UPDATE: Since the original announcement of Jay Wilson’s death, many people have been asking about where they should send donations or gifts. I am very pleased to announce that Colby-Sawyer College, in which Jay was very heavily involved, has set up the W. Jay Wilson Memorial Scholarship Fund. The family asks that all donations should be sent to this fund c/o Beth Cahill, Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, NH 03257.
March has not been friendly to the market research industry so far, with the passing of two of our most iconic figures.
First we had the tragic news of the passing of Larry Gold, the former publisher of market research industry journal Inside Research and the AMA Gold Report (formerly the Honomichl Report), at the age of 80 after a battle with cancer. Larry was an inspiration to myself and many others by being a shining example of the role an independent voice could take in helping to shape an industry. His influence and impact on our industry will be missed.
You can read a fantastic summary of Larry’s storied career on the MRWeb site here: http://www.mrweb.com/drno/news20613.htm
The second blow was today, when Simon Chadwick passed on the news that Jay Wilson had died after a battle with cancer as well. It was my honor and privilege to get to know Jay about six years ago when we were working together to launch BrandScan 360. I was blessed to spend time with him in person on a few occasions as well as many hours on the phone, and every single time we spoke I left with two things: having learned something new from a Master of not just research but business as well, and profound respect for him as a human being. Jay was a class act in every single way and I am sure I join the throngs of people in this world whose lives he touched in grieving his death. Our industry is lessened by his passing, but we gained immeasurably by his being a part of it for so many years.
Simon knew Jay best and sent the piece below eulogizing him. It’s a wonderful summation of the man and his career, and celebrates his many, many contributions to the market research industry.
Details on memorials for Larry and Jay have not been disclosed yet, but we’ll pass them on here as soon as we receive them.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of both of these titans of the market research industry.
By Simon Chadwick
Many people in today’s industry will perhaps remember Jay as the Chairman and CEO of Roper Starch Worldwide, a company that, under his inspired management, rose to become the 15th largest in the world before its sale to NOP World and the absorption of that company into GfK. Others will remember him as the highly effective and passionate Chair of both CASRO and CMOR. Yet others will remember his work at the Roper Center for Public Opinion. Some, maybe, will remember him as a co-founder of the consulting company, Cambiar.
Whichever incarnation of Jay you relate to, it is almost certain that you, like me, would be amazed at the sheer breadth of his contribution to the Market Research industry over the last 50 years and the impact that he had on its development.
Jay Wilson was part of only three father-and-son pairings to have been elected to the MRC Hall of Fame, along with his father Elmo C. “Budd” Wilson. The others were Elmo and Bud Roper and the Arthur Nielsens (Sr. and Jr.). Jay was early to enter the industry, working as a coding assistant in Audits and Surveys as a summer job, in the 1950’s while still at high school.
From there he took a break, graduating from Yale and then traveling to Europe to take a position with Reader’s Digest as their International Advertising Development Manager. While living in the leafy London suburb of Wimbledon, the thought struck him that he would love to do a post-graduate degree at the University of Cambridge. Being Jay Wilson, he attacked this initiative with gusto, writing to all the colleges at Cambridge, unaware that many of them were for women only. In later years, he would delight in showing friends his rejection letters from these establishments. But go to Cambridge he did, graduating with a Masters in Historical Studies from Corpus Christi College. He was also to study at the University of Vienna, his field of inquiry there being European economic and political institutions. His choice of these fields of study were no coincidence: Jay was always intensely curious about the development of the world around him, its historical roots and, tellingly, how human beings functioned in their everyday, economic, social and political lives.
In 1948, Jay’s father, Budd, had founded International Research Associates (INRA) and had grown this into the first truly global group of market research companies. Returning from Europe in 1967, Jay joined the organization as an Executive Vice-President. This did not impress the mailroom clerk, who called him “the kid”. Upon his father’s death a year later, Jay jointly assumed the leadership of INRA alongside George Gaither and Helen Dinnerman and was to remain in this position for the next three years.
INRA fed one of Wilson’s abiding passions: exploring and understanding life in different and far-flung parts of the world. His next move, however, was to feed another of his passions: marketing and advertising. In 1971, he was invited to become President and CEO of the venerable advertising research firm, Daniel Starch and Staff. Starch was one of the first commercial research companies, founded in 1923 and its founder, Daniel Starch, was still active (though not the CEO) when Jay Wilson took the helm at his company. All was not well at the firm, however. It was losing money at a terrific rate and had delisted from the Stock Exchange in April 1970. It was taken private by Loeb Rhodes, the investment bank that had invested in Starch and helped take it public, and it was up to the young Wilson to turn it around. To hear Jay tell it, there were times when the company was not sure it could make payroll and creditors were literally pounding at the door. At one point, personnel from the phone company arrived to cut the lines. Jay threw them the keys to the front door, saying, “Here, it’s all yours. No phones, no business. No business, no payment.” The lines remained uncut.
Over the next two to three years, Wilson nursed the business back to robust health, so much so that he was able to acquire INRA in 1974, thus uniting his present employer with the firm that his father had started over thirty years prior. In the early 1980’s he then moved to acquire the Roper Organization, the firm that had given Budd Wilson his start in the business, thus squaring the circle of his family’s involvement in the development of the research industry. In 1993, the firm changed its name to Roper Starch Worldwide and grew steadily, both organically and via multiple acquisitions (including those of Friedman Marketing Services, Inc. and Response Analysis Corp.), to become the 15th largest research company in the world.
