Off Into the Sunset, Paintbrush in Hand
— by John Moes
On a cold, wintry day in November of 2000, I was asked to pick up a call in the back room at a firm where I was temporarily working until I launched a new company I’d been planning.
On the other end of the line was Bob Zeidler.
Anxious and excited, he was calling to confirm what he’d heard – that I would finally be starting my next venture, an electronic communication company.
The ensuing conversation would change the trajectory of my soon-to-be start-up and the futures of everyone who has been a part of the FUEL experience ever since.
At first, Bob suggested – then more firmly directed me – to suspend the electronic communication company idea and business plan I’d worked years to hone. Instead, he insisted that I launch a company that focused on something sorely lacking in this part of the Midwest – purposeful design applied to the achievement of business goals.
I sensed he also knew who needed to join in order to ensure the success of this idea that would become FUEL.
It turned out that Bob and Bill Bollman – an enormously talented designer and creative force in town – had already been thinking independently of each other about this need for some time.
When I shared Bob’s phone call with Bill, he too pressed me to alter my plan.
The more I thought about it, I COULD see us doing something really BIG together. The idea of a company that focused on communication, but led with design… I couldn’t imagine a better partner to build it with than Bill.
Thus began a great collaboration – one that hasn’t really been discussed out in the open… until now.
A few years back, Bob retired from the big manufacturer that had been his life, wrapping up a successful first career. Then he went all in here at the small design company he’s known since the beginning.
Tending to client relationships, he often doubled as a brand strategy wizard behind the scenes, sprinkling his wisdom wherever and whenever possible.
Bob and I debated philosophy, ideas, strategy and a myriad of other topics during this time, each of us as passionate about FUEL as the other. Somewhere along the way, Bob became the soul of FUEL.
My telling of Bob’s role in FUEL now signals the end of another phase in Bob’s career.
This past autumn, with FUEL on a solid trajectory, Bob knew it was time to go paint and leave the business world forever.
Bob has now retired (again) to pursue his lifelong dream of painting in water media and teaching the craft. Just like Bob mastered the art of using design as a secret weapon in the war for corporate market share, he has pursued his painting with the same tenacity to perfection.
As FUEL rolls through another year, we take time to reflect on the past as we look forward. It seems that our ability to move minds with design is the thing that Bill and I have woefully under-shared and undersold.
Rather demure as a group, it’s just our nature. Yet from the beginning, Bob was there, encouraging us to shout it from the rooftops.
So why am I telling this story now? Because Bob would never tell his own story. It needed to be told.
Bob is one of the most humble leaders I’ve ever met. Much of what he accomplished during his career was hidden behind the walls of corporate America, where strategic communication is always held tightly to the vest.
The entire time we’ve known each other, Bob has never wavered in his belief that designers could change the world and the fortunes of so many.
That he believed in Bill, in the team, in me – and in the very idea of what FUEL stands for – reminds me that this isn’t just about us; it is about something much larger.
We felt that just sending Bob off to a retirement filled with painting and teaching, celebrated only by a nice dinner outing wasn’t enough, so we created a FUEL Hall of Fame.
Bob is the first and only inductee in our almost 20 years of existence – and is most deserving.
Congratulations on a wonderful career and for being our first inductee, Bob!
And all the very best on your new adventures.
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Or see his work in person or take a class at Bereskin Art Gallery in Bettendorf, Iowa: