Cultivating Success In a Busy Busy World with Brand Strategist Ron Tite
Times Square isn’t just one of the most vibrant parts of the world, it’s
also one of the most distracting. With massive messages, blinking lights,
animated creatures, and scrolling text along with the authentic NY honks
and music and protests and characters performing at street level, people
don’t know where to look.
Well, Times Square isn’t just in Times Square, it’s also in your pocket. And
it’s in your car. And it’s in your home. And it’s in your office. The corporate
world isn’t just battling for attention with its customers it’s battling for
attention with itself. Every day delivers a priority. There’s always a new
platform, a new technique, a new tool, and a new approach to chase.
Stop chasing. Start succeeding.
Organizational and personal performance doesn’t need to be complicated.It just needs to be focused.
For brands, organizations, and leaders to succeed in today’s busy, busy
world, it’s about:
What you think.
What you do.
What you say.
Thinking is your beliefs and values. It’s not your product, it’s your purpose.
Doing is the decisions you make and actions you take to live your values.
Saying is how you communicate your values and actions: the internal or
external selling, marketing, and promotion.
When an organization and all its people think, do, and say the same things,
it creates complete alignment. But when an organization and its people
DON’T think or do or say the same things, the result is an integrity gap.
That’s not good for careers. And it’s certainly not good for business.
This entertaining and enlightening keynote will not only inspire your
people to change their thoughts and actions to align with the organization,
but also give them the tools to do it.
Listen to the podcast here:
Cultivating Success In a Busy Busy World with Brand Strategist Ron Tite
This is the full presentation of Ron Tite’s talk, What’s Your Story? It’s from 2019 Coca-Cola CMO Summit.
I have to tell you how nice it is to be in Chicago. I get to do this a lot and travel around. I was in Orrville, Ohio. How many have you been to Orrville, Ohio? Orrville, Ohio is a tiny little town and there’s only Smucker’s there. It’s so small that when I went to the hotel, I talked about the rules that I have and one of the rules is I won’t rent a car. I got taken to the hotel and then I said, “I’d like a taxi to take me to Smucker’s.” They’re like, “There are no taxis in this town.” She said, “There’s a Lyft driver if you have that app.” He wasn’t answering. I had to get an Uber driver from Akron to drive 1.5 hours to take me ten minutes and I had to do some slide, “Here’s an extra $40 to hang around and take me.”
What I loved about this experience in Orrville and why it’s so nice to be here at this incredible hotel in this beautiful environment is that we all know what is in a hotel closet. In a hotel closet, every single time are the following items, there’s the safe, there is the rack where you put your clothes with the hangers, there’s the extra comforter, and there are the extra pillows. There’s an ironing board and there’s the iron. They have that in Orrville, Ohio. They don’t have the actual closet that was hanging willy-nilly in my room. I felt naked somehow in the room with things like that. We had such a great day. There are some lines that will sound familiar from the talk that I’ve integrated into.
Please don’t think I’m inadvertently ripping off speakers. I’ve identified them as quotes, as a way of a seamless experience for you. As we were going through a lot, I thought that one of the things that we needed to talk about was, what story? We get the stories, the approach that we need to take and where we gather perspective. I’ve got 4 million of them and which ones do I tell? This is a gentleman that you might recognize. Certainly those from Texas will recognize Michael Dell. For eight years, I was the Creative Director of the Dell business. If you’re ever wondering who wrote and came up with the brilliant line, “Double Your Memory, Double Your Hard Drive,” that was me.
It’s not a creative oasis, this account, but lovely people and a great business. It took a while to get that joke out. Here’s what’s interesting, if you go into Dell and I talk to anybody, from the receptionist to the CEO of a local market or the GM of a local market and if you’d said, “How was this company made anyhow? Where does this company come from?” Everybody knew the story. They would sit you down and they’d go, “When Michael Dell was eighteen years old at the University of Texas and he started building computers in his dorm room because he felt that people were paying for components that they didn’t need. He tried to eliminate the middleman.” Everybody knew the story.
