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I was recently asked by Forbes Magazine to identify three previous career experiences that inform my role today.
I wrote about several moments that have shaped my character, increased my mental fortitude and helped me become a more agile leader. All of these experiences inform who I am as a person, my leadership philosophy and how I approach my role as the Chief Brand Officer at Convene.
There’s No Substitute for Character
Prior to joining Convene, I was a partner and the president of SS+K for nearly a decade. SS+K is an integrated marketing and communications agency that specializes in guiding brands through moments of change. During my tenure, I worked alongside the three founders Lenny Stern, Rob Shepardson and Mark Kaminsky. You learn a lot about a person sitting next to them for 10 years. I was an active observer—I went to school at the “founders table.” I took note of their daily rituals and routines so I could identify the qualities I wanted to emulate.
- I listened to the way they talked to their wives and children. It was loving and caring—never rushed.
- I watched as they ran to make the express train. It was important to each of them to be home in time for dinner with their children.
- I observed them mentor high school and college students from all over the country and from a range of backgrounds.
- I saw them engage SS+K’s extensive alumni network, maintaining strong bonds with colleagues well after they’d moved on to new endeavors.
Through these observations, I learned that…
- Talent and culture are the most important aspects of any business. Leaders must actively cultivate the values they want to represent, and constantly work at sustaining the environment that will support them.
- The right decisions are often not the expedient ones. Good leaders take time to deliberate and find fair solutions.
- Success needs to be measured on multiple dimensions. Being a good husband, father, friend, son, and/or brother directly informs the type of leader you are in and outside of the office.
- Whether through gestures large or small, making a positive impact on the world is more gratifying than money.
- Everyone has value, and everyone deserves to be valued. At every level of a business, people deserve to be recognized for what they contribute. Work isn’t about compensation; it’s about feeling like you’re making a contribution.
A little over one year ago, I climbed a mountain. Feeling a bit stale and in need of a new challenge, I called my friends, Perfecto Sanchez, a West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran, and Daley Ervin, an endurance athlete who just recently completed the Leadville 100-mile marathon for the 2nd time. I knew if anyone could help me shake things up, it was them. Despite not being an alpinist, I set a goal to conquer The Grand with the support of my trusted friends. At an elevation just shy of 14,000 feet, it is the highest peak in the Grand Teton mountain range. It’s not Mt. Everest, but it’s a steep, technical climb not for the faint of heart.
While I successfully summited the mountain, The Grand stripped the bark off me. It exposed my weaknesses in broad day light. And in so doing, the mountain showed me my potential. It helped me understand where I need to improve to become a stronger person and leader. Through this experience, I learned:
- How to embrace fear and fatigue;
- How to thrive under new levels of duress;
- How to navigate success and failure; and
- How to remain present for extended periods of time.
I now prepare longer and harder for challenges in business and life. I will never allow myself to have a false sense of security again. I will no longer allow fear to guide me, to direct my attention and thoughts. I look for the opportunities to apply my unique abilities in every situation.
Adapt to Thrive
Several years ago, I had the unique opportunity to help launch a marketing strategy for Jet.com. Liza Landsman, then President of Jet, hired SS+K to devise a marketing and social engagement plan for the fledging startup expressly designed to promote its membership fee strategy. Under Jet’s original business model, the company planned to rely on membership fees as its exclusive source of profit. In exchange for membership fees, Jet would give customers discounts on individual products. Any revenue Jet earned from third-party merchants selling items on the site would be returned to customers in the form of deeper discounts.
Shortly after launching the site and before the ink was even dry on our plan, Jet Founder Marc Lore informed the company that it would dispense with the membership fee immediately. A sharp, savvy guy who is often 10 steps ahead of everyone around him, Marc ultimately felt membership fees would limit the company’s potential. He took Jet.com’s playbook and ripped it in front of us. We all needed to adapt, to improvise and create a new playbook… and we did.
Flexibility is a key element of success in the business world.
I have a background that mixes non-traditional marketing and communications with significant experience in digital and social engagement. I’ve never been wedded to one way of doing anything. It has liberated me and enabled me to approach almost every new job with fresh eyes and a new perspective.