A few weeks ago, the fifth season of "Mad Men" came to an end. The folks at the 1960’s advertising agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce have survived another year, but not without their fair share of partnership disputes and employee issues. Obviously, the employment and partnership environments of the 1960’s were quite different from what we experience today, but there are some interesting lessons to learn. So, without further ado, here are my top five employment/partnership disputes at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce for the years 1966-67.
1. Sleeping Your Way to the Top: Pete Campbell is the young partner is the office that everyone loves to hate. When there was the opportunity to obtain the advertising business from Jaguar, it came with an implicit quid pro quo from a Jaguar executive that he have an intimate evening with the redhead Joan Harris. Pete not so subtly suggested this to Joan and, in what had to have been a radical move for a woman in the ’60’s, she agreed to enter into this tryst in exchange for a partnership in the advertising firm.
2. Fist Fights to Resolve Partnership Disputes: Pete also got into a dispute during a partner meeting with Layne Pryce, the British financial guru for the firm. (Unfortunately, Layne would later commit suicide.) What started off as an argument, turned into a fight. In a scene reminiscent of some 1920s boxing match, Layne proceeded to land one punch and knock Pete to the floor. At that point, the other partners intervened and ended the dispute. While most partnership agreements may contain an arbitration provision or some other type of ADR process to resolve a deadlock within the partnership, I haven’t seen one yet that deals with a standard fight to resolve issues.
3. Employee Theft: The aforementioned Layne had some issues with back taxes in England that he had to resolve. Unfortunately, he was short on the funds. Under an immense amount of pressure, Layne decided that he would forge the signature of Don Draper and cut a check for $5,000.00 to address his financial woes. Draper discovered the forgery and fired Layne in a very dignified fashion. Draper did not reveal the forgery to anyone, and before Layne could leave the firm, he decided to hang himself in his office.
4. The Smooth Transition: Peggy Olson, one of the central characters of the show, is a young up and coming advertising exec in a strictly male world. Draper took her under his wing in the first season. They always had sort of a love/hate relationship. Peggy eventually grew tired of the relationship and realized that it was time to make a move. In probably the best scene of this season, she gave Draper her resignation. Draper told her that he was essentially the reason for her success, which she did not dispute. She told him he would do the same thing and he did not dispute the assertion. In the ultimate employee transition, Don then kissed her hand as tears began to come down her cheeks. She left the firm in the midst of a party for securing the Jaguar business through the "hard work" of Joan.
5. Office Nepotism: Draper married his secretary, who was later promoted to the advertising side of the business. It seemed a little awkward as a partner in the firm would walk in with his wife for each day on the job. Apparently, the Sterling Cooper policies and procedures did not address nepotism, but it clearly created friction and issues within the firm, and provides good reason for such policies.
There are numerous other instances of interesting employment and partnership issues at Sterling Cooper. Hopefully, employers and employees have made significant strides since this time.