CSE Homecoming Weekend Speaker: Rick Tetzeli ’83, Executive Editor of Fast Company
October 17, 2014 – by Otto Nagengast ‘17
As Executive Editor of Fast Company, the cutting-edge business magazine, Rick Tetzeli ’83 is responsible for showcasing entrepreneurs who are reinventing business. As Rick describes it, he gets to shine a spotlight on people who have found their mission and are living it out. And through this work, Rick is living out his own mission.
It took time, however, for Rick to find his mission. His father wanted him to be secure and follow a conventional path—entering a company at the bottom and spending his career working his way to the top. But after his third D in economics while at Middlebury, Rick decided to forge his own path. He aspired to be a fiction writer and went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa as an Independent Scholar. Ultimately, Rick entered journalism and was Deputy Managing Editor of Fortune as well as Managing Editor of Entertainment Weekly before joining Fast Company in June 2010.
In his talk on Friday night, Rick shared what he learned about finding one’s mission through his work of profiling business innovators. “Some people,” Rick said, “know their mission from the very beginning.” This was the case for the actor and musician Jared Leto; he always knew that he wanted to create. He founded the band Thirty Seconds to Mars and realized that in the tough music business the band had to innovate to be successful. He turned to technology to boost the band’s popularity. Thirty Seconds to Mars has over two million Twitter followers, and they are among the top ten touring bands in the world. Although Leto always knew his mission, he had to innovate to live it out.
“For most of us, [though], finding a mission won’t come easy,” says Rick. Like Rick did, one will often have to search for it. He told the story of Shauna Mei. When she was a young girl, Mei and her family moved from China to the middle of Wisconsin. She excelled and went off to Harvard for both her undergraduate degree and her MBA. She then joined Goldman Sachs. Her first client at the firm was Tampax. After asking for a larger client company, she was given Playtex. It was clear that her colleagues were not taking her seriously, so she left and founded Aha Life, a company that connects high fashion with ordinary customers. The lesson from Shauna Mei is that one may have to take a chance, give something up, and try something else in order to find their mission.
Rick also shared the story of Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Studios. Catmull once said: “Your mission may not be what you think it is, and it may not even be all that sexy.” Catmull was an early pioneer in digital animation, but he eventually realized that the people around him were more talented. He went into management, and Rick considers him the best manager in the world. “I discovered that managing was itself an art, one that I could study the way I had studied animation,” reflected Catmull. Sometimes finding one’s mission can require embracing the unexpected.
Rick and his longtime friend, Brent Schlender, have been writing a biography of Steve Jobs to be released next year entitled Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart into a Visionary Leader. Rick and Schlender found that while Jobs always knew his mission, which was to put technology in the hands of everyone, he had to adapt many times to be able to live it. He had to learn to inspire his employees, not berate them, for example. He often had to enact radical change in Apple in order to be successful. Through much personal evolution, Jobs ultimately lived his mission.
Finding and living one’s mission can require persistence, sacrifice, change, and uncertainty. But as Rick showed, those who are committed to finding and living their mission accomplish remarkable things.