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Drew Patrick wasn’t planning on owning Skidmore Studio—at least not yet. At one point, the former CFO even considered leaving the iconic Detroit branding and design firm altogether. It’s not that Drew didn’t love the company he called home for nearly a decade. He simply envisioned building up his own company over furthering another’s vision.
But just when we think our future’s all figured out, life loves to surprise us.
It’s those surprises—both triumphant and tragic—that led Drew to embrace the unexpected challenge of leading this iconic creative studio. Today, Drew is the proud and humble owner and president of Skidmore Studio, and there’s no job he’d rather have than carrying on its 60-year legacy.
A Motor City Legacy
Before understanding Drew’s career trajectory, it’s essential to know the Skidmore Studio story as well. Founded in 1959 by Leo Skidmore, the company began solely as an illustration shop for Detroit’s automobile industry.
It also began as an organization committed to supporting its people over its bottom line. Leo Skidmore described his vision best six decades ago: “I’m not doing it for the money, and I’m not doing it because I want to be my own boss … I don’t care about either of those things. What I care about is being fair and honest with people who work with me and creating an environment that is healthier than any other for the creative talent in Detroit.”
Though Skidmore Studio has since evolved into a firm focused on branding “food and fun” products rather than just cars, Leo’s people-first company vision has never wavered. This legacy has been carried on by every owner since, and it’s been their mission to instill this mentality into every member of the Skidmore team.
As Skidmore’s fourth owner, Drew inspires his people to embrace creativity, honesty and integrity. But before becoming a values-driven leader himself, Drew had to learn the perks of passion over profits.
Learning From His Own Mistakes
Drew admits that a career based on passion—especially one in the creative industry—wasn’t always at the forefront of his mind. After graduating from Albion College in the small town of Albion, Michigan, his first job was at Ernst & Young as a public accountant. “It was my parents’ ideal job for me,” Drew recalls. “I liked it. I was good at it. I knew it wasn’t for me.”
Despite not loving his work, he stayed at Ernst & Young for over three years, believing in the company’s overall integrity.
“And then Enron happened,” Drew says. “Personally, I felt really rejected from a values standpoint.”
Disillusioned by his own industry’s corruption, Drew walked into the office one day and quit on the spot. However, though he exited his corporate accounting firm on principle, Drew soon invested his entire savings into a mortgage-based company for all the wrong reasons.
“[The company] ended up failing miserably,” says Drew. “I essentially put everything I had into a business as a minority partner … And I did it purely because I thought it was going to be profitable. That was it. I didn’t buy into the vision. I didn’t buy into the product or service. I just thought this thing’s going to kill … so I’m going to get in.
“I lost everything. I literally lost everything. That was such a tremendous lesson in living your values … I did something that was not aligned with who I was and [who I] wanted to be. It was really painful—financially and emotionally.”
Drew had learned another hard lesson, but this time it stuck. Drew was now steadfast in finding a career path aligned with his values, even if it took time to discover exactly what that path was. In the meantime, he took on financial consulting jobs to make ends meet. He also joined Vistage, a peer mentoring group for business owners and executives where he could network with like-minded professionals.
It was at those group meetings that Drew met the man who would alter the course of his life forever—Skidmore Studio’s Tim Smith.
Joining a Creative Legacy
“You’re the only guy here that knows numbers,” Tim Smith told Drew while at a Vistage meeting in 2009. Tim needed financial consulting assistance on a major business move. Not only could Drew do the job—and do it well—but after knowing each other casually through the Vistage for a few years, they also clicked on a personal level.
That major financial move involved buying the studio from Mae Skidmore, the late Leo Skidmore’s daughter. Tim was Skidmore’s then-president and already running day-to-day operations, but only as a partial owner. He wanted it all, and he trusted Drew’s expertise.
“Take a look at what I’m doing here, and tell me if I’m being stupid or what,” Tim asked Drew.
So Drew took a look not only at the financials, but at the company as a whole. “I stepped into this creative studio and said, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t even know a place like this existed.’ And it was fascinating. Like, this can be work?!”
Not only did the numbers check out for Tim, but for the first time, Drew’s eyes were open to the potential of a passion-forward company.
