Every once in a while, you hear someone speak who is truly inspiring; whose advice so resonates with you, their words make you think about how you are working and living your life.
This week, I got that chance.
Which is why I only wish I’d recorded John Zissimos when he came to Temple University to spend time with our Klein College Media and Communication students.
Never heard of him? I’m betting you will.
Zissimos is the new Vice President of Creative and Branding Strategies for Google. He grew up in Wilkes Barre and came to Temple University in Philadelphia to study film and writing. He graduated in 1987.
His bio includes a journey through advertising, creative director jobs, independent filmmaking and eventually, he was hired at SalesForce where he won national recognition for innovation and creativity.
This past January, Google stole him away.
About his job at Google? He says he can’t believe he’s there. He’s still getting to know people and they are getting to know him in his new role.
Whatever success he’s had, he believes it’s because of the life lessons he’s learned along the way. Students were riveted. So was I. This is what stuck with me.
His best advice?
Find your purpose.
Zissimos told students he made so many mistakes and still makes them, used to think he knew everything, could be a jerk and only learned his true purpose in life when he became a husband and father to three girls.
Stand for something.
One of the things he discovered when he started managing at Sales Force was that women were being paid far less than their male colleagues in the same positions. He said it was so clearly unfair and wrong he changed that, equalizing pay.
Mentor and be mentored.
Give back to others, help them along the way and know you never stop learning. You need to always have people guiding and teaching you too.
Lead with love, not fear.
Zissimos says he learned from managers who led with fear that in the end, it doesn’t work, at least not for him. He believes team members, employees are happier and more productive when they know they can take risks and make mistakes.
Be open to change.
Zissimos asked students to raise their right hand and promise to be open to change because that’s how you grow and learn. I loved this one. Obviously, it’s so aligned with my own “dare to Do the New” philosophy. We can’t move forward unless we are able to try new things and adapt to change.
Be a good person.
Zissimos told students he doesn’t care how talented someone is. If they aren’t a good person too, he won’t hire them. He believes gossip is just plain hurtful and destructive at work.
One of the things so engaging about Zissimos is he speaks in this vulnerable way about mistakes; matter of factly about times he didn’t listen or rejected ideas instead of really hearing team members and then asking questions to come to creative solutions together. It took him time to learn to manage and he believes listening is key.
Find your voice.
If you want to write, Zissimos believes you must write every day. He told students, if you haven’t found your voice yet, the only way to get there is to practice your craft even if what you write is not something you want to publish.
Take advantage of opportunities.
Zissimos talked about projects and companies he took on that no one wanted. He took those opportunities and made them something. Examples: See the Brisk Iced Tea brand, Rocky Balboa animated commercials, the Sales Force brand.
Get your heart broken.
I couldn’t believe it. Zissimos talked to students about finding love. How powerful it is and you can’t find it unless you are fully in, willing to have your heart broken. How fortunate he is to have found it.
You don’t hear guys talk like this very often and definitely not VPs of major companies.
There was so much more; bits of wisdom.
- Every brand is a promise.
- Every story, no matter the platform, must have a beginning, middle, and end.
- Trust: everything is based on it.
He urged students to vote, saying you can create anything you want, make the world what you want but you have to vote.
It will be interesting to see his impact on the Google brand.
Zissimos was asked about some Google news and controversies. He apologetically sidestepped saying he wasn’t able to comment, but issues would be discussed in an upcoming meeting.
After spending over two hours talking with students, Zissimos had lunch with a half dozen faculty and staff members. He’s not brash or loud. Easy going. Approachable. Charming too.
Zissimos walked around the Temple campus tickled so many things were the same; he hadn’t been here in a long time. He reminisced about the time he thought about going into theater because that’s where the “moody, interesting girls” hung out. (He meant this as a sincere compliment).
He shrugged it off and just said, “I don’t know. It’s just common sense.”
Maybe John Zissimos. Maybe. Yeah, I suppose it really is. Maybe it’s just refreshing to hear it from someone in his position. I’d say we need a little more common sense in the world.
I’m guessing Google knows Zissimos is special. And now we know too.
Join us over on Facebook to continue the conversation: Lu Ann Cahn