Zimmerman Speaks: Dream Bigger
By Keith Morelli
TAMPA (March 22, 2018) -- The message delivered to a standing-room-only crowd of students in the Muma College of Business atrium Wednesday afternoon was clear: Dream bigger and make sure the dream is your own.
Jordan Zimmerman, founder, chairman and architect of the Zimmerman Advertising empire and for whom the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications is named, delivered a motivational speech about how he began with nothing and built a corporation with published billings of more than $3 billion.
Howard Finkelstein, the elected public defender in Broward County and friend of Zimmerman's, also addressed the young crowd, speaking about overcoming adversity.
Zimmerman's catch phrase was "dream bigger" and he encouraged the audience, made up mostly of business and mass communications students, to meet challenges head on and to take a few risks along the way.
"When you leave here today, you will dream bigger," he said, "much bigger than you ever thought was possible."
Zimmerman, who also serves as vice-chairman of the USF Board of Trustees, talked about his modest beginnings, showing pictures of an old Buick he used to drive and the tiny office that was Zimmerman Advertising's first location. He then flashed photos of his personal airplane and a $900,000 Porsche Spider and his massive office building in South Florida.
"Dream" he shouted to the crowd.
"Bigger" was the response.
Zimmerman, who was a first-generation college student at USF, said his success derives from a simple bit of advice.
"I wasn't chasing the paycheck," he said. "I was chasing the dream. You have to work harder, work smarter. Never chase the paycheck, chase the dream. And never let anyone rob you of your dreams. There are people out there who are dream robbers."
Zimmerman Advertising is now the 14th largest advertising agency in the world. Zimmerman started the business while he was enrolled in the MBA program at USF and worked the first few years while living with his parents and making little money.
"I couldn't even afford to go out on a date," he said. "I couldn't afford to go out to lunch."
Zimmerman founded his company in 1984 with a commitment – a dream – to be the best. He trademarked his own term, "Brandtailing," a combination of long-term brand building and short-term retailing that delivers measurable results. It has become the hallmark of Zimmerman's success.
Clients range from Nissan to Saks Fifth Avenue to Tire Kingdom.
He warned students to be cognizant of what they post on their social media sites, telling them they are cultivating their own brand when they post information about themselves. Potential employers look at those sites, as do future in-laws and spouses. He called personal posts "digital tattoos."
"You," he said, "are a walking, talking brand."
Zimmerman helped reshape USF's advertising curriculum over the past 13 years.
Mass communications students focusing on public relations and marketing students in the Muma College of Business are able to study together in the Zimmerman Advertising Program, which allows students to study, live and work together and includes a six-week summer overseas trip to London to study marketing and advertising across the pond.
USF named him Entrepreneur of the Year in 1991. In 2007, he was honored with USF's Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2013, he was named one of USF's Fast 56, the 56 fastest growing "Bull owned" or "Bull run" businesses in Florida.
His success in business can be traced back to taking some risks, he said, admitting that being afraid of failure is natural. But it can work to one's advantage.
"Turn your fear into fuel and let it propel your career," he said. "Make it so that when you're 35 to 40 years old, you go to work because you want to, not because you have to."
Howard Finkelstein, a USF alumnus who now is the elected public defender in Broward County, spoke briefly to the crowd after Zimmerman.
"For me, this is trippy," he said, recalling attending classes at USF some 40 years ago.
He spoke of overcoming adversity. He was a lawyer in South Florida in the 1980s when cocaine and violence flooded the streets. He got caught up in the moment, got addicted to cocaine and nearly landed in prison after living a fast and reckless life.
"I started out living someone else's dream," he said, tying his message to Zimmerman's. "I tried to be something I wasn't and I nearly destroyed myself and everyone else around me."
The turning point came one night, he said, when he was impaired and ran his car into a police cruiser.
After that, he turned his life around.
"You win when you find a place you are supposed to be," said Finkelstein, who now runs an office of 200 attorneys overseeing some 41,000 criminal cases. "I'm here to say I've made a lot of mistakes. I got drunk on the idea of money and drugs and sex ... and I drank it up. I almost destroyed myself."
He complimented the young crowd and urged them to go out and make their own way in the world.
"I can feel the energy here," he said. "You are our future. Take the time to find out why you are here on this planet."