Sandwich-board extraordinaire

Ken Donaldson puts his experience as a risk management executive to good use in his weekly bid to land employment.

Each Wednesday, he heads to 101 California Street in San Francisco’s Financial District with an enormous sandwich board in tow. An inverter and battery from his own car power a computer monitor that splashes his resume and PowerPoint presentation. He’s part salesman pitching his own career, and part huckster shouting his message to anyone who will listen, including those riding cable cars. Others who wish to avoid his gaze cross to the other side of the street.

SAN RAFAEL, CA - OCTOBER 28:  Ken Donaldson wa...

Ken Donaldson waves at passing vehicles as he stands near the entrance to state highway 101 on Oct. 28, 2010, in San Rafael. Donaldson, a San Francisco Giants fan, had been unemployed for over a year. (Getty Images via @daylife)

But nothing can obscure his mantra, plastered in big letters atop his contraption: “When the going gets tough, the tough get creative.”

Donaldson walks a fine line between cartoon character and creative entrepreneur, but he pulls it off with aplomb. Though his methods may seem unorthodox, he conveys a sense of professionalism, basking in the energy that such determination can generate.

“People talk about thinking outside the box,” Donaldson explained Monday in a speech to Marin Professionals in San Rafael. “I had to go outside my brain.”

The weekly experience recently bore fruit in the form of a video taken by his sister and brother-in-law during an excursion to 101 California Street in San Francisco. Donaldson posted the film on YouTube, where it’s been viewed hundreds of times.

The film, which can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmCUic8E8l4, is a bit blurry and choppy, and it’s tough to hear his exchanges with people — including those riding cable cars — over the din. But the overall project was extraordinary in scope and exhibited a passion rarely seen by his fellow job-seekers.

“Never give up,” he says.

But Donaldson quickly points out that he doesn’t expect his sandwich board adventures to translate directly into a job. Rather, the experience gives him a sense of exhilaration that can silence feelings of depression.

“It’s all for the mental health,” he tells a family member acting the part of interviewer at the end of the film.

The result?

“Mission accomplished,” Donaldson says.

Through the use of special software that turns PowerPoint documents into a format recognized by Windows Media Player and YouTube, Donaldson also uploaded an ingenious resume presentation that takes full use of animation.

At one point we see a multitude of conflicting questions and ideas bombard a person’s brain. Some examples: “You should be looking for a job 8 hours a day!” And: “Where do we get the money?”

Such questions circulated inside Donaldson’s own head in 1991 when he lost his job amid a much milder recession that nonetheless put the brakes on a successful career. It was during this period that he brainstormed his idea for a sandwich board.

Just as he does now, he headed for the “FiDi.”

But Donaldson, who enlarged his resume to 2 feet by 3 feet, was immediately met with derision.

“People scoffed at me,” he said.

That experience, however, finally led to a job — and the start of a 16-year career — when an employer read a story about his experiences in the Marin Independent Journal and contacted him.

He found himself unemployed again in 2007 and joined Marin Professionals. He made a repeat performance with the organization in 2009 and has been looking ever since.

He found that people actually went out of their way not to look in his direction during the Marin County Fair earlier this year. He intended to set up his equipment amid the crowd but was quickly ordered to relocate to a “free speech zone” populated only by “weirdos.”

“People were looking the other way because they thought I was selling something — and I was, myself,” Donaldson explained

He also dragged out his props during a Fourth of July parade in Novato, where he was met with similar resistance. He ended up on the sidewalk, sweating profusely in the 100-degree heat and cursing a generator that failed every 45 seconds.

But no amount of intrusions can sideswipe Donaldson’s perseverance.

He let a few of his frustrations spill out while discussing the pain of generating no income. “What happens if it’s your child’s birthday and you can’t get them a present because you don’t have the money?”

A poem he recited mixed some of that feeling of shame with some more upbeat comments:

“Get up, brush off let’s start anew with a smile,

Let’s get busy & find our job. We are all worthwhile!

Get positive yeah! Give yourself credit you are good!

A Seasoned Professional, experienced, talented and solid as wood.”

Reach Ken Donaldson at kendonaldson@comcast.net or 415-497-1807.

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