Harry “Bee” Bernstein says he’s got no time for negativity. Havas New York’s new chief creative talks inspiration, the problem with work-life balance, and why the move to Havas.
So, why advertising?
I was always drawn to art when I was a kid. In high school, when I heard Andy Warhol worked in advertising before becoming an artist, it sparked my interest in the industry. I couldn’t even draw a tree then, so no one was in my corner telling me that I could become a creative director.
Ironically, it was an art teacher who told me one day that advertising will all be done on computers, so if I’m drawn to it, then pursue it. So when I was 17 years old, I interned at DMB&B advertising as part of a New York City Department of Education program, called “City as School.” I learned QuarkXPress and Photoshop 1.0 and began my career.
And why Havas?
My history with Jason Peterson, chairman and chief creative officer of Havas Creative US, goes way back. We first met at Berlin Cameron where we worked together on Vitaminwater, Coca-Cola, Lincoln, Ford, Belvedere, Heineken, and Heineken Light. We formed a friendship that has lasted ever since. When Jason moved to Chicago to work for Euro (now Havas), I was curious what was going to happen. I watched Jason turn the agency into an advertising mecca, and it was nothing short of inspiring. Together with Laura and Paul, they focused on establishing a solid point of view for what the agency stood for and was passionate about, which in turn drove meaningful work and culture for their employees.
It was this approach that helped turn Chicago into one of the top performing agencies of the Havas network. Havas is changing the idea of what it means to be a creative agency—from supporting creativity to fostering a creator mindset and forming a culture where employees passions run freely.
The team broke the traditional mold of advertising and continues to do so, every day. I’ve always loved to break tradition so when I was introduced to the idea of working with all of them it was a no-brainer.
How important is work-life balance?
I don’t believe in work-life balance; I believe in work-life integration. Our success—and that of our clients—rests on having one of the best employee experiences, not only in New York but anywhere. I listen every day to my people to learn how they think that we can make the agency better, how they can do their jobs more effectively, and how we can have some fun along the way.
What I always tell them is that if you wait until the end of the day to start your life then you will never be happy. We foster our staff bringing their passions into the office and their work into their life. Thinking of the office walls as keeping you from your aspiration is a trap.
We hear that meditation has been a great tool for you, so how’d you get started?
Leaving my well-paid job after 12 years to start a company was the scariest thing that I’d ever done. I learned more about myself in the first two years than I’d learned in the previous 33. Yoga was a small part of my life, and Eastern philosophy was something I began to explore in high school.
It became imperative as The 88 grew. Around year five of The 88, I kept losing my temper. We were growing nonstop. I kept pushing myself, my team, and the limits of what we were doing—and we were fatigued.
Being an asshole isn’t my thing, so I started listening to guided meditation. Then when my partner, Alee, got pregnant with our son Lorenzo, we both tried Transcendental Meditation (TM), and I started to practice it every day. It has completely changed me for the better.
How do you manage it all?
I set clear priorities for what I know works: Spending time with my family, not eating sugar, getting a good night’s sleep, exercise, yoga, reading at least 20 pages of a printed book a day, meditating, and eating and drinking green vegetables.
What are you most excited about in your new position as the CCO of Havas New York?
I’m most excited about Breaking Tradition. That statement is a milestone that I’ve been on course for my whole career. I believe with the Havas New York team and with pure blind drive, we will change advertising forever. I hope to be the CCO that makes Havas NYC remembered in history as the place to work in at the end of the second decade of the 2000s.
What’s your biggest source of inspiration?
Seeing my partner Alee give birth to our son.
What is it about New York City that made you want to start your business here?
Both advertising and I were born here. What better place to change it forever?
So, what’s your vision for Annex88?
To continue to work with my 88 family along with Jason’s Annex family to create something no one has ever seen before.
What’s the next up-and-coming trend in advertising?
Not following trends.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in their 20s or 30s?
Write down all your excuses, and throw them into the East River—on biodegradable paper, of course.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Negativity is the enemy of greatness.