I was very sorry to hear of the death of Wally Olins on Monday. Although he was 83, and had recently undergone an operation, it seemed he was recovering well, and I was looking forward to his postponed book launch for Brand New: The Shape of Brands to Come and maybe catching up with him before then as he had said he had wanted to chat further with me about Japan – which was typical of Wally, that despite his immense expertise and experience, he was always curious to know more and very generous and open to relative newcomers to his field.
We had worked together both when I was at Fujitsu for their new brand promise “shaping tomorrow with you” and after that with his company Saffron on another corporate vision project for a Japanese owned subsidiary. As Ian Stephens, principal of Saffron, has said in their statement about his death, Wally was infectiously charming but also famously impatient – he sometimes sought reassurance from me that his straight talking style was not going to upset Japanese executives.
Although he was impatient with Japanese companies’ caution, indecisiveness and inarticulacy, I sensed Wally was approving of Japanese companies because they instinctively “get” (and had been practicing, at least in Japan) the concept he had been preaching, that a company’s brand is about nurturing its collective identity, giving it an emotional connection to its customers.
I understand his impatience now, as he did seem, despite his four score years and more, like a man who still had a lot more he wanted to give and achieve. The best compliment we can pay him therefore is to buy his new book, and keep the flag flying for his work and ideas.
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