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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 out!)

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 work toward.

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 production company.

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“Russ is extremely intuitive and requires a minimum of background and input in order to produce maximum results. Extremely creative and very multifaceted I will use him again at my next available opportunity and as often as I have a need for the services he offers.”
~Ron Martin, Senior Vice President, Infinera