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.
let anybody tell you no!” he says.
is not to say he hasn’t faced rejection.
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.”
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
Wins Ballgame,” he vowed never to limp again. And he doesn’t.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
How important is it for us to reinvent
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.
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.
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
In youth, what did you expect to know at this age that you
A: I thought I would know how to be happy, rather than still in
pursuit of happiness. I’m still constantly getting there.
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.”
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
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.