What’s important is that it wasn’t some random story. That story provided the entire entrepreneurial foundation for that entire organization. When I talk about eliminating the middleman, when I talk about efficient communications, that’s why creatively, it wasn’t great to work on. From a business model it was wonderful, but it was about eliminating the middleman, eliminating all the gravy that gets in the way. It gets straight to the message, gets to the heart of it. Everybody knew the story. That provided a guide for how every single person should behave to fulfill the promise that Michael Dell started. That was the story. We have to look at, how do I come up with those?
Power Of Stories
I’ve got so many options here. Now in reading, obviously, I haven’t touched on this with Maureen. When I first heard of that, “From here to here,” my first thought was “Those are the stories in the middle to take it from here to there.” Those are the stories that get us there. I don’t think that’s true. It was after seeing a performance when I was so profoundly moved that in all honesty as a fan of the arts, I knew about the play. As a Canadian citizen, I didn’t know who John Adams was, let alone Alexander Hamilton. That story from 1786 moved me in this moment. That is the power of stories. That from to is actually right here right now in this moment. We can reach back to stories that have occurred in our past.Great brands are based on what you think, what you do, and what you say. So are great stories. Click To Tweet
The reason we tell them is to bring us to the current time, to the present moment. That’s when we feel the emotion. By telling that story, we’re resonating with people in this moment. By telling a story that is about the future, we’re bringing the future back to us now. That’s the power of story, from to is right here. What are those stories that we need to tell? We can talk about legacy. I have a pair of jeans from Levis. It’s the oldest known pair of jeans from 1789. This is a wonderful story if you’re Levi’s, this is a wonderful story to tell. What I love about this as they looked at this and Gwen touched on this. The left pocket is more worn. This person was left-handed.
The trail of this product from 1789 is there for us to discover the data is there for us. We can talk about the past in a way that resonates and fulfills the mandate of what we have, which is we make amazing jeans that stand the test of time. That’s a relevant story to tell. We can also tell it about the future. What’s interesting is that the writer-director of The Usual Suspects was at Sundance. They did an interview and the press said, “What are you working on?” The writer said, “It’s a movie about five guilty criminals who meet in the same police lineup.” All their friends said, “That hasn’t happened.”
That never happens. We’ve all seen police lineups. It’s one guilty person and four innocent people. Five guilty criminals can’t happen. It’s not the way the system works. He said, “I know that’s not how it happens, but this is this movie.” They’re like, “No, we don’t understand. People are going to be confused. That never happens.” All he said was, “All I need to do is write the story that gets me there and once I get there, I got to write the story then what happens after. We spend so much of our time and our lives gathering consensus and getting people to approve budgets and creative about what will happen in the future. We need to bring that future back to us. We need to write the story that gets us there.” That’s what resonates with people in the moment.
We can look back. We can look forward. This is the world that we’re living in. For those of you who are here, you may remember me touching on this a little bit. There is Times Square. It’s the most expensive promotional real estate in North America. Everybody wants to be there, 400,000 people either walk or drive through Times Square every single day filled with opportunity. Everybody wants to be there, it’s ridiculously expensive, but to the consumer who is standing in the middle of Times Square, to the person that the entire ecosystem has been designed for, they don’t know where to look. This one’s flashing. This one’s scrolling. This is celebrity, M&M’s there. They have no idea where to look.
Worse down on the street, this is where the people who compete with the big brands who are slick and have the budget. This is where the real action happens because down here, you’ve got nimble people. You’ve got people maybe not playing by the rules. You’ve got people who can come up to you as an individual and look at you in the eye. They know everything about you and direct their message to you in an aggressive way. You’ve got someone telling you the end of the world is coming, someone selling a fake Gucci, someone selling street meat. Everything from recreational drugs and prostitution to t-shirts that have been ripped off.
Worse, not only do you not know where to look, but you also don’t know who to trust. The balance of those two worlds is tricky. We talked about the personalization. We’re like, “Yes, we know that personalized stories and integrating data to make personalized experience helps us cut through.” The problem is no one wants to give you that information because they don’t trust you. We know that if it’s slick and it’s great. We show that we’re credible because we have budget. We have legacy and we’ve been here a while, we think that gets us in. They don’t trust that either because you’re a little too scripted. You’re a little too perfect. You’re a little too polished. We don’t trust the script because if you’re hiding your real you, what else he hiding from me? They don’t know where to look.
They don’t know who to trust. They don’t know where to look in the food space, what it used to be. It was simple. You grow, you cook it, you buy it, you cook it, your order pizza or you go out, and that was it. You can grow it. You can sell it. You can grow and you can cook it. You can have somebody else grow it. You can buy for it and cook it. You can go and say, “You buy the ingredients, I’ll just cook it, deliver the ingredients,” or “I’m going to buy the ingredients. You come in and you cook it.” There are a million different ways here from all the different services, to the point that the dark kitchen is designed to have no restaurant whatsoever to deliver it to you. I was talking with Matt from Uber Eats. He was here.
That again, there’s the title of a podcast episode we did, which is called Some Reservations. I’m not saying it’s bad, right or wrong, but we need to look at it. One hundred years ago, people made their clothes. Nobody makes their clothes anymore. Do we make our food? I don’t know. We know that you don’t know where to look because the vast consumers don’t know where to look because the vast array of options. They also don’t know who to trust. This is not in your world and the stuff that you’ve done, but this stuff that happened and you have nothing to do with it. Look at the past ten years and why we don’t trust people. Lance Armstrong lied to our face. Bill Cosby went from America’s dad to America’s predator. The CEO compensation went through the roof. The Panama papers did absolutely nothing. Every politician from both sides of the spectrum said they believed in family values when in fact they showed that they didn’t.
We saw that the Russians stole the elections and Cambridge Analytica stole the data. It’s got to the point that as authors, I can buy my way on the New York Times bestselling list. Every Yelp review and every review site out there can be gained and bought. Is it any wonder that we’re in this post-truth era? Consumers stood up to you, to marketers and said, “We want the truth.” Marketers said, “You can’t handle the truth.” Here’s an asterisk and some legal disclaimers instead. We know that we need to do this and this is the power of story, but what stories? I talked about this as a marketer that we can use a framework, which is the book that is now in your seat.
We know that great brands are based on what you think, what you do and what you say, but so our great stories. It’s all three of those combined. You can’t think. If as a person, all you do is think, and then you’re a philosopher, which you’re not. The compensation sucks for philosophers and everybody with a Maya Angelou quote and an Instagram account as a philosopher these days. You can’t do either. If you do without being strategically aligned to a broader belief, then you’re not as popular with your colleagues as you think you are.
How We Tell Great Stories
You’re claiming your success by the number of hours you work. If as a person, all you do is talk about the things you’re going to do, you tell the stories, but you never actually do it, you’ll be found out. My entire career has been focused on the story. I also think we’ve spent too much time talking to one another about how we tell great stories and not enough time doing things that generate great stories. A great performance without a great script is not where you want to be. It is half of each, a great script with a great performance. It is about thinking and doing and saying. Let’s break this down. When we talk about to think, why do we have to elevate the conversation to something more important?
Why do we have to believe in corporate purpose? What does this have to do with our stories? Why can’t we talk about stories where burgers are on sale for $3.99?The stories we tell ourselves are the stories that help drive the action that generates stories for our organization. Click To Tweet
The reason is that people are exhausted from getting pitch slapped. Everyone’s got a pitch. Everyone’s got a promo, nonstop. Consumers are like, “I looked at some shoes on the internet and now the shoes follow me around the internet everywhere I go.” If we believe in something more important, now our stories take shape into something else, into something that has a red thread that means something to people. It means that we have this. We can open ourselves up to tell stories that are different, that can expand our business portfolio. This is the bike made by General Motors. As General Motors, if the only thing that you believe in is being the best car company in the world, that’s amazing when people are buying cars in places where people buying cars. In dense urban environments where cars aren’t as popular or because of ride-sharing and everything else, you need to believe in something a little more important than the four wheels.
