Mad Dog by
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(65 Stories)

Prompted By Nicknames

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Not surprisingly, I was called “Johnny” as a little kid.  Didn’t love it; didn’t hate it, but it almost entirely disappeared at some point in elementary school.  Only my family and close family friends continued to call me that from then on, and I always allowed them to.  Indeed, it is sad to think of how few people are still alive (maybe half a dozen) who still call me Johnny.  One of them is my oldest pal, whom I saw at a tailgate before the Yale-Harvard game this past November (he’s a Yalie).  And I still call him “Benjie.”  To the rest of the world, we’re Ben and John.  For better or worse, we’re not Ben and Jerry

My real, albeit self-declared, nickname came into being in the mid-90’s when I read in the papers that Jeff Beck — no (fortunately), not the legendary guitarist, but  an infamous trader at Drexel who was known as “Mad Dog” — had just died.  Mad Dog Beck was one of those outsized Wall Street Masters of the Universe known as much for his outrageous conduct and lifestyle as for the millions he made and spent.  At some point in his career, it was uncovered that his exploits in the Vietnam War, which he often bragged about, were not simply overblown; he had never even been in the Army.  But, in the perverse world of Wall Street, this seemed to only enhance his larger-than-life persona. (“That Mad Dog; what a character!”)   Anyhow, he died at the age of forty eight, married to his fourth wife, ostensibly of a heart attack. But everyone knew that it was, at the very least, coke-induced.

Anyhow, when I read his obituary, I had a sudden blaze of inspiration:  Mad Dog is dead; long live Mad Dog! I decided on the spot that I would be heir to his nickname.  At that time, there was  a TV/radio sports personality in New York named Chris “Mad Dog” Russo.  But I considered Russo to be both a loudmouth jerk and a poseur and not someone to stand in my way when it came to this sobriquet.  (Russo is still out there on the airwaves as Mad Dog, and he’s still a loudmouth jerk.)

At the time I had this inspiration, I was a senior attorney at KPMG and had a small group of devoted and talented lawyers and other professionals who reported to me. I told them about my inspiration and, team players and friends that they were, they enthusiastically leapt to embrace it.  In fact, I was then (and still am) a very calm, low-key kind of guy, so they all realized that the nickname was for the most part meant ironically.  But I was still a corporate litigator in high pressure situations and there were a few moments when i might have properly been accused of, well, rabidity.  In any event, they immediately said they wanted to become my “Mad Dog Crew.”

Once we had decided this, my wonderful assistant Gloria, who had followed me devotedly from the steno pool of my first law firm through my various later firms and positions, took over.  Gloria is a terrific legal secretary but, in her heart of hearts, she is really a party planner and travel agent. She decided we needed a logo and quickly contacted Land’s End and got ones for both Mad Dog and the Mad Dog Crew.  The featured image is a Mad Dog cap and here is a Mad Dog Crew beach towel:

As the responsibilities of Mad Dog and the Crew were international, we had meetings all over the world. For each of the meetings, Gloria would plan a lot of the events and make sure that we had appropriately logo-ed swag — the caps and towels, and also polo shirts, tees, turtlenecks, etc.. And, for the most part, the Crew tended to refer to me as Mad Dog, even in emails — which often required a bit of explanation to others who weren’t in on the joke.

And, every now and then, the Mad Dog nickname helped.  As I let my clients in the firm know about the nickname (which they all seemed to like), they would often get back to third parties with whom they were having difficulties and say something to the effect of, “Well, if we can’t work this out, I’ll have to refer this matter to my attorney, Mad Dog, in New York.”  If you didn’t know that the nickname was a joke, you might well worry that having to deal with any attorney called Mad Dog might be akin to having root canal and thus was something best avoided.

And, happily, as this is a relatively recent nickname, I actually have some non-stock images to go with my story. Most importantly, besides the swag I have pictured, here is the plaque that the Mad Dog Crew gave me at a party they threw for me when I left KPMG in 2004, complete with all their pictures and their own nicknames (some of which, by their own admission, were made up just for the occasion).

 

At the firm I just retired from, after 10+ years there, I didn’t have the same sort of formalized team as at KPMG.  Still, I let slip to a few of my closer cohorts that I was Mad Dog and they seemed to embrace it with as much amusement and occasional efficacy as my original Mad Dog Crew had. However, at my retirement party in December (I do seem to have a lot of retirement parties), my office decided that I should be referred to simply as the “Legend.”  See sign on door to our break room:

With characteristic humility, I accepted that nickname, too.

