"It could be fair to say that Steve Stoute is one of the more noticeable figures in the recent flurry of Madison Avenue ad talismans. That’s partly because he is African-American. But it’s also because he still has the unfazed complexion of a baby—a baby with a mustache, mind you. He doesn’t look much older than he did when I first met him almost twenty years ago. Back then, Peter Arnell, who was on his way to becoming a certifiable ad legend, used to frequent the same Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village that I did. Peter was a big fellow in those days and he would often share a table with a lot of main courses and a good-looking young kid named Steve. Steve had the sort of winning way that indicated he might be going places, and I just assumed he was Peter’s assistant. A few years later, I was surprised to discover that not only was Steve not Peter’s assistant, he was his partner. Not only that: They had just sold their marketing company for a good many millions of dollars.
In a way, if you were there, you could see it all happening in front of you. Steve was like a sponge. He wanted to know about everything and everyone. He trimmed down, got a great tailor, and even figured out how to show up for lunch on time. Beyond that, he had the passion, the curiosity, and a willingness to try anything that all successful people have. And he had enough moxie to fuel the long journey from Queens across the East River to Manhattan. For the son of hardworking immigrants from Trinidad, that is about as tough and as far a distance as you’re ever going to travel in this country.
Steve founded Translation Consulting & Brand Imaging in 2004. I’m never quite sure what branding people do exactly, but I know that Steve is broadly admired for his lucrative pairings of the well known and the well made. He’s fashioned himself into the host of a kind of commercial cocktail party where some of the world’s biggest stars and some of the world’s biggest companies couple up at just the right moment. And in advertising, as with show business or the hospitality industry, timing is everything. Steve is the architect behind Gwen Stefani and Hewlett-Packard, Justin Timberlake and McDonald’s, Jay-Z and Reebok, Lady Gaga and MAC Cosmetics. The list goes on.
The Tanning of America chronicles the economics, politics, and poetry of hip-hop culture and how it propelled the rise of brands as diverse as Tommy Hilfiger, Cristal champagne, Versace, Timberland, Nordica, and Woolrich. Insofar as I have come to understand him over the years—both as a friend and as someone I just generally admire—Steve’s success comes from being a master observer. He has the great adman’s ability to pick up on imperceptible ripples in the culture—ripples that will in time become waves. And then he just gets on top of them and rides the big ones to glory." [Introduction by Graydon Carter]