GM is now, “Let’s see if we can believe in something greater about getting people from point A to point B, whatever the best way to do that is.” Arrive is a bike that is now diversifying the portfolio for General Motors. Now it’s not about the business aspect. In 1970, Milton Friedman wrote this paper, The Social Responsibility of Businesses is to Increase its Profit. It was an essay from New York Magazine and for close to 50 years, all of us capitalists went, “I don’t need to do anything. This is my job. I increased the profitability to our shareholders. I’ve put money in their pocket and if they want to solve the world’s problems, they can do that.
My job is to drive profitability, generate as much cash as possible.” That’s what we justified the faith, the behavior. “Believing in something more important, I’ll tell you what I believe in. It’s increasing my profits because Milton Friedman told me to, the renowned University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman.” Weeks ago some of your CEOs, members of the business round table, 181 CEOs representing 35% of the total market cap in the US got together and said, “It’s time this changed. We are redefining the purpose of a corporation. We do not have one constituent. We have five.”
You’re now morally obligated to believe in something more important because you have five constituents. Yes, you have your employers, your customers, your suppliers, your shareholders, and the community in which you live. What I love about this as a marketer is the five great buckets of stories to tell. It’s no longer the story of the shareholder. We know that. Now we’re approaching the fifteenth anniversary of this key moment. This happened you may remember, and don’t worry, this isn’t going to get uncomfortably political from a Canadian who knows nothing about the system.
Many years ago, Jon Stewart appeared on Crossfire, which was a show on CNN hosted by Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson. Many years ago, we know how comedians work when you give them a spot on national television. They pitch slap us. Of course, they do, what a better time to pitch their jokes. They take a conversation and they manipulate the conversation so they can deliver the scripted bit to you. They want you to watch their Netflix Special or buy their DVD or whatever. Not on this night because this night Jon Stewart said to both sides of the spectrum, “You’re harming America.” Tucker Carlson said when a lot of people were thinking, which was, “Jon, you’re not being very funny.”
Jon said the nine words that not only changed the face of comedy, but I think changed how we as marketers need to believe in the corporate purpose and how we interact with our clients and prospects. When Tucker Carlson said, “You’re not being very funny.” Jon Stewart said, “No, I’m not going to be your monkey.” That one night was the biggest opportunity to pitches jokes, to sell his book, to sell his show and he chose to put purpose before profit. He put purpose before punchline. He put purpose before the product. What’s interesting is that after, this is when the profit flow. We got John Oliver. We got Samantha Bee and we got Hasan Minhaj and Trevor Noah. We’ve got to host an entire genre came out of this fact on the one moment many years ago when he put purpose before profit.
The profit story is really easy to tell, but you don’t get to tell it unless you put the purpose first. We know this, we talk to brands about what do you fundamentally believe, what do you sell? What do you believe? That’s at the heart of a great story. What do you fundamentally believe? More and more brands are now getting into this. What’s interesting is when P&G came out with, “Is this the best a man can get?” which took on toxic masculinity, I was asked to do a one-hour national radio program where we would take calls from callers to discuss the ad. They said, “Would you like to do this?” I said, “To have people yell at me for an hour? Yes, I would.”
What I love is that the first caller was like, “Our first caller is Kathy from Cornwall. Kathy, what do you think of the new Gillette ad?” Kathy said, “I love it. It’s amazing because I have two sons and I do not want them to be like my ex-husband, who’s an idiot.” I kid you not. The next caller was literally, “Our next caller is Dave from Cornwall.” I was like, “Please be the ex-husband. This could be amazing.” It wasn’t that. We know that great brands believe in something more important. We know that IKEA believes that everyday life should be better. We know that Airbnb believes that we believe you deserve to belong. We heard yesterday, “We’re in the business of making women feel beautiful.”
That’s a story you can tell. Knocking ten points off a skirt is not so interesting in the Times Square environment. We have to believe in something more important. When we do that, we have to do things that reinforce it. If we tell the story without the actions that back up that story, we’re done. We lose credibility, and we lose trust and our stories go into the wind. Doing is the tricky part. This is how difficult it is to change behavior. You may endorse the change, you may support the change, but every day we get up and do the same thing we did. Some of you are getting it. We need to do it now. We start to ask ourselves again. This can help guide our stories.
