David Finn, co-founder of PR agency Ruder Finn, died at age 100 on Oct. 18. Here, Ruder Finn’s Chief Innovation Officer Michael Schubert pays tribute to the man and his many accomplishments—in and out of the boardroom.
It has been said that David Finn is one of the fathers of the PR industry. In his more than 70 years leading the company as CEO and Chairman, David helped push the boundaries of the communications world, establishing the model for a modern public relations agency in Ruder Finn, the agency he co-founded with Bill Ruder in 1948.
He provided communications counsel to corporate giants Lever Brothers, Exxon, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis and Coca-Cola. He was enlisted under three presidential administrations: rallying support for the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty for the Kennedy administration; building ready.gov following 9/11 for the under the George W. Bush administration; and serving on the National Endowment for the Humanities for the Clinton administration. And he was instrumental in addressing many of the global challenges of his time with global NGOs from the United Nations and World Bank to the Vatican.
A true pioneer, David did not view the profession as it was, but what it could be, regardless of how many people shared his vision at the time. David’s reputation and lifetime of achievements can be summed up by his favorite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Ethics, integrity and purpose
David led with ethics, integrity, and purpose, long before the phrase “stakeholder capitalism” became part of the corporate vernacular. He published numerous articles on the philosophy of PR and the roles and responsibilities of business in society. In his book, "The Corporate Oligarch," David wrote about the importance of public service and the responsibility that business leaders had to positively impact society. And David put his words into action. He spoke out when clients were not listening or responding to criticism. He refused to let clients “spin” what today might be called “fake news.” And he made Ruder Finn the first PR agency to have a standing ethics committee to review our practices. In short, he not only founded an industry, he blazed a trail forward, establishing Ruder Finn as one of the largest and most respected independently owned, global communications agency.
Yes, David Finn will be remembered as one of the founding fathers of PR. But I will remember him as a personal mentor, my most thoughtful teacher, my fiercest advocate, my greatest inspiration, and one of my closest friends. David was like a father to me. He changed an industry, but he also shaped my life.