The world of Deutsch today—host of his own primetime show on CNBC, multi-millionaire, single father—is a long way from the world he inhabited for the first part of his life. To be sure, it was a comfortable world of privilege … but one in which Deutsch was labeled as someone who had “potential,” rather than as someone who ever would act on it.

While he was a student at Penn, Deutsch recalls, for example, “I was a little bit of a fish out of water, a little bit of the village idiot. I think I was the last person off the wait list into Arts and Sciences—so I was literally the dumbest person they took in all of Penn.”

Be that as it may, Deutsch transferred into Wharton and graduated cum laude after what he characterizes as a not-overly-academic undergraduate experience. “It was a little crazy back then, let’s put it that way. There was a lot of … hmmm … ” He has a big grin on his face. “It was the late ’70s, that’s all we need to say. A lot of partying, and a lot of hard … hard work, hard play.”

And, perhaps unsurprisingly, he notes, “My friends and I were more of the partying ilk. A lot of my friends were the least likely to succeed.”

(Deutsch is a little more serious about his current Penn role serving on the board of overseers for the School of Social Policy and Practice. “It’s an honor to be on the board working with Dean Gelles,” he says. “He is an inspirational leader, and the school is really poised to do some amazing things.”

Deutsch was one of the first board-members recruited by Dr. Richard Gelles, the Joanne and Raymond Welsh Chair of Child Welfare and Family Violence, who became dean in 2003.  According to Gelles, in addition to contributing generously, Deutsch “has been extremely effective and helpful, both in helping us build the board and helping us put forward our first conference on nonprofit leadership [“Gazetteer,” Jan|Feb 2006].

“Donny knows everybody,” he adds. “When we build a board, I use the Gladwell approach—we need the board to be a ‘tipping point,’ so we look for people who are connectors, experts and sales people, and Donny’s greatest skill is connectivity.”)

As the heir apparent to his father’s advertising company, success—or at least financial comfort—was Deutsch’s birthright. But when his father decided to sell the company in 1984, Deutsch asked that he be allowed to run it instead.

He proceeded to shed his self-applied enfant terrible label and to rise to the occasion, renaming David Deutsch Associates as Deutsch Inc. and building what had been a small, print-oriented boutique agency into a top-tier full-service powerhouse. He sold the agency to the Interpublic Group of Companies in 2000 for $250-300 million, remaining as both chairman and CEO until 2005. He still serves as chairman of the firm.

How did he do it? Arguably, simply by being himself. Deutsch was brash, in-your-face—and Deutsch Inc.’s advertising was as well. The firm’s ads for Tanqueray gin featuring the sardonic “Mr. Jenkins” character, as well as the IKEA ads featuring a gay couple shopping for furniture (accompanied by no fanfare whatsoever), were, like Deutsch himself, memorable.

After dabbling a bit in a film production company, and writing his book, he wondered: What next? But why, one might ask, would anything have to be next? After all, with an estimated net worth of over $200 million, why do anything at all?

“It’s success and the irony of success,” Deutsch confides. “To me, in advertising, there was no margin of failure,” he notes. “It was a question of, well, do I grow [to] $2.7 billion, $3.2 billion. I felt I cracked the code. And if you can ever force yourself to climb a new mountain, well, the energy of when you, at 26, are just starting out, with the possibility of failure, it’s so much more invigorating.

“So I want to force myself to another mountain, so that’s why I keep doing other things,” he says. “But having said that, still, all within the core competency of creativity, of creating content, of motivating people.

“After I sold the company and I was saying, ‘What do I want to do next?’ I thought, ‘Hey, what about a TV show?’” he recalls, with a glint in his eye. Deutsch often poses rhetorical questions, to which the answer is almost always the same: “You’ve got to say, ‘Why not me?’ You gotta at least say, ‘Why not me?’ Or else the next bold step—that nonlinear step—never happens. Until you say that, the great things can’t happen.”

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