First of all, who the heck are we doing it for? Spoiler alert, the most important person you’re doing it for, you do it for you. I was doing a session with a bunch of frontline employees. By frontline, I mean people who are pumping gas, deli clerks, grocery store cashiers, and we said, “Who do you do it for?” We’re trying to get them to talk about bosses or consumers. We know that it’s this group that will call a speaker out on their BS. We’re like, “Who are you doing it for, Darrel?” This guy stands up, he was a mechanic and he goes, “No offense, brother, I do it for myself.” He’s right. The stories we tell ourselves, are the stories that help drive the action that generates stories for our organization. There are people who tell themselves a negative story.
We heard a little bit about this. If we get in that loop of telling us the story, “This always happens to me. There’s no way out. There’s never going to be a way out.” You do it for you. You also do it for a person. We know that stories that are customized and personalized to individual people cut through. We saw this. It’s this little illustration my wife saw and she’s like, “I want to get this for the cottage.” It’s a cute little thing. She ordered it from a store which is on another side of the country. Now my wife’s name is Christy Pickles. It’s the best handle in the world. It’s too bad she wasn’t a speaker because it’d be the best.
We’ve got reservations in restaurants, “We have a reservation for Christy Pickles.” People are like, “We are waiting for you to show up.” it’s a great name. She orders this and then when she got it, there is a card that came with it from the store. “You mean a great deal to me,” and inside, “Dear Christy, thank you for the order. Is your last name really Pickles? I love it.” “Thanks again, Danica.” We know we’re all little snowflakes. We love stuff that is targeted to us. It’s the whole point of who would you share a Coke with? People were like, “Dan, forget Dan. I want to share a Coke myself.” People hunted for the Coke with their name on it. I sometimes have an image of a bottle of Dan and I will say, “Screw Dan, I don’t want to share a Coke with Dan.”Giving up equity is the most expensive way to grow a business. Click To Tweet
I was at the University of Arizona State with Dan. The whole room started laughing and it took me a second. I’m like, “Sorry, not this Dan. I didn’t mean that Dan.” Secondly, what do they want you to do? Now we start our belief is the thread that goes through the story, who we’re targeting it to, is now we start to use names. We start to pull some of the information that is relevant to that person. At the heart of the story though is, what does that person want you to do? What do they want the story to be about? We can’t be all Cliff Claving with them. We can’t constantly be spinning out stuff that they’re not interested in.
At the heart of that is what do they want you to do? We can take this, as Jeff said, “What can we do to help you?” We can talk to people. We can look at consumers. We can observe consumers. We can do ethnography. We can do focus groups, whatever it is to get at the heart of what we can do, what they want us to do. The story of we built a studio was a great story. It only began when people said, “We’d like you to build a studio. That’s at the heart of that story.” The second part was something that David said that I love, which is, “The real genius is wishing people well for something they don’t even know they need.”
You’re an expert in your field. We have to go beyond the customer feedback survey because if you’re implementing stuff that somebody is randomly telling you to improve, that’s low hanging fruit, you need to go deeper than that. You need to gather insights that people want, the stuff that they don’t even know they need. The secret of comedy, of great stories, is when the audience goes, “It’s funny because it’s true. I never thought of it that way before.” That’s how great stories connect with people and these can be massive shifting things. Industry shifting things. Michele Romanow sold the business to Groupon. It was called SnapSaves. What she said was, “What I hated was that in that deployment, anytime I wanted to grow the business, I had to go to a venture capitalist, get money. I take that money, walk across the street to Google and Facebook and give it to them.”
It’s the most expensive way to grow a business by giving up equity. She started Clearbanc. The Clearbanc will loan startups money. If you have $10,000 a month in total revenue, they will loan you the money at 6% interest. You don’t have to give up equity. They have deals with Google and Facebook to help you grow your business with that as well. Not only is she eating into the VCs market, but they also gave her $300 million to do it. It can be massive industry-shaping things like that. That’s a story that startups want to hear. It can be tiny little things. Whoever on Netflix pitched the ideas to skip intros, you are under-appreciated. We know this. The third part is, who do you do it with? If we believe in something more important, we know who we do it for, we know what that person wants us to do.
