MERRIE SPAETH, 51
Present life: Founder of communications-training consultancy Spaeth Communications Inc., headquartered in Dallas.
Former life: As a child actress, she appeared in the 1964 film The World of Henry Orient, starring Peter Sellers and Angela Lansbury. Later she created and ran the White House office of media relations under President Reagan.
Lessons learned: Spaeth says Sellers and Lansbury taught her the importance of creating and refreshing an image. "What I learned was the quality of continual reinvention," she says. "Sellers constantly reinvented himself. And look at Angela Lansbury. How did the horrible woman in The Manchurian Candidate end up becoming Miss Marple? She's consistent in her personality, but she changes the roles she plays to show range."
Spaeth uses those examples to determine strategy for her business. "We reinvent ourselves to solve a client's problem. It's more than just tweaking, and it's not something along the lines of Hammer's reengineering. It's rethinking what your audience wants and needs. Isn't that what great actors constantly do?"
From Reagan, Spaeth learned that every successful leader is a part-time comic. That came in handy when she had to quell an internecine White House dispute between her media relations office and Larry Speakes's press office. "I made an appointment with Larry," she says, "and I dropped down on my knees, crawled into his office, and asked him to give us a chance to work with him. He laughed, and then we talked.
"The minute you make people laugh, you get them to listen," she says.