Executive Decisions: Role Models
By Russ Jolly - published June 2006
The best way to predict the future is to create it.
--Peter Drucker, 1909-2005
When I was growing up, my childhood hero was baseball player Rusty
Staub of the Houston Astros. I think I liked him mostly because
he was a famous person from Texas with whom I shared a name. "If
someone else named ‘Russ' can be successful, then so can I,"
I thought. Sure, Staub was a solid ballplayer and I was in my Little
League glory days, but I don't think I was trying to pattern my
baseball skills after Staub's so much as hoping my success or fame
would mirror his.
In my teen years, my hero was the late, great jazz drummer Tony
Williams. By the time I reached high school, I was beginning to
choose my heroes based on skill sets I was interested in emulating,
rather than fame alone. Style was also a major factor, but the chops
that this amazing drummer displayed was what kept me practicing
at my Gretsch kit, trying to figure out how to play with such precision
and authority. (For the record, I never came close to figuring it
As a young student in drama school, my hero was British actor Sir
Derek Jacobi. Jacobi may be best known in the U.S. for his title
role in the BBC miniseries import I, Claudius, but it was his Broadway
performance in the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac with the Royal
Shakespeare Company that left me mesmerized. The technique, artistry,
and humanity that Jacobi exhibited in his performance inspired me
(and many other young actors) toward a career in the professional
theater and established a benchmark for excellence to continue to
Later, during my own career on Broadway, my hero was a wonderful
character actor named Trey Wilson. Trey never became a household
name, but film buffs would recognize his face in an instant from
many unforgettable big-screen roles such as Nathan Arizona Huffhines
in Raising Arizona, the manager in Bull Durham, or Sam Phillips
in Great Balls of Fire. Sadly, Trey passed away in 1989 at the age
of 40, but a couple of years earlier I had a chance to work with
him on stage. As talented a performer as he was, he became my hero
mostly because of what I witnessed off stage. His spirit, attitude,
and appreciation for the creative opportunities before him made
an indelible impression on me and offered a path that I tried to
put into practice in my own life.
So, what does this have to do with the world of corporate video?
When I shifted my career from the stage to media production, I needed
new role models to guide the way. I needed new heroes in the areas
of technical expertise, business savvy, and creative production
and editing. The new heroes I found and continue to find may not
be as well-known as some of the individuals I lionized in the past,
but their successes are a huge inspiration, and as I learn more
about how these professionals run their businesses or how they approach
producing, directing, shooting, or editing, I find the new paths
I need to follow to advance my own media career.
Look around. Are there media professionals in your community who
you admire for the work they do or for the way they run their businesses
or for the reputations they have within the industry? How about
nationally? What about companies outside the media industry that
you admire for business practices such as top-notch customer service?
How can you learn more about the genesis of those practices so that
you can lay the groundwork for offering the same high-caliber service
in your own business? How can you read between the lines to learn
how any company you respect grew to the position of prominence or
success that you aspire to?
I read the business section of my local paper every day, and subscribe
to a variety of trade magazines and business journals. Through these
publications, I have learned the histories of production companies
whose work I admire through detailed profiles of the organizations.
It's inspiring to discover that a multimillion dollar production
company got their start many years ago as a home-based business
making VHS dubs. I have read interviews of key executives explaining
their business and creative philosophies and discussing the role
models who shaped their own vision and progress.
I keep track of local and national media companies whose work I
respect by regularly visiting their websites to see what they are
telling their visitors and potential clients about growth and changes
within their organizations. New work posted on their sites or press
releases about projects they are working on give me insight into
the continued growth and creative direction of these companies—lessons
that I can apply to my own business.
I don't put a limit on the number of role models I look up to,
and I may pick up just a certain sort of inspiration from this one
and a different kind from another one. A major credit card company
I have done production work for has the phrase, "Think of Yourself
as a Customer" plastered over every portal in their building.
I have used just that one principle as a reference to model our
own customer-service credo.
"Creating the future," as Peter Drucker envisioned it,
means choosing a deliberate path. There are many paths that have
been paved by successful role models. Finding heroes to emulate
can help steer you in the direction you'd like to go as a business
owner, producer, director, shooter, or editor. Choose the ones that
inspire you and follow their example to success in your own work.
Russ Jolly is owner of 214 Media: Texas video