COURT CRANDALL _UNLEASHED

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It's 10 a.m., and Kirk Souder and I are sitting on his gold furniture, in the ocean, in our jeans. Trust me, we know we look like jackasses, we're just too desperate for PR to turn down a shoot for Creativity. And so begins a series of vivid, unrelated and hopefully entertaining mental images that define my last 10 years of life at Ground Zero. A life that started in a small room above a restaurant and has progressed to a seat next to a ramp. A life filled with more laughs, more heartache, more celebration and more love than I could have fit into a century at one of the multinational agencies.

We're in some anonymous hotel room in Burbank, halfway through our first major pitch. It's to Buena Vista Home Video and the pregnant Disney client is crying hysterically. This is a good thing, right? The work was supposed to be emotional, to talk about the bond between parent and child. Still, all I can think is, We really need this account and if that woman doesn't come out of the bathroom, she's going to cost us a vote.

Mr. Bijan, that's what he makes you call him, has just listened to my explanation of our launch campaign for Michael Jordan Cologne. It's the first attempt ever to take Michael off the court and show the man rather than the basketball player. I'm not sure he understood what I was talking about, but he's very impressed with Kinka Usher because Kinka is a director and that's better than being a copywriter. Kinka and I are rushing for the lobby, but I can feel Bijan, I'm sorry, Mr. Bijan, behind me. The elevator ahead beckons like the shoreline in Jaws, but Mr. Bijan is closing fast. Swim, Court, swim! It's too late, he's going to tell me his idea. "How about this-you have Michael dressed in a tuxedo, and a penguin turns to him and says, 'Now I look just like you!'" Ding, the elevator arrives, seconds too late.

Two days till Christmas break and I've got a list in my hands with every employee's name on it. Last year at this time, I was handing out bonuses. Now, I'm trying to decide which people are most valuable, who has kids, who just bought a house, who will have the hardest time finding another job. It's a crushing weight to have the decisions you make on behalf of your business profoundly affect the lives of your friends.

The doors to the chartered bus open and I run onto the bus holding the Belding Sweepstakes trophy like the scalp of an enemy warrior. The thing has literally got Chiat/Day written all over it, but from the drunken screams that fill the vehicle, there's no question, tonight it belongs to us.

Kirk Souder, Jim Smith and I are sitting in our conference room. It's like the hundreds of other meetings we've had about everything from how we get in a pitch for Coke to how do we keep the bathroom stocked with toilet paper. Only this time, Kirk is telling us he's leaving the company. I understand his reasons and I'm trying not to take it all personally. Still, this was something the three of us built from nothing. It is personal. I will miss him.

I'm standing at the foot of a hospital bed in San Diego. Shawn Brown, an art director who has done our best creative work of the year, is staring back at me, unable to move or speak after a surfing accident left him paralyzed. I'm trying to tell Shawn that I1m going to leave shortly, but Ground Zero will remain by his side. That whatever physical condition he's in, he will always be part of Ground Zero and we won't rest until he is back with us. I've spent the last 16 years of my life talking about communication and I have no idea whether the most important message I've ever delivered is getting through.

It's the night of our 10th anniversary party. There are nearly a thousand people in our building, and I've just been handed a microphone. I thank my partners, thank my wife and tell everyone who is still sober enough to care that when we started Ground Zero, I thought it was all about the work. Then I thought it was all about the company. And finally, I realized what it's really all about is the people. It's about the people who helped lay the track for this roller coaster, the people we'll pick up along the way in the future and the people who are in the car with me right now.

Court Crandall is founder and creative director of Ground Zero, Marina del Rey, Calif.

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