Soon after buying Skidmore, Tim mentioned that he needed a CFO and right-hand man. He asked Drew if he wanted the job. There was zero hesitation and Drew officially joined Skidmore Studio. Together, they slowly grew Skidmore’s culture into an even more cohesive and creative community.
In 2015, Tim began focusing on writing his book called Dare Mighty Things: A Field Guide for Millennial Entrepreneurs and put much of the day-to-day operations on the backburner. That’s when Drew noticed the lapse and asked if he could take over as president. Tim agreed.
Though Tim was the clear owner possessing his grand vision, “we were partners,” says Drew. Still, this lack of true ownership slowly nipped at Drew’s inner-entrepreneur. “I just had the desire to see what I could do if I were in control,” he says.
But with an unwavering love for his team and clients, until some future unknown opportunity emerged, nothing was more important to Drew than building a better Skidmore Studio.
Then without warning, everything changed.
Resilience Through Tragedy
It was a typical day at Skidmore Studio in January 2018. Drew had an uplifting chat with Tim where they discussed the positive feelings they had for the new year ahead. Then Tim left the office for lunch like he’d done countless times before.
About an hour later, Drew received a frantic call from Tim’s wife, Colleen.
“I just got a call from the hospital,” Colleen said. “They said Tim’s there.”
Drew rushed to the hospital where he got the tragic news.
“His heart stopped,” Drew says. “His brain just stopped telling his heart to beat—like that fast. I was with him an hour before and he seemed upbeat and healthy. There was no sign of anything.”
Though a nearby police officer managed to restart his heart, he never regained consciousness. Tim Smith passed away six days later at just 54.
Shock and grief reverberated not only through Skidmore Studio, but through Detroit’s entire creative and advertising community. Tim wasn’t only an icon at his own firm, but also to countless others whose lives he impacted.
“It was a really emotional time,” says Drew. “It sounds cliche, but the team came together like family. It felt like family then, and still feels like family now.”
The day after Tim passed, Drew gave his team the option to come into work or stay at home to grieve, “and without exception, everybody came in. We just worked together, were there for each other, told stories and cried.
“It’s really revealing of the character of people that we have in our lives here. Everybody expressed a ton of appreciation and gratitude not only for Tim and how he brought us together, but what we had going forward.”
There’s never an easy way to move forward from tragedy, but time moved on, and Skidmore needed a new owner. Colleen, who inherited ownership from her husband, had no interest in running Skidmore. Several months after Tim’s death, she went to the man who stepped up as the company’s de-facto leader—Drew Patrick—and asked him who he thought might want to buy the firm
Just like when he joined Tim at Skidmore nine year earlier, Drew agreed without hesitation telling Colleen, “You’re looking at him.”
Carrying the Torch
Drew’s desire to start a new company from scratch vanished. Skidmore Studio felt like his own company all along. “It was clear that this place has a soul,” Drew says “It hit that this isn’t just a company. It has a life of its own. It needs respect.” Now that Tim was gone, Drew’s purpose was to move it forward. He knew that preserving Skidmore’s legacy while ensuring its long-term success would be a challenge, but it’s a challenge he’s embraced.
“I do believe there’s an added responsibility,” Drew says. “This is something that preceded me and was much more than me.”
With that history on his shoulders, Drew woke up on the morning he officially took over Skidmore Studio feeling immensely more nervous than he imagined. After all, he’d already been effectively running it for months.
But as soon as he walked in the door, every ounce of fear melted away.
“I came in on that first day and the staff had decorated the studio, hired a trumpet player and invited my family,” Drew remembers. “I walked into the celebration of me.”
“That day meant so much. From waking up and feeling that weight to feeling this love from the people I see and care about every day—to see it returned. It was incredible.”
Now, Drew uses that feeling of reciprocated love, respect and trust as constant inspiration. He’s also keeping true to Leo Skidmore’s—and Tim Smith’s—people-first mission and looking forward to another 60 years of Skidmore Studio.
Want to hear my entire conversation with Drew Patrick? You’ll learn more about Skidmore’s company culture, Tim and Drew’s relationship, how Drew’s learning to become a more mindful leader and so much more. Listen to the entire conversation on my donothing podcast.
Connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn and keep up with my company imageOne here. Learn about my mission to show business leaders how mindfulness can transform you and your business in my book donothing. Visit www.donothingbook.com for more information.
April 1, 2019 at 08:08AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs