Serena Duff, Horizon Media's long-time head of the West Coast office, passed away on February 26th after a battle with colon cancer. Here, Horizon's Founder and CEO Bill Koenigsberg shares his remembrance of Duff, who joined Horizon to lead the office in 2009.
For those of you who know me, I have kept a diary of all my meetings and my schedule since I started Horizon 31 years ago. I have an entry from October 12, 2009, that says, "Serena Duff accepted today, how lucky are we, very excited." That started a 12-year journey together with Serena joining us to lead our West Coast office.
I saw an energetic, wise, charismatic, curious, and culturally aware executive in her. We all look to hit the jackpot in our hires; I struck gold with Serena. My pot was overflowing with Serena's leadership. In typical Serena fashion, the first week she started, we had a major pitch in Chicago for all the Corona beer brands. Serena called me and said, "I know I am only here for two days, but I want to lead this." That was her, all in from day one. She dazzled the room and won the pitch. Corona, to this day, still remains a major client of ours, and that is a testament to Serena's leadership and loving her clients every day.
Over those 12 years, Serena grew the office from 75 people to over 300, with the office now managing $1 billion in business. There was so much more to Serena than all business. Her love for the people she managed, her sense of humor, her charity work, her themed parties, her monthly "raise the bar" office gatherings, and of course her weekly postcards from L.A. to me that she used as a unique status report.
A little over four years ago, she rang me up and said, "Bill, I have a problem." Of course, I thought it was business-related. Then she said, "I was just diagnosed with colon cancer, it may have spread, but they are not sure." Three weeks later, she had surgery, and that's when she found out that it had spread. Typical Serena, she said, "I will fight this, I will beat this, I am young, and medicine is more advanced today." Her wishes were to keep her illness private. She did not want people worrying about her; she said she was the one that should be worrying about everyone else, and she valued her privacy. I respected her request for privacy through the years.
Serena and Gary, her husband, allowed me to share some of her story with you. Over the last four-and-a-half years, Serena went through four surgeries, countless chemotherapy treatments, and an advanced clinical trial this past September. During all that time, Serena was all in with her people, clients, and the industry as if everything was fine to the outside world. She confided in a few but still chose not to burden others.
Over the last year, with this awful pandemic, the silver lining was that Serena was at home with her loving husband Gary and their two beautiful children, Reese and Tripp. She cherished the time, as did they. In late October, Serena learned the clinical trial did not work, and her time was very, very short. Again, in typical Serena fashion, she said I need to be here for Thanksgiving, her children's birthdays in November, her favorite holiday Christmas, and to celebrate Valentine's Day with her family. Always overachieving, she was able to enjoy all of this. The outpouring of love and support by many of you to Serena over the last six months was so appreciated by her.
Over the last year, I have witnessed courage, strength, dignity, beauty, grace, and warmth in this amazing lady, Serena. We lost one of the very best way, way too early. She had a lot left to do—we all do. As she expressed to me, cherish the little moments because those may be the big moments, appreciate every waking hour because it is a gift that doesn't give forever.
Serena made us all better.
The outpouring from the industry has been extraordinary, and I have shared all of that with her family. For those who want to honor her memory, her family suggests donating to the City of Hope. Here is the link.