It should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who knows (or wants to know) Roy Spence that he wears a jewelry symbol of The Golden Rule—from each major religion—on a chain around his neck. About a dozen, in fact. Close to his heart. In a world where we’ve seen so many business leaders who lack that kind of spirituality, citing the Wall Street greed that challenged our economy in the late 2000s, Spence rises above with his own spiritual approach to life, as our own Lance Avery Morgan learns when he gathered with him.

The books of Roy Spence

Roy Spence knows how to tell a story. In fact, he’s shared his insight in a slew of best-selling books: Don’t Mess With Texas: The Story Behind the Legend (Idea City Press, 2006; co-authored with Tim McClure); The Amazing Faith of Texas: Common Ground on Higher Ground (University of Texas Press, 2006); It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven By Purpose (Penguin Group, 2009; co-authored with Haley Rushing) and his most current, The 10 Essential Hugs of Life (Greenleaf, 2013)

“Every religion of the world has a version of The Golden Rule,” Spence shares. “So, a purpose-based leader practices just that. Treat people as you would like to be treated. We ought to have golden rule summits around the world,” This sincere sensibility is the reason why his book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For (written with Haley Rushing), caught the attention of the business world when it was released. And, not a moment too soon.

Roy Spence

When I caught up with Spence in his office at Austin’s GSD&M agency, a monument to modern advertising success, the creative corporate headquarters were buzzing. While walking into these headquarters, Idea City, you’re grounded with the words of the agency’s core values that are emblazoned into the floor of the foyer: Integrity, Curiosity, Restlessness, Community, Freedom and Responsibility, and Winning. If you’re like me, a visitor is actually inclined to step around them as not to infringe upon them. This company that Spence founded with fellow dynamos Judy Trabulsi, Steve Gurasich and Tim McClure embodies the success they have been able to create for their clients, with a sense of true purpose.

Roy Spence, far right, and GSD&M in the 1970s

The taglines that have become household known are plentiful. Southwest Airlines: Democratize the skies and give people the freedom to fly. Wal-Mart:  Save people money so they can live better. BMW: Enable people to experience the joy of driving. American Legacy Foundation: To build a world where tobacco is rejected and anyone can quit. It’s a laundry list of major brands that have entered popular vernacular, not only because of their purpose-driven businesses, but also with how GSD&M has presented those purposes to the world.

“It’s like sharing a message,” Spence says. “I have been struck for all my life, basically, because I was blessed with great parents, but of this, this war that individuals go through…I want to live a life of purpose.” And he walks the walk and talks the talk. As a young boy growing up in Brownwood, he walked his sister to school every day—pushing her wheelchair because she was stricken with Spina Biffida. He goes on to say, “I felt disabled because of it, because I was so attached to her. But it helped me learn great empathy for the world around me.”

Spence extends that empathic approach to his clients and their leaders, who are often his close, personal friends. He genuinely wants to help them solve their problems of branding. Spence is drawn to power and power, in turn, is attracted to him. He makes things happen. He gets up on Saturday morning and has a cup of coffee with Bill Clinton over a phone call. On Sunday morning, it’s with Hillary Clinton. Spence knew the power duo knew way before most of the world knew them back in the early 70s. No matter how good or bad the times were that the Clintons experienced, Spence stood right beside them. It’s no wonder that Jim Collins, who wrote Built to Last, says that Spence is “dedicated to the idea that greatness comes in direct proportion to passionate pursuit of purpose.”


[Photos courtesy of Roy Spence/GSD&M]

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