Location: New York, NY
Job: Senior Vice President, Global Communications & Multicultural Marketing, Nielsen
Education: B.A. in English, Morehouse College; M.B.A. in Marketing, Emory University
Tell us about your path into the news world.
I was fascinated by the news as a kid, but I didn’t want to just be just any newsman – I wanted to be Bryant Gumbel. I loved how he shifted from asking seemingly hard news questions to doing really fun segments. I still watch Inside Real Sports on HBO with a modicum of awe. My high school didn’t have a real newspaper, so I took a Trapper Keeper of five essays I’d written to the editor of my hometown newspaper and asked her if could join the staff. She liked my initiative and thought I had a nice voice, so she sent me to the local radio station to do an on-air test. I wrote monthly features for the paper – a profile on an 80-year-old gravedigger, for example – and anchored a four-hour country music radio news show.
What do you spend the majority of your work day doing?
I am a corporate storyteller. My job is to help our more than 40,000 employees tell the Nielsen story to the best of their ability to as many of our internal and external stakeholders as possible. My days are split between two work streams: Responding to the news of the day, and working to proactively leverage media, social channels and our web presence to build and enhance Nielsen’s brand awareness and affinity all over the world. Nielsen is the world’s foremost authority on what consumers watch, buy and listen to.
What advice do you wish you could have given yourself on day one of your career?
Be authentic. I’m a young, Black, assertive, gay man in corporate America, and all those adjectives help make me a better leader and strategist at work. I wish I could have told my younger self to be more open to the possibility that all the things that made me so different from everyone else in the room could help me be an even stronger contributor. I wasted a lot of energy in my first decade of working focused on blending in and trying to be like everyone else, despite invariably being the only Black or gay person in the room.
Do you have any specific strategies you use to stay productive?
There are enough surprises working for a company with operations in 104 countries. I fiercely police and protect my calendar so I can anticipate and prepare for as much of my day as possible, because once an issue arises, it takes precedence. I am most productive when I have a prioritized list, so I try to be as disciplined as possible about not shutting down on Friday without a list for Monday. Meetings can suck the life out of a workday. I don’t lead or call meetings without an agenda. That makes for fewer tangents.
What’s something about you that people might be surprised to learn?
I am a country boy from a small farm community in Mississippi. Last year, I was on the ground doing work for Nielsen in Dubai, Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing and three months in Shanghai. My parents hated every minute of it and constantly called to see if I was okay. When I’m preparing for a big meeting or presentation, I listen to Jay-Z’s Blueprint album. That album hypes me up. It makes me feel like a cross between Barack Obama, Reginald F. Lewis and Stokely Carmichael.
Describe the most memorable moment of your career to date.
Twenty years ago, my mentor Jason Williams showed me his photo on the cover of PR Week magazine and said, “If you work really hard at this job, you’re smart enough to get on this list one day. You won’t do it as young as I did, but you could make the list.” In 2015, I was selected as one of PR Week’s Top 40 Under 40 communications executives. Mentoring and being mentored have been the greatest gifts in my professional life. Jason introduced me to a communications career and sparked my interest in PR. While he passed away years before I made the list, I got to share the day that I won with my own mentees – and in my mind, therefore with him, too.
How have certain candidates stood out to you during the hiring process?
Hiring is one of the most important things leaders can do, so I take the process very seriously. As a communicator, I look for people who believe in the product they came to sell that day – themselves. That said, I look for confidence not conceit. The most memorable candidates are the great storytellers. Tell me who you are and how what you’ve done has led you to wanting this role at my company and who you will be a contributor.
What have you read recently that you’d recommend?
Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction rocked me to the core. It’s about the five mass extinctions that have taken place in the history of the planet and what scientists are predicting to be the greatest one of them all. This sixth extinction is the one currently being caused by humans. I’m a science geek, but the book is amazing for anyone. It truly makes you think about what it means to be human and the intellectual caretakers of this planet. It’s a great book, but by no means a lighthearted vacation read.