The Richards Group's founder defends his old-school leadership style after stepping down from the ad agency over racist comments

  • Stan Richards, the founder of The Richards Group, defended his old-school leadership style and recent racially insensitive comments that led him to step down; now, the agency is facing steep losses.
  • He said he has always tried to diversify the agency's staff.
  • Richards also defended all-male staff trips he led and his agency's lack of paid parental leave until 2019, saying, "we always treated our moms very fairly."
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Stan Richards stepped down earlier this month from his ad agency, The Richards Group, after calling a proposed ad for then-client Motel 6 "too Black," leading many clients including The Home Depot, Keurig Dr Pepper, The Salvation Army, H-E-B, and Spoetzl Brewery to drop the agency.

Business Insider recently published an inside look at the biggest independent ad agency, where some current and former employees said an old-school culture that included racist and sexist elements led to the events of the past month.

Richards is no longer involved in the operations of the business that bears his name. But he defended himself in an interview with Business Insider.

Richards said he should have been more careful in the fateful meeting

Richards said he didn't mean any malice when he told employees the proposed campaign for Motel 6 was "too Black" and might offend its "white supremacist clientele." 

He said he should have been more guarded but that because this was an internal review and the team looked over seven or eight ads in the meeting, he was using shorthand in the interest of time.

He said he also went too far in trying to guide the creative team and telling them that the ad focused too heavily on Black characters.

"It's not going to be inviting to all ethnic groups, so what I said was, 'We won't go ahead with it because it's not multicultural,'" he said. "My job for a lot of years has been to review every piece of work that goes out of the place and to prevent everything that would be a disservice to a client from leaving the agency."

He also defended the agency's record on diversity

Richards said the agency has long pushed diversity, adding that most of its employees are women and "much of our staff is Latina."

Richards said he sponsored scholarships for "outstanding kids, whatever their racial background happens to be." He said the agency has long brought in Black teens from local high schools and "tried to get them to where they would enjoy the advertising business, love it, and come to work with us," but that these efforts have been mostly unsuccessful.

Richards also responded to a 2019 incident where staff made fun of Asian dishes in a company-organized game that was put on for the benefit of visiting client PF Chang's China Bistro. Some employees called the game "xenophobic" and "racist."

Richards said he was simply reading the script someone else had written.

Employees also called the agency a tough place for working mothers, with no paid maternity leave offered until 2019. Some employees told Business Insider that until paid leave was offered, they had to save sick and vacation days or take unpaid time off after having children.

Richards said the agency "always treated our moms very fairly" and that "we always made sure any woman who becomes a mom (and her spouse) could have as much time as she needed."

Richards said he focused on giving back to employees

Richards also defended longstanding skiing and fishing trips he took male employees on. He said he only took men on the trips while his wife was alive, saying they were "not something that she would feel good about, and therefore I chose to honor that." 

After his wife died, Richards added female-only trips, he said.

He acknowledged that employees who'd been with the agency longest were most likely to be chosen and that business was discussed.

"Surely on those trips there was conversation about the business, but if somebody chose to not go on those trips, it wasn't going to affect their future at the agency," Richards said. "There was a little bit of favoritism shown for people who had been with us longer than others; they would get first consideration. But it was entirely open to people who liked to ski of either sex."

Richards also pointed to ways he gave back to employees, such as a fund that paid 15% annual bonuses to employees based on salary so they didn't have to worry about retirement.

Richards acknowledged that the fund favored people who stayed with the agency but said it also discouraged the job hopping that's common in the agency world.

"In our case [the profit] goes to everybody," he said. "Who else does that in the industry?"

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