Welcome to the first edition of AIGA Idaho’s Design Dialogue, a mini interview series to get-to-know your local professionals that are growing and shaping our design community.
I am happy to kick this series off with Dirk Robinson, CFO at Mitchell and Palmer. Dirk had a great journey to share, on top of some solid advice as we met at Thomas Hammer, one of his favorite coffee shops in town. As we sat down to meet, he joked that he had been here earlier that morning, too sleepy to realize that he was handing the cashier his Starbucks card. “Just one of those days,” he chuckled, as he greeted me with great energy as we sat down for our lunch meet-up to talk about how he got into the advertising business.
Dirk’s start in this industry was a bit different than most, for advertising wasn’t his first choice. After accepting a full ride scholarship to NNU to study pre-med, Dirk had his heart set on becoming a doctor. He continued his studies at Loma Linda Medical School in Southern California. Following a “boring” and “stressful” first semester, Dirk left med-school and was home-bound to Oregon to work on his family’s cattle ranch. During this change of heart, he remembered a career test he had taken in high school that noted advertising as one of his strengths. Shortly after, Dirk picked up a Yellow Pages and started calling ad agencies.
Wieden + Kennedy
Dirk began by asking for informational interviews and was introduced to a woman named Jane Baker, who was very impressed by his liberal-arts-geared resumé. Jane told Dirk to call Wieden + Kennedy. With Cindy Taylor of W+K on the phone, Dirk said he would “work for free to get to an understanding of the business…” WORK FOR FREE!? COME ON DOWN!” C.T. said. So with a $5 hourly wage, Dirk started his career at THE Wieden + Kennedy with a crew of 12 employees, and would continue here for the next 16 years. Not bad for a cold call eh?
With his start in the W+K Portland Dirk was transferred to Amsterdam, enjoying the beauty of this lively city and the wonderful people who taught him to ‘work to live, not live to work.’ Dirk also helped open the London office, as he grew with the Nike account there, working his way up to the role of Chief Financial Officer. Dirk dealt with tax documentation, VAT’s, HR, employee transitions and international contracts. As he talks about all the great people he worked with, Dirk also mentions many long and stressful 14 hour days.
With his departure from Wieden + Kennedy, consulting was on the table, as he was called by an ex W+K employee, for a part time CFO job at advertising agency 180 (Adidas). So Dirk left W+K to begin his new journey as a consultant, something he had always wanted to pursue. At 180, he helped integrate a new computer system, helped negotiate the Adidas account, and set up the department among many other projects. During this time he also worked as CFO with Strawberry Frog Amsterdam, which became Amsterdam Worldwide and several other one-off clients and start-ups. Life took another turn as the Dutch housing market boomed and Dirk decided to sell his house in 2007 to move closer to his family and follow his passion for Opera. As he kept telling me this story, little did I know that this was just the start of Dirk’s many talented ventures.
With a stroke of luck, Dirk was exposed to singing on an airplane flight home for Christmas from Amsterdam, as he met a Dutch choir group. This got his gears grinding once again. Subsequently, he toured Europe with several musical organizations and sang in his first Opera at a German festival, only to realize, this was a passion he wanted to pursue further. Dirk’s first US Opera was with Opera Santa Barbara. During a visit to Idaho, Dirk saw Opera Idaho and shot off an e-mail to the director. He was asked to audition and is now a performer, proving yet again just how far hard work and inquiry can get you. “ I guess I just want to show people, to not be afraid, to go out there and follow your dreams.” While still in California, he contacted Billy Mitchell, based on his prior work experience with Rob Palmer at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, and is now their part time CFO as well as a singer for Opera Idaho. With a constant drive to push himself, Dirk’s inspiring timeline shows that the possibilities are limitless, if your passion follows suit. Dirk had a great energy about him that came through in every one of his stories, as well as his Opera performances I had the pleasure of seeing. His passion for each career path he set his mind to, was achieved through hard work and the courage to take the time and ask. This industry is fueled by people like Dirk, and we can only hope to learn that it’s never too early, or too late, to pick up those yellow pages and see where they take you.
Advice For Students
“If you have something that draws you about a place, family, art, travel…you will bring that to the interview. Pick out what it is that interests you, and drop an e-mail. “ (Or pick up the yellow pages)
“Something that young people need to realize is that you probably have a lot more skills to offer than you realize. The experiences you gather on the job, the processes you learn and the people skills you learn are all transferrable, to almost any career. Tuck that away and understand what you’re good at and what you enjoy.”
“Tell your friends about what you love, tell the people you care about, and they will spread the word.”