As Mad Men begins its fifth season this week, we felt it was a good time to take a closer look at the main characters from one of TVs most successful shows. They’re all good at getting what they want, but they come from different circumstances and have different obstacles to overcome. Even if you don’t watch the show, you can get some great lessons from these dynamic characters.
Don Draper, founding partner of advertising agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is an inspiration to all budding entrepreneurs who come from difficult backgrounds. Draper had a tough childhood. His mother (a young prostitute) died giving birth to him and his father left him orphaned at age ten when he was trampled to death by a horse. His stepfather beat him, his stepmother verbally abused him and life for Don was generally difficult in 1930s rural Pennsylvania.
But Don was determined to succeed in life. He reinvented himself after serving in the Korean War by taking on the identity of a fellow soldier killed in battle. He clawed his way up through the ranks from used car salesman to fur coat salesman to creative director to founding partner of one of New York’s largest ad agencies. At the beginning of the series, Don has a beautiful wife, two gorgeous kids, a nice home in the suburbs and an array of hot secretaries who cater to his every whim. Plus he looks great in a suit.
Don Draper became successful despite numerous setbacks. It wasn’t just hard work, though. Draper possesses incredible interpersonal skills. He knows just what to say to his bosses in order to gain their respect. He knows how to interact with his secretaries to get them to give him “favors.” He makes clients feel important without coming across overly sycophantic. He exudes an air of confidence at all times.
Maybe you came from a less than stellar background. Or maybe you were just raised in a normal, middle-class family without the benefit of a trust fund. Take a tip from Don Draper – figure out how to work well with people, make goals to increase your position and you’ll do well.
Pete Campbell is a young account executive with some serious family money. His family owns most of upper Manhattan; he grew up on a large estate, attended exclusive private schools and graduated from Dartmouth. Pete has lots of big plans, but little ambition.
Pete attempts to blackmail co-workers in order to get promotions. He tries to take credit for their work and sets them up to take blame for his mistakes. He whines and wheedles and is generally a pain. He has several extra-marital affairs just to top things off.
Despite Pete’s abysmal lack of character, he never gets fired. In fact, he is promoted and joins Don Draper at the new agency where he is working toward partnership. His wife forgives his infidelity and his marriage improves by the end of season four.
The lesson to learn from Pete Campbell: it doesn’t matter how many advantages you are born with, there is no substitute for hard work and a bit of morality. Most of us don’t come from a background like Pete’s. For the most part, we are in the 99%. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make it in the business world. There may be times when your hard work goes unnoticed, but that is no reason to give it up for blackmail. Stay at it and you will be rewarded in the long run.
If you’re a career-minded woman you might identify with Peggy Olson. Peggy is a poster girl for the feminist movement. She begins work at Sterling Cooper as a secretary where she is told to shorten her skirt and fix her hair in order to find herself a husband at the agency. But she is bright and ambitious and shares some of her ideas with one of the copywriters. He gives her credit for her work and she is promoted when he leaves.
Peggy has many skills that contribute to her success and she shows no hesitation in using them. She is compassionate, which helps her gain respect from her boss, Don Draper. She is able to identify with the wants and needs of consumers, which comes in handy when determining how to approach clients’ ad campaigns. Her organizational skills save the day on more than one occasion when there are crises in the office. She focuses on her talents and works her way up on talent alone – an impressive feat for the mid 1960’s.
If you’re one of the 10.1 million women (1) who own a small business, you can thank the real-life Peggys of the 1960’s and 1970’s for your opportunities. She taught women everywhere that even though we may run into an occasional chauvinistic pig, we can rise above lecherous behavior and make our way toward success with our brains and talents.
Betty is a gorgeous, refined woman with a closet full of fabulous dresses. She manages to accrue quite a nice lifestyle with her husband Don Draper, though she has to overlook his multiple extra-marital affairs. She finally tires of his infidelity, but quickly finds another rich, successful man to marry her and help raise her children.
The lesson here: feminine wiles can still help you get ahead, if your main concern is looking great and having a fancy house. This scenario certainly works for some women, but we definitely don’t recommended it. A lot has changed since the days of Betty Draper. Today’s women are empowered and educated. So get out there, go to college, find yourself a rewarding career and don’t rely on others for a fabulous lifestyle. You can always buy your own dresses!
(1) According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, 10.1 million businesses were owned by women in 2008.