Fred Cook, the CEO of PR juggernaut GolinHarris, has worked with Jeff Bezos, Michael Eisner, and Steve Jobs. You would expect him to have attended the best schools, gotten the best grades, and racked up marketable skills before he could legally vote. But the best thing about Fred is that none of those things are true.
As he describes in his new book Improvise: Unconventional Career Advice from an Unlikely CEO, Fred got to where he is through a diverse set of experiences that includes pool hustling, selling Italian leather on the streets of Florence, and getting arrested while working as a doorman at a five-star hotel. The career lessons he mastered at each stage of his colorful career became his credentials. Here are some of the highlights.
Lesson #1: Learn to Play Pool
As a pool hustler, Fred spent most of his time huddled around Brunswick pool tables arranged geometrically on ornate floral carpeting speckled with 50,000 cigarette burns. To prove his prowess, he wielded a 19-ounce, inlayed Willie Hoppe pool cue that his parents gave him as a bribe for completing confirmation class. He learned to think of his life experiences as balls on a pool table. If there are only two, your shot options are limited. But when you have fifteen, the combinations are endless. Fred now works in a business of ideas, and he finds that his pool hustling career allows him to generate more than most people. It’s not that he’s smarter or more creative – he simply has more options to play with.
Lesson #2: Hang Out with Bums
At the Arc Lanes bowling alley, Fred was mentored by dropouts and derelicts with names like Red Dog, Baby Pod, and Fat Beckham, who were collectively known as the Arc Bums. The criteria for becoming a Bum included a high school diploma, no visible means of support, and time in jail or reform school. As a young person from the right side of the track, Fred was very different from this crowd – and that was what made the experience worthwhile. “Most of us like to hang out with people just like us, but that’s a problem because we never learn how to deal with other types of people,” he says. “If you’ve already assembled a cast of curious characters, learn from them. If you haven’t, move to Las Vegas.”
For the rest of Fred's lessons, check out the full post at Intuit's Fast Track blog.