante’s Inferno together in its original language.
“He also started a second career late in life, teaching himself photography and ultimately publishing over 100 beautiful books of art photography from esteemed publishers Harry Abrams, Rizzoli and others, as well as books he’d written—“How to Visit a Museum,” “How to Look at Sculpture” and “How to Look at Photographs,” among others.
“He was an exceptional innovator and prolific thinker who taught me to always push to do new and more work of the highest quality, and that has become a hallmark of Ruder Finn.
“My dad was also a prolific writer. He wrote an article for Harpers early in his career entitled “Stop Worrying about Your Image,” and when the editor asked, “don’t you sell images,” David replied, “No… our job is to help people define their character and establish their identity, to help them be themselves both privately and publicly.”
“David also wrote an article for The Saturday Review called 'The Businessman and his Critics.' David felt that PR people don’t try to silence critics, that criticism was part of a free society and businessmen needed to respond constructively to critics."
“David was a pioneer in the PR sector not only because he was one of its early practitioners, but also because he brought many new ideas to the business.
“He was an early leader in corporate involvement with the arts, and was also one of the early agency leaders to encourage clients to play a role in sponsoring sports events, in sponsoring publicly released survey research projects, and in many other ideas which were innovative at the time, but have since become the norm.
“David also brought many people into the PR world who he worked with early in their career, and who then went on to form their own successful agency or to take on key communications roles within corporations.
“He was a friend to everyone and was always a peacemaker. He worked hard to resolve disagreements and find a win/win for everyone.
“I worked with David for over 30 years before I launched Finn Partners. For so many years, he was my boss and my mentor, and before the launch of Finn Partners, he was my business partner.
“He was always a best friend. So much of what I have accomplished at Finn Partners is a result of what I learned from him about the importance of kindness and justice and the potential for people to do amazing things together.”
"It has been extraordinary to see the outpouring of Happy Birthday wishes on the occasion of my father’s 100thbirthday. From my early years at Ruder Finn, until I formed RF|Binder, I saw firsthand the influence that David had on shaping the public relations industry as well as the influence he had on so many people’s careers who are now leaders in the field.
"I started my career as a photographer and photographed alongside my father. We would both walk around a piece of sculpture, taking photographs. Over time, we found we could not tell who took which photograph. Just as David trained my eye to see and understand art, he also trained me and so many others to creatively think about the role that communications needs to have in addressing business challenges. Through my working with him, I learned how important it is to bring creative thinking to every aspect of the work that we do every day.
Just as importantly, long before the recent rise in ESG reporting and the discussion of the need for corporations to articulate their purpose, David believed that corporations could and should be a force for good. It was integrated into all of his work with leadership at corporations around the world and has become a cornerstone of what we do and what we believe at RF|Binder. David was a leader who earned a seat at the C-suite table and laid the groundwork for so many of us to follow."