- Interview with Mary Wells
Mary, let's begin from the beginning. How and where did your story start?
I was born in Ohio and was an only child. My father drove an ambulance in World War I and it had a terrible effect on him. When he returned he worked very hard, but whenever he wasn't working, he was hiding. My mother had not been encouraged to have much education by her family and felt incapable of teaching me. She loved me madly and we were always very close. Later, when I was older, she revved herself up and had a very successful career in department stores. But, growing up, I didn't know much about the world at all until I went to school. I won writing awards, and the awards were always a trip to New York. So, actually, I saw New York frequently and I just knew I had to live in New York and eventually did. Once I was there, I met my husband, Harding Lawrence. He was running airlines and hotels, so he was very knowledgeable about the world. He knew the presidents and business leaders of countries. He was a star, a huge success at the time. He was older than I was and much more experienced. He taught me to live in the world, not just a town. I brought my children up to live in the world. I had two daughters. One married an Englishman and one married a Frenchman. I am proud of that, especially because I had started out in a small, small town in Ohio. Now, I really do know a lot about the world.
I recently read your autobiography, A Big Life in Advertising. The woman who wrote this book is really passionate and has a lot of energy. You do get the feeling that, as she built her career, she was constantly being pulled in a million different directions. I have a lot of questions about where that woman ended up, going forward from where the book, which appeared in 2002, ends. Especially because you talk about women right at the end, so I thought maybe we could look back at women in advertising—and then turn around and look forward, and perhaps a bit more globally. For instance, right in the past few pages, you talk about wanting to get involved with women in India. Did you get there?
I've been to India, but I got waylaid. I had a very complicated life. I had sold my interest in Wells Rich Greene because my husband had been very ill. He had been absolutely fantastic throughout my career. He had been pro-female and he always had women on his boards of directors. He was interested in pushing and developing women. He had always been so wonderful, helpful, and supportive of me, that when he got ill, I figured it was his turn.
And that was also the time when we were shifting from international to global. Maurice Saatchi and I are good friends. One day he said to me, "I need a good idea for a speech I'm about to make. I wonder what you think about 'going global'? Not 'international,' because 'global' is all-inclusive. It's a much bigger idea." I said I thought that was fantastic, and he said "global" in his speech and as far as I know that was when we all "went global."
I already had international affiliations and I actually had offices in a number of places. I owned agencies in some interesting places like Peru. Wherever my clients were, I tended to have offices one way or another. But at that point I knew I had to go global. I had to stop doing affiliates and start acquiring companies. That was going to take a lot of time and a lot of effort. I couldn't quite handle things the way I had been—and my husband was getting really ill. If it hadn't been such an emotional time, I think I would have realized that there were ways to solve the...