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Quotable Notables Interview

Robert Fried: Rebirth of a Marketing Maven

Robert Fried’s motto is: think big – not Lilliputian. For example, when this marketing strategist for blue-chip companies wanted to get his clients tickets to a sold-out Super bowl Game, he: finagled hotel rooms from “no-vacancies”; got transportation when there was none by procuring Catholic school buses; and enlisted a police escort when he realized that traffic was too prohibitive to get them there in time.

“Don’t let anybody tell you no!” he says.

This is not to say he hasn’t faced rejection.

“The biggest business deal I made in life was getting an eyewear license to market Laura Ashley eyewear,” he says. “They turned me down 19 times. But high-achieving people are not afraid to fail. They view the ‘no’s’ as a mere gateway to a yes.”

When he was 9, he was hit by a car and told he’d never walk again. A year later, humiliated by the local headline, “Limping Boy’s

Hit Wins Ballgame,” he vowed never to limp again. And he doesn’t.

When this baby boomer wrote the book, A Marketing Plan for Life: 12 essential business principles to create meaning, happiness, and true success, it was to help corporations and individuals discover their true meaning and purpose in life. In the process, he reassessed his own values, gave up a lucrative corporate marketing position and founded ThirdWind Co., through which he gives worldwide seminars.

Three months ago, he quit procrastinating about his lifelong dream to live in the Carmel Highlands. His Nirvana sits high above the ocean and sunshine streams across its hardwood floors. After meeting his significant other, Giselle, and getting a tour of his displays of humongous wine bottles (some 6 liters), we settle on a deck that pans the Pacific. The pale-skinned former redhead-turning-senatorial-white, with a tightly cropped beard to match, wears sunglasses to deflect the afternoon glare from his azure eyes.

I want to bottle his enthusiasm.

Q: Who/what kept you going while you recovered from surgery for a mangled hip?
A: I had the advantage of being very young when you never think the worst. You can’t visualize yourself paralyzed for life. Secondly, my parents never thought for one moment I wouldn’t walk again. They took me, literally, around the country to find a doctor who would operate.

Q: “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” – Friedrich Nietzsche. What is chaotic for you now?
A: Balancing money and meaning. It’s a trapeze act. On one hand, for 20 years I’ve been a marketing executive and I’ve made a lot of money. But I’m not sure I made a lot of meaning. I was one of those people who confused having a good career with having a good life. And yet, the irony was that the same disciplines and strategies you use to make money for companies could be reapplied back to us as individuals to make meaning; hence, the book title, A Marketing Plan for Life.

Q: Your greatest source of inspiration?
A: I read a lot of autobiographies about great people in history and what made them great. The ones I relate to, in retrospect, made money and meaning. Winston Churchill comes to mind . . . A psychiatrist did a survey and asked 3,000 people what their true purpose in life is, and a whopping 94 percent said, “We have absolutely no idea.” I’ll tell you what unhappiness is - it’s not knowing what you want and then killing yourself to get it.

Q: You’ve never married?
A: Until recently, I just haven’t met the right woman. I’ve met a lot of beautiful women around the world but I was looking for one to become my soul mate. The most courageous thing I’ve done is to live with Giselle; to admit I love a woman.

Q: My daddy gave me a plaque that says, “Be who you is. ‘Cause if you be who you ain’t, then you ain’t who you is.” – Unknown. What does this mean to you?
A: It’s never too late to be the you, you were meant to be. A great example is Grandma Moses. She didn’t take up painting until age 75, and she painted over 250 paintings at age 100-101. Nelson Mandela took over the leadership of South Africa at 76. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Guggenheim Museum at age 91. As long as we have life, our life story is unfolding.

Q: Talk about happiness.
A: The U.S.A. is often referred to as United States of Anxiety. We’re among the highest-paid, best-fed people in the world, but we don’t even rank in the top 10 when it comes to happiness. Success and monetary achievement have always been at the forefront of American life, but I think we need to take a step back and wonder if we haven’t defined success far too narrowly for far too long.

Q: Devil’s advocate: When you’ve got money, it’s easy to say it’s not that important.
A: We’re talking life work/life balance. You can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. You can make more meaning if you make money. It’s nice to say, “I want to move to Carmel Highlands,” but without any money, that becomes a pipe dream. So true happiness not only involves helping others, but the balance of money and meaning.

Q: But aren’t most people at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy, struggling to survive, let alone realize their life’s dreams?
A: Hilary Swank slept in her car when she first came to Hollywood . . .

Q: How important is it for us to reinvent ourselves/products/careers?
A: Companies have product cycles and we, as people, have life cycles. We’re in a constant state of reinventing ourselves. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the embodiment of someone who reinvents himself, brick by glorious brick . . . Clint Eastwood is intriguing as well. He reinvented himself in the same medium.

Q: You are exasperatingly optimistic.
A: (Grins) I think I was born optimistic. But I’m also human. If I get depressed, I get out of it in 24 hours by reading of people who persevered. Take Susan Lucci - she failed 18 years in a row to win a soap opera Emmy before she finally won in 1999. Abe Lincoln lost a string of elections. The punch line is: we shouldn’t be afraid to fail; we are in darn good company.

Q: As per your book, I’m a chaos commando; you’re a dreamer. When is the right time to act on a dream?
A: Trying to time dreams too perfectly can often spoil them. Sometimes opportunity and serendipitous things come up and the perfect time to act is now. We’ve gotta let our dreams fly high; get them out of the lockbox. Otherwise, they become monuments to our good intentions. I saw a riveting quote from John Barrymore that was like a stake through my heart: “A man is not old until his regrets take the place of his dreams.” I didn’t want to be that man.

Q: In youth, what did you expect to know at this age that you don’t?
A: I thought I would know how to be happy, rather than still in pursuit of happiness. I’m still constantly getting there.

Q: Our turning point is often after we lose our parents. Why?
A: I think we get in touch with our own mortality. We take a step back, and wonder what would be on our tombstone. When I did that, I knew it wasn’t good enough to have: “Here lies Bobby Fried. He sold a lot of stuff.”

P.S. As I leave, Giselle sings a cappella, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” so beautifully that it inspires tears. “We go to rest homes and cancer patients and she sings,” Fried says, eyes twinkling.

Universal Update: Bobby and I have been in constant contact since our interview. He has become one of my cheerleaders. But I had to pick up the pompoms for him when, mere months after his book was published, it became a best-seller. Now I e-mail him between his book signings in Australia, Nova Scotia, etc.


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