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The Power of a Story - From Janitor's Assistant to Mr Wall Street

George Evans Commercial Director (AsiaPac)

1891: A boy was born, one of eleven children of a struggling Polish-born liquor wholesaler and bootlegger in Brooklyn. The boy in question was short and left school at fifteen with scars on his back from knife fights in his preteen days.

1907: Aged sixteen, wanting better than that of which the ghetto would afford him, he made a visit to Wall Street, searching for a “nice-looking, tall building,” as he later recalled. Finding 43 Exchange Place, he started at the top floor, working his way down, asking at every office for a job. By the end of the day, he reached the third-floor offices of a small brokerage house. Nothing. However, he was told to return the next morning and as such landed himself a job as the janitor’s assistant at $3 p/w.

Early on, the grandson of the firm’s founder took a shine to him, and the boy was soon promoted to the mailroom, which he promptly transformed.

From then on, his rise was inexorable...

1914: He was sent to Browne’s Business College, in Brooklyn, to learn penmanship.

1925: The firm had bought him a seat on the New York Stock Exchange.

1927: He was made partner.

1930: He was a senior partner, and for the next thirty-nine years—until his death in 1969: Sidney Weinberg had turned Goldman Sachs from a floundering, mid-tier partnership into the premier investment bank in the world.

This story was first told to me by my American Studies lecturer nearly a decade ago as a way to illustrate the themes of the 'American Dream' and the 'Jewish-American Century'.

However, stories have always helped us to be educated (as above), but also to derive meaning from our lives, to be inspired, entertained, and informed. 

Storytelling helps us remember things more easily.

All religious texts use a series of stories bound together to create a theme. Our world may be changing at an alarming pace, but this fundamental human need is not changing, and never will.

This applies to us in our work:

- From crafting a customer journey, to explaining a piece of functionality.

- From defining a strategy with our clients, to communicating change in an organisation.

In our industry, storytelling was one of the most common themes at last year’s Cannes Lion Festival.

Coke ran a session on 'Work that Matters', sharing its stories of empowerment and hope since 1955 - a great example of a brand with a clear purpose that has been built using powerful stories consistently over time.

Jack Black, in one of the keynote addresses, exclaimed "the smaller the screen, the smaller my attention span", focusing on short form comedic content for 'bite-size' consumption on-the-move.

But just because you can tell a story, it doesn’t mean you always should, and it doesn’t mean it’s a great one. Quality and relevance are key. It’s critical to know why are you telling the story, who is telling the story, and how.

Stories are the way we understand the world and our place in it; always have been, always will be, and how we tell and share those stories will continue to evolve as technology evolves.

It runs through everything we do, on a micro level to a macro level. To close out this story on storytelling, here are my top 3 things to consider:

#1 Know the “why” behind the story

The most important element of storytelling is defining a central theme. If you can answer why you are telling a story, and why it matters to listeners, then you’re on track to craft stories worth remembering.

#2 All relationships are fed by storytelling 

Nothing hits home like a good story. But more importantly, nothing builds a relationship like a good story. Sidney Weinburg wasn't a top class financial wizard - his skill lay in understanding people, relationships and storytelling.

#3 There is power in being concise