Why the Best Managers Act like Interns
Russell Simmons is an entrepreneur, author, activist and philanthropist who has used his boundless creativity and eye for talent to launch superstar careers and groundbreaking enterprises in arenas as varied as music, film, television, fashion, comedy, poetry, digital platforms, Broadway plays and finance. Simmons’ achievements have earned him a spot on a USA Today list of the world’s 25 most influential people of the past 25 years, as well as a fortune that places him among the wealthiest figures in hip-hop history. Underlying all his trend-setting endeavors are a passionate sense of social responsibility and an unshakable belief in justice for all people, regardless of race, class, religion or sexual orientation. After having produced or managed artists such as Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Whodini, Jimmy Spicer amongst many others, Simmons and producer Rick Rubin joined forces founding Def Jam Recordings. During his tenure as Chairman of the record label beginning in 1984, he helped sign acts from the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J all the way to Jay Z and Kanye West.
Simmons is widely known as a champion of social justice and equality for those who are discriminated against for any reason. A longtime advocate for LGBT rights, he was honored with the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Media Award. Simmons also has worked to foster racial and religious reconciliation through the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which supports interfaith communications between religious and ethnic leaders in 40 countries. He remains a staunch supporter of the Occupy movement, which is dedicated to giving the people a stronger voice than corporations.
Also a devout vegan and strong advocate for animal rights and received the PETA Man of the Year Award in 2011. Simmons’ many charitable endeavors include the Diamond Empowerment Fund, a global organization that supports educational initiatives for disadvantaged people in diamond-producing African nations and Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation, which gives young people the opportunity to create and appreciate art. Simmons has written three New York Times best-selling author on happiness and well-being: Do You! 12 Laws to Access the Power in You to Achieve Happiness and Success, Super Rich: A Guide to Having It All, and Success Through Stillness: Meditation Made Simple. Simmons grew up in Queens and has two daughters, Ming Lee and Aoki Lee.
Question: What strategies have you used to weather this recession?
Russell Simmons: This recession has kind of affected me and I’ve learned to button up a little tighter and be a little bit more innovative. I think in my case, it’s about being more innovative and people around me in some cases who helped to operate their first ideas. My first idea is to be more creative, to spin a kind of dance between these two kinds of philosophies. There’s a lot of people who know so much so that there’s room to grow and I want to be my next company to be a little bit more adventurous or creative and in almost every case, that’s what I’ve done, but still there’s tightening up some things and I hope when the marketplace opens up that we’ll be so well positioned because we haven’t given away all the real estate, given away all the potential, or run scared. We haven’t run scared.
Question: How do you keep your workforce motivated in a downturn?
Russell Simmons: In this downturn it’s so bad a lot of people’s motivation is, I don’t want to be fired. I’m sorry to say it; it’s just that reality. People are struggling and companies are not growing as quickly as we all projected and so sometimes we just need to buckle up just because we want to hold onto what we have. That’s not my philosophy about life or that I recommend my employees take but we are more creative and we work harder and we keep our head down at all times. But in a difficult market like this when you see people losing their jobs, sometimes you just want to protect yourself.
Question: What are the qualities you look for in a new hire?
Russell Simmons: Well I like to hire people who I think are motivated to be good servants. I don’t really like bosses. I’m not a boss, I’m a servant, and so I want people to know that if they watch out for everyone else and they are a great team player, then they ascend.
My favorite Presidents were interns, I watched them grow. They act like interns when they’re presidents. They still want to get everybody’s coffee. They want to get their hands dirty. I like people who don’t really recognize the difference between themselves and the people that they are part of a management team for.
Recorded on October 27, 2009
Hip hop mogul Russell Simmons on why he won’t run scared from the economy, and why the best hires love getting everyone’s coffee.
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