Joey Reiman: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

Reiman, JoeyJoey Reiman is CEO and founder of BrightHouse. Over the past 25 years, Joey has worked with leadership at The Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble, McDonald’s and Newell Rubbermaid, and has emerged as one of the nation’s foremost visionaries and leading authorities on thinking and marketing. He is the best-selling author of several books, including Thinking for a Living and, more recently, The Story of Purpose: The Path to Creating a Brighter Brand, a Greater Company, and a Lasting Legacy. He is also a world-renowned speaker who provides listeners with the inspiration and foresight needed to become leaders of the future.

A graduate of Brandeis University, Joey has won more than 500 creative awards in national and international competitions, including the Cannes Film Festival. He also teaches a course on “Ideation” as an adjunct professor of the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. Joey is a librettist, author, soul man, professor, iconoclast, screenwriter, speaker, and jump roper. He is a father, husband and Famillionaire who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons.

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Morris: Before discussing Thinking for a Living and then The Story of Purpose (Part 2)a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Reiman: St. Jude. He is the catholic Saint of the impossible. While in Rome, I was a passenger in a car accident where I was paralyzed. In the hospital, I was inspired by his spirit and recovered 100%. From that moment forward, I would know that nothing is impossible. As movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn once wrote, ” I’m possible.”

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Reiman: The advertising legend, Al Hampel, who made me at 29, the youngest EVP of a billion dollar ad firm. My first big job was to build the Atlanta, Georgia office. I was to spend a year building it up. That was nearly 30 years ago.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Reiman: Yes in 1994, I realized that any gifts I had were being squandered in advertising selling stuff to people. It was easy because people can’t get enough of what they don’t need. I leveled my 200 million dollar ad firm and built BrightHouse, the world’s first ideation consultancy. Our purpose was to think for a living.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Reiman: Brandeis University taught me t think large and to be the best Joey I could be, not someone else.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Reiman: That if we are not in business to improve life, we have no business being in business. Too many organizations are focused on the life of the business versus the business of life.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Reiman: The best is The King’s Speech as it teaches consultants that they must lead even if their clients are Kings. If you tell your client only what he wants to hear you are not the King’s counselor but a jester.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Reiman: The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell as it is [begin italics] the story [end] of every company and leader on a quest to bring a boon to society.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Reiman: If all teachers took this as an oath, our civilization would be far ahead of where we are today. Modern education pushes aspirations into our heads rather than pull our dreams out from our hearts.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Reiman: Finding the truth is no less miraculous than discovering the Holy Grail. Though the prize is elusive, the gifts we find along the way are immeasurable. I searched for truth in advertising and could not find it but my journey took me down a path of questioning the basic tenants of business.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Reiman: And then from Mark Twain, ” the two best days are the day you were born and the day you find out why.”

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Reiman: BrightHouse enlists over 300 luminaries–subject matter experts– outside the arena of business to solve the problems of business.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Reiman: Many business people are classically trained for a world that does not exist. It is not enough to be precise, we must also be passionate. Passionate efficiency is an oxymoron.

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Reiman: Business needs to be capable of more responsible action than it has collectively achieved to date.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘[begin italics] Should [end italics] we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘[begin italics] Which [end italics] mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Reiman: There are mistakes made because we have not learned to avoid them and then there are mistakes made avoiding them. The former gets us fired. The latter gets us fired up

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Reiman: Too many C-Suite leaders are alpha-male, steely-eyed, autocratic-know-it-alls who have been taught leadership means control. Just the opposite. Purposeful leadership is about guardrails for associates to experiment within rather than guidelines to follow as rules.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Reiman: Human beings are meaning seeking creatures which is what why story tellers Moses, Jesus and Buddha emerged as the world best storytellers. Our greatest American President was also Washington’s best story teller, Abraham Lincoln. Every business leader today needs a “once upon a time” if they hope for a “happily ever after.”

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Reiman: Routinization is the enemy of innovation. The groove always becomes the rut and inevitably the grave for all potentially great ideas. Think outside the box–that means your cubicle (cube that kills). Go outside! My favorite places to think are the John, the shower, the car, the gym and the church. Even though I am Jewish, cathedral spires are built to be closer to the divine intervention of a great idea.

Morris: In recent years, there has been criticism, sometimes severe criticism of M.B.A. programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the great need for immediate improvement? Any suggestions?

Reiman: I have taught at Emory’s Goizueta School of business for twelve years. While my colleagues teach fine course in operational excellence and efficiencies, my class learns about the power of what I call “soulful excellence”– that is how purposeful business’s is more profitable and more enriching. Business is learning that purpose means earning: earning more respect from associates, more trust from customers, more dollars from the marketplace and most importantly a positive presence in society. My curriculum is making its way to other schools around the globe. Hopefully, I am part of a new vanguard in teaching business–that meaning and money can go hand and hand.

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any Advice?

Reiman: The new CEO’s biggest challenge is not to think and act like an old CEO.

When you only focus on the bottom line everyone races to the bottom. The New CEO must redefine what it means to lead, compete and win. Leadership in the future looks more like stewardship. John Mackey of Whole Foods had three clients: his associates, his customers and the planet. Competitive advantage is an anachronism. In the global-hyper-warp speed world of commerce you can be taken out in 24 hours. That is why we must replace competitiveness with distinctiveness– the only quality that makes us indispensable. Apple is not in the computer business, they are in the creativity business. Nike does not make shoes they make athletes. And finally we need to redefine winning. Do you want to be the last business standing on earth or do you wants to stand beside other purposeful organizations that are making positive contributions to society.


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Joey invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Joey’s website

BrightHouse home page

Joey’s Amazon page

Goizueta faculty page

LinkedIn page


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  1. […] read Part 1, please click here. *     *     * Morris: When and why did you decide to write Thinking for a […]

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