Jay always used to be highly self-deprecating about his abilities as a researcher. He was, he would say, a businessman in the world of market research. Indeed, long before selling was an acceptable part of life in commercial MR companies, Wilson had a sign on his desk that read, “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” Nevertheless, while it is true that he brought a businessman’s instincts to what could be an overly academic and insular profession, it is also equally as true that he was indeed a great researcher. It was Wilson who, in the early 1970’s, led methodological research into alternative questioning procedures for estimating magazine audiences;; and it was he who, in the mid-1970’s, lead a major piece of research on the topic of purchase influence and introduced the concept of “interspousal influence” to the world of advertising. This was not too long after David Ogilvy had famously opined that “the consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.” Jay put that concept on a more modern footing. In those days he was, as Phil Dougherty, the ad columnist of the New York Times, put it, “Mr. Wonderful”.
In the midst of all of this, however, he had a businessman’s knack for spotting how to make money out of research. He instinctively knew that if you could turn a research methodology into a syndicated product, you would make much more money than if it were something purchased on an ad hoc basis. But, if you could add consulting to that syndication, then you would have gravy on top. So it was that he was responsible not only for a number of syndicated products that survive to this day (Starch, Roper Reports and Roper Reports Worldwide), but he also made it his mission to recruit some of the best consultants into the research profession that he could find. These he would hire out at what the research industry considered to be obscene rates to consult to C-Suite executives on data that he owned. Genius.
In the 1970’s, there were two hubs for really high quality market research – the U.S. and the major markets of Western Europe (the U.K., Germany, France, Italy and Spain). Jay knew from his earliest days in INRA that, as the global economy expanded, so too would the need for good market research. For him, therefore, INRA was more than an institution, it was a mission. He would travel the world, meeting with market researchers in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Russia and Asia-Pacific. All along the way, his passion was not only to export Western methodologies and techniques but also to learn and understand the challenges facing researchers in each part of the world that he visited. He was very proud of the fact that Roper was the first Western research company to conduct research in Russia (before the fall of the Berlin Wall). He was also one of the very first to enter the Chinese market, way ahead of the big multinational groups that were beginning to emerge at the same time. In every market that he and Roper touched, he would search out researchers and invariably become their mentor, their friend and their proponent.
And this was perhaps his abiding passion. Jay really loved talent – he loved seeking it out, he loved nurturing it and he loved seeing the people he nurtured succeed. One of his favorite markets was Mexico and here he contributed as much as he did in Russia and China in helping birth a new industry. One of his protégés was Manuel (Manolo) Barbarena, who himself became the Jay Wilson of Latin America before his untimely death at the age of 48. So saddened was Jay about his demise that he drove the founding of an endowment in Manolo’s name, run by the Americas Research Industry Alliance (ARIA), that would fund young MR leaders from all over the Americas to travel and learn leadership in their chosen industry. The Manolo Award still flourishes today.
That love of nurturing talent also extended to this country’s educational establishments. Jay was an early and enthusiastic advisory board member at a number of MSMR programs, including University of Texas at Arlington and the AC Nielsen program at the University of Wisconsin, as well as at a variety of colleges around the country, including Baruch College and Colby-Sawyer College. But even beyond this, he sought to invest in and encourage what he saw were promising enterprises, including Market Strategies, Focus Vision, Keller Fay and Cambiar. His enthusiasm for great ideas and entrepreneurialism was not confined just to Market Research and consulting, however – Jay was also involved in companies specializing in new types of safety car seat, data security, digital advertising and, most famously, helium dirigibles. He exhibited childlike excitement at all of these, spurred on by the creativity of their ideas but also with a shrewd eye on their potential for a return on investment.
Along with his desire to push talent and innovation, however, Jay was adamant about the need for the Market Research industry to improve itself and, importantly, protect itself from government regulation. For over 20 years, he served on a myriad of industry boards, starting as the US National Representative for ESOMAR in 1982 and going on to become Chair of CASRO in 1994 and co-Chair of CMOR in 1995. He was relentless in challenging sacred cows and in pushing his more conservative colleagues in the industry to understand and confront both change and challenge.
I have been fortunate to have had Jay as a colleague for over 20 years – first in CASRO, then in NOP and finally in Cambiar. One incident stands out in my mind as defining the man: in 2004, I was Chair of CASRO (the position Jay had held ten years earlier – and on whose board I had served) and he was Chair of CMOR. He and I were in the throes of founding Cambiar as a business venture; we were friends; and yet we were heads of organizations that were going through a very messy divorce. CMOR and CASRO had decided to go their separate ways and it was ugly. Jay was insistent that, even though we were facing off in public, our friendship would survive and that we would move forward to establish Cambiar. It did and we did.
On August 31, 2001, the company I was leading – NOP World – acquired Roper Starch. With it came Jay Wilson, a man who had been boss of his own organization for thirty years. How was I to use him? I appointed him as Executive Chairman of North America. “What in hell’s name,” he asked “does that mean?” I told him that it was a title but that what I really wanted him to do was to help me build up the company through acquisitions all around the world. This tickled him no end and he took on the task with huge gusto, reeling in all his contacts and setting up no less than 15 acquisitions within weeks. Then came 9/11, recession, Enron and Sarbanes Oxley. Our world collapsed, capital was no longer available for acquisitions and Jay chafed at being a part of the much larger world of our beleaguered parent company, United Business Media. He resigned in August 2003 to resume life as an independent entrepreneur, a free spirit and a promoter of talent and ideas.
Jay’s motto, which we carry on to this day, was “Have fun, do a good job, make money.” He lived that motto – and much, much more – to the last. We have lost a giant, a character and a friend.