Don Kennedy, Managing Partner

At GM Ryan, we spend our days working with clients, investors and candidates to make a transformational impact on their collective futures. It’s a responsibility we don’t take lightly, and one that we are incredibly passionate about executing successfully. It’s also incredibly fulfilling to make the right connection that allows a company and an individual to mutually thrive. I also talk to executives and leaders at various stages of their careers, each with their own levels of professional and personal satisfaction. The common thread that I see amongst the most successful and happiest people I talk to is variety.

As an operator in the ad tech space for the better part of twenty years, I often fell into the trap of going long periods of time spending the bulk of my days and nights talking predominantly about the goings on in my industry and my company with folks who spent the bulk of their days talking predominantly about the same subjects with the same groups of people. There’s something to be said for being an expert in one’s trade, but you can very quickly become isolated and blind to what is happening in the world outside of your own walled garden. It’s an easy trap to fall into, and one that can be limiting both personally and professionally.

In 2010, Ted Leonsis wrote a book called “The Business of Happiness”. Ted has had an incredible and diverse career that has had a meaningful impact on society, and his book pinpoints a handful of traits that define people that are not only successful from a business optics standpoint, but are also genuinely happy. One of Ted’s principle theories was that happy people maintained “Mutual Communities of Interest”. They didn’t just stay within a single work or social group. They had multiple distinct and diverse groups with whom they interact with, and thus an exposure to countless learning opportunities that they can apply to all facets of their professional and personal lives.

David Bell is an advertising industry legend and a mentor to many accomplished leaders in that industry. David maintained a big influence on many of us at Aol as we worked to reinvent the company, and had a great way of describing himself. He says he is a “variety junkie”. David has had the type of career that would make most folks envious, but he didn’t achieve success by going through life only interacting with same groups all day every day. He actively sought out new experiences and groups of people to learn from, and applied what he learned towards a fulfilling personal and professional life.

In my role, I talk to a ton of candidates for senior leadership roles who look to be incredibly successful on paper, and it can be tough to separate people based on stats alone. Most of the time, when you dig deeper, what sets certain leaders apart from their peers are the strategic and personal insights driven by a variety of experiences. Have they spent the past twenty years learning how to lead only in their own industry (or role specific) cocoon, or have they sought out variety? What are their outlets to learn through others from different walks of life? Some examples of variety driven differentiators include:

  • Active and substantial philanthropic and/or community endeavors
  • Active and substantial philanthropic and/or community endeavors
  • Board and/or advisory positions within companies and orgs inside and outside of their core sector
  • Academic and continued learning pursuits
  • Hobbies and other outside interests

It’s tough to see the value of It’s tough to see the value of variety when you’re stuck in the middle of a tough work situation or sprinting to hit a quarterly number. I’m fortunate that our practice allows me the opportunity to interact with a qualified volume of people across multiple business sectors, and my daily experiences hammer home that folks like Ted Leonsis and David Bell are spot on. There is a lot to be learned when you stretch yourself beyond your core constituents, and embrace being uncomfortable at times. Embracing your own internal “Variety Junkie” will go a long ways toward achieving personal and professional happiness. when you’re stuck in the middle of a tough work situation or sprinting to hit a quarterly number. I’m fortunate that our practice allows me the opportunity to interact with a qualified volume of people across multiple business sectors, and my daily experiences hammer home that folks like Ted Leonsis and David Bell are spot on. There is a lot to be learned when you stretch yourself beyond your core constituents, and embrace being uncomfortable at times. Embracing your own internal “Variety Junkie” will go a long ways toward achieving personal and professional happiness.