Now that I am retired, and especially with the enforced non-activity brought about by COVID-19, the irony of calling me Mad Dog seems almost too extreme to even consider.  However, if my Retro “tribe” would like to start using it (and joining me as the Mad Dog Crew), I’m just fine with that.  I may even get us all some appropriate Mad Dog swag.*

____________

* I have retained the order code and design patterns from Land’s End with which to order official Mad Dog and Mad Dog Crew merchandise. Indeed, I still get regular emails from them asking if I want to order more. I’m thinking of ordering some Mad Dog toilet paper soon. Who’s in?

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin


Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Dear “MD”, absolutely love this! I’m sure that clients thought you were fearsome to deal with, you little puppy dog. The whole crew taking up your name so enthusiastically is just wonderful (and shows what a great leader you are/were). I like all the swag too. Your admin sounds like a wonderful person for following you to your next job and organizing everything. Great person to have around. It’s clear that, mad or not, you have inspired great loyalty in your life.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy (always Betsy). You absolutely caught the whole idea of the MD moniker. Sort of like the Wizard of Oz being this little guy behind the curtain. And, yes, Gloria is terrific. In fact, I just checked in on her (she’s fine) and I have promised to send her the MD story. She’ll probably then edit it perfectly.

  2. Marian says:

    OK, Mad Dog, love this, especially when used to psych out potential adversaries legally! I feel privileged to be part of the Crew. Also, it’s a relief to know that this nickname didn’t derive from Jeff Beck the guitarist, who is one of my favorites. That would have ruined my day. The swag looks great. So far we are OK on TP.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Marian. I’ll let you know the Crew’s secret handshake off-line. Mad Dog decoder ring already in the mail.

      In fact, there was a real age/cultural gap at my firm as to who was Jeff Beck. I was one of the few folks who had heard of both guys. Reminds me of a few years later at a board meeting in which our (cool) CEO made a reference to something that Buffett had said. After the meeting, I noted to him that I was probably the only other guy in the room who knew he meant Jimmy and not Warren.

  3. Marian says:

    Aha, indeed, Mad Dog, I can believe that about Jeff Beck and Jimmy Buffet. About 10 years ago I was in Reno at an outdoor festival and blundered into a Herman’s Hermits tribute concert (with the real Peter Noone). A bunch of us baby boomers began singing along with “I’m Henry the Eighth I am …” amid total confusion of those a bit younger, who were scratching their heads.

  4. Suzy says:

    Fabulous, John, er, Mad Dog! I know Jeff Beck the musician, never heard of the other one so I was very confused by Marian’s comment. Then I googled him and found a Newsweek article that called him the Zelig of Wall Street, so that was perfect for you, since you often refer to your Zelig existence with W-1. Anyway, I love this story, and I love all your swag. Gloria sounds like a real gem, you were smart to steal her from the steno pool. (I can’t remember when I last heard the term “steno pool,” that seems so last century.) The cap and the towel are great, but I want to see you decked out in all the regalia. You can add another picture to the story.

    Almost forgot to ask, why didn’t Beverly, Robin, and Bonnie have nicknames? Somebody should have come up with something!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Suzy. And yes, I have to credit Mad Dog Beck for at least being a pretty interesting guy. Plus, we Zeligs have to stick together.

      As to Gloria and the steno pool, you’re absolutely right about it being a 20th century anachronism. I availed myself of the firm’s steno pool (including all the amazing weirdos on the night staff) from 1974-78, at which time I had enough seniority to get my own assigned secretary — Gloria.

      I’ll wait on modeling the regalia for a photo shoot until my Mad Dog thong arrives. Don’t worry — I’m kidding!

      • John Shutkin says:

        As to why Bev, Robin and Bonnie didn’t have nicknames, as I mentioned, most of the Crew didn’t really have them and a few just made up theirs for the plaque. I’m not even sure what some of them mean.

        The two genuine Crew nicknames are Pat’s Cruella deVil, since she had the unenviable task of having to frequently say no to our marketing people’s ridiculously risky (and often really stupid) proposals, and Gloria’s Royal Hunter, since she was and still is the greatest retail shopper in the history of the world.

  5. Just had to Google “Mad Dog” for the fun of it, and you’re in some interesting (if not always good) company, John. Aside from Chris Russo and Jeff Beck, there are gangsters, an executed murderer, a serial killer — oddly enough, those last two are not one and the same person — along with a smattering of wrestlers, several athletes, and even a computer programmer. But you are OUR Mad Dog!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    John, I love the notion of being part of Mad Dog’s current crew. I also loved the story of your nickname. It was fun reading about how you decided to bestow this nickname on yourself and how it actually stuck. I needed a good laugh today — thank you. I think after more time staying in my house getting ready for a move that likely won’t happen, I will be a true mad dog!

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