Merkle INC. Chair and CEO Offers 10 Career Lessons to UVA Darden Students

22 January 2015

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business kicked off its spring Leadership Speaker Series with a presentation from David Williams, chair and CEO of Merkle Inc. The Darden Marketing Club sponsored the event.

Williams provided 10 lessons learned as he grew Merkle from a small business to an industry leader:

  1. Surround yourself with people who know what they are doing.
  2. Think big and write it down.
  3. Clarity over certainty: Be clear even if you do not know the answer.
  4. Have a point of view.
  5. Keep learning the business and lead from the front.
  6. Passion is contagious.
  7. Know your core set of beliefs and for what you stand.
  8. Guardrails over speed bumps: Keep your business safe with guardrails, but do not slow it down with speed bumps.
  9. Momentum breeds momentum.
  10. Do not sell your business too early.

David Williams acquired Merkle in 1988 and became its 24th employee. Today, Merkle has more than 2,000 employees in locations in the United States, China and the United Kingdom, and is the nation’s largest and fastest-growing independent customer relationship marketing (CRM) agency.

Under Williams’ leadership, Merkle has sustained 25 percent annual growth over the past 20 years and was recognized as a market leader by Forrester Research in 2003, 2006 and 2007. In 2014, Advertising Age ranked Merkle No. 22 in the World’s Top 50 Agency Companies and the seventh largest CRM/Direct Marketing Network in the U.S. In 2012, Merkle was named to the “10 Agencies to Watch” list in Advertising Age’s “A-List Issue.” Williams was recognized by WinningWorkplaces and Fortune magazine as one of America’s Best Bosses of 2006, and was the 2007 Maryland Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Williams served for six years (2006-11) on the board of directors of the Direct Marketing Association, where he also served on its Executive Committee, and for three years (2010-13) as a member of the board of trustees at the Howard County General Hospital: A Member of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Williams is a frequent speaker at industry events and has written numerous articles and white papers about topics such as customer relationship marketing, database marketing and analytics, digital media and marketing technology.

He began his career at Butcher & Singer, a Philadelphia-based investment bank, and holds a B.S. in business administration from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.

Watch Williams’ Leadership Speaker Series talk.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia