This is a note from AKQA Group founder and CEO Ajaz Ahmed to colleagues on the death of Wieden+Kennedy founder Dan Wieden.
With deep sadness, I learned this evening, that Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, passed away on Friday. Dan was 77 and died peacefully with his wife by his side.
With his razor-sharp wit and piercing wisdom, Dan was an extraordinary inspiration to me. His company became the world’s most influential advertising agency. As the largest independent, it paved the way, proving that size and skillfulness can be symbiotic.
At a time when many question consumerism, the attitude Dan set in motion is work that’s often more memorable than the products it promotes. But it is silence, not economics, that is the real crime.
Nike’s founder famously introduced himself to Dan’s agency with the declaration: “I’m Phil Knight, and I hate advertising.” Dan would defy convention to present a major reassessment of what the profession could be. He enabled Nike to discover its voice and use the power of that voice to build bridges, break boundaries, right injustices, correct societal wrongs and redress prejudices — all the while inspiring more people to exercise.
We shared clients, geographies, and awards. We also shared an ethos. At one point, we even had conversations about merging AKQA into W+K. During one of these discussions, Dan gave me a tour of his stunning HQ in Portland, Oregon. I complimented him on the building. He spoke softly for someone who created a culture of exceptional work that makes so much noise. “The question is, who really owns this place?” he asked me. “You do, Dan,” I earnestly replied. Realising from his less than effusive expression that — as an apprentice — I had given the wrong answer, I corrected myself with a more considered response: “The people do, Dan. It’s for everyone.” At this, the brightness reappeared in his eyes.
Dan always understood the inner bond that draws one person to another. He has given generations of artists, writers and directors a canvas. Despite his agency’s phenomenal success and immeasurable contribution, Dan never lost track of the dignity of the human soul. He said: “We need to get to kids who have no idea what we do. We need to open the doors wide and let them in. There are many undiscovered voices out there — voices that, against all odds, can rise up and enrich this culture and perhaps change the very nature of the marketplace for the better.”
In our hearts, in honour and remembrance of Dan Wieden — who helped shape the course of modern industry, and so many careers, including mine.
I will also be donating to Caldera, Dan’s foundation.