Wally Simpson liked to tell his children that when his boss broke his promise on a Friday, he was out the door and in business for himself the following Monday.
It was 1960, and Simpson's boss reneged on a partnership promise. He left to open a competing pre-press company, Cold Type Setters on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.
The company embraced an emerging technology at the time that used photosensitive paper to capture images that could be easily mass reproduced in print.
"It was a family operation," said his brother-in-law Tom Jansen. "They all pitched in at it and all the kids learned the business that way."
That family business evolved with the times, embracing Macintosh publishing systems and digital machinery as it morphed into what would become Periscope Advertising Agency, a full-service firm employing 550 people and boasting marquee corporate clients.
Simpson died Tuesday of heart failure at his home in Chisago City, Minn. He was 95.
Growing up on a farm in Fairmont, Minn., he earned a journalism degree from Macalester College after leaving the Navy in 1948. He became business manager of the Prescott Journal in early 1950.
In 1951, Simpson became editor of the Brainerd Press in Minnesota and he and wife, Sally, welcomed the first of seven children.
Wanting to earn more money, Simpson went to work as a keyliner for a plumbing parts firm. In 1957 he joined Offset Compositors in Minneapolis, chasing pre-press accounts and solving clients' problems.
He struck out on his own to build Cold Type Setters, a pre-press company that created the master photo sheets of ads and forms that could be replicated without hot-metal plates.
Simpson's photo sheets were first used to make bowling score pads surrounded by an ever-changing array of local advertisements. From there Cold Type Setters made the master sheets for hefty catalogs for tractor, well equipment and farm-supply firms and deposit slips and loan application forms for First National Bank (now U.S. Bank).
As Simpson oversaw clients and walked the plant floor talking to employees, Sally managed the financials and the children grew up at the company, sweeping floors, making customer deliveries and fixing machines.
The company grew to nearly 100 employees with Simpson's special formula for managing workers.
"He had a philosophy that you can't work well and be productive when something's eating you," recalled his son, Bill. "You gotta let it out."
Wally's family attitude toward his employees built loyalties that lasted decades. He formed a Cold Type bowling league and started an employee bonus program. He fed the team after each annual meeting and hosted company Christmas parties at the Simpson home near Lake Harriet.
"Wally always led with incredible values. … The 'work hard/play hard' philosophy was in his DNA," said Bill, who took over the business with brothers Dave and Jim when their father retired as president in 1987.
In 1994, Cold Type Setters bought Kauffman Stewart Advertising and changed its name to Periscope, which gained a reputation as a fun, creative place to work, where dogs, toys and games were as welcome as hard work.
Periscope grew to 550 employees with high-profile clients that today include Target, Cargill, Krispy Kreme, Schwan's, Petco and Walgreens. Periscope was sold last year to Chicago-based Quad/Graphics. Today Periscope has about $84 million in annual revenue and is the 133rd largest ad agency in the country.
Because of COVID-19 a Catholic mass will take place next week at the Church of St. Joseph in Taylors Falls, Minn., with only immediate family.