Dr. Robert Ross, one of the great marketing characters of our time passed away this week at 92. Dr Ross (nee Rosen) was a self-made man, a showman, a huckster and a visionary who took on the medical establishment… and won. I had the opportunity to work with him on the launch of Ross University Medical School, the first for-profit medical school.
Robert Ross was bigger than life. Physically big with a Foghorn Leghorn gait and distinctive voice, he was a cross between P.T. Barnum, a courtly uncle and Don Quixote. A natural people person, he could charm a humorless eastern bloc bureaucrat, a Washington lobbyist or a young account guy. He had friends in every sector of our society and all around the world.
He knew how to manipulate the system and he did things that others thought were down right crazy like importing men’s suits from Romania or hawking an herbal concoction to reduce snoring. He saw the opportunities of globalization and constructed 3-way deals that no one thought was possible. And he successfully made a frontal assault on the entrenched medical establishment that was dead set against an off-shore for-profit medical school. His legacy is the thousands of fully trained, credentialed and certified doctors and residents now at work across the US.
He taught me that there’s nothing more powerful than a disruptive idea wielded by a disrupting personality. Brands that make noise and even brands that polarize get disproportionate amounts of attention and affection than brands that play it safe and follow the category leader. It’s a lesson that we often forget in the monkey-see monkey-do world of digital marketing.