The Importance Of Relationships
Somebody else allows us to do that thing. You don’t have to be on the payroll to be on the team. What I hate as an agency, and I will never tell this to my clients, is that often in client conversations, the notion of the partnership only comes up when we’re discussing compensation. I’ll say, “If you want me to be your partner, I’ll be your partner. The partnership is a two-way street.” When we’re aligned on values, who we do it with is more important than who we do it for. I have a team of people back at the office who do work for our clients. We were working with a client who we were not aligned on values with. They weren’t horrible people. I didn’t see that we should continue working together.
I took the CEO out for lunch and said there are three reasons why an agency does work with a client. The first reason is that it pays the bills. There are lots of money there and allows us to do things, pay our people.
The second reason is that the work is fantastic and it shows off our capabilities. It allows for people to drive their passion. The third reason that maybe the work’s not great and maybe there’s not a ton of money, but it’s really fun. We’re all for three on this account. Tell me why I shouldn’t resign this business because that’s exactly what I came here to do? I essentially moved $200,000 back across the table and said, “You can have your money back.” When I came back to the office and I told our team fully knowing that there may be staffing ramifications because of that decision, there was a whole other year two budget that we weren’t going to access. We got a standing ovation. Who we do it with is more important than who we do it for when we’re aligned on values. You never track alone. You heard this from Boyd. You don’t track alone, so let’s not act like we do, but at the heart of our stories are these people. These relationships are important. We have to celebrate those relationships. We have to acknowledge those relationships.
We have to protect those relationships and those relationships have them find their way into our stories at the heart of partner marketing. We never track alone. One of my favorite bands of all time is the Grateful Dead, but I don’t know the back end equity deal was, who was a full partner? All I know is that every once in a while Bruce Hornsby showed up and played the piano. I don’t know if he was covering for Matt or with a freelancer. I don’t know. I don’t care. Who you do it with is more importantly, who you do it for. I used to host a show called Monkey Toast with six Second City alumni. I hosted and produced a show for five years. The show continues with another host and producer, all Second City alumnus.
What we would do is I would interview a guest and then throughout that, I would say, “Let’s stop right there and let’s see some comedy.” The six Second City Alum would improvise scenes based on the conversation we’ve had. This is death-defying comedy and I’ll tell you how we did it. If you’re going to step out onto the stage with your cast behind you and make a statement or attempt to start a scene, you need to know that someone’s got your back. At the beginning of every single show before we went on stage, we huddled in the green room. It’s the entire cast. It’s not just the people on stage. The musical director of the stage manager, the sound person, me. The front door person and the guest. We got together. We huddled in a circle and we said, “We got people out to a comedy club. It’s very easy for them to be at home on their couch. We got them here. Let’s give them a show they deserve.”
One-by-one, we went to every single person in the cast, tapped their back, look at them in the eye and said, “I’ve got your back,” over and over again. It’s the great ideas that exist within our organization, the great stories that are there for us to tell. The reason that people don’t want to share those ideas, I don’t think it’s because they’re afraid of being fired. They’re afraid of being embarrassed. They’re not embarrassed if they know that someone has their back. We do it with is more important than who we do at for and they have to find their way in our stories. The last part of this is the say. If we believe in something more important and we behave in a way that reinforces that belief, that’s worth talking about.
If we’re going to tell great stories that have those components, then we should talk about them in a really interesting and compelling and authentic way. We have to say it authentically. I know this is a $2 word, but to me, authenticity is being comfortable with your imperfections. I mean that about you as a person and you as an organization. At that event that I talked to you about in Sarasota with the 100 CEOs, a gentleman came up to me who is now the chairman of a global software company that you would know. He talked about his time at CPG, none of which is in the room. I won’t still say who they are. He talked about rising to the level of VP.
He was from the deep south. They sent him on a leadership development course when he hit VP. He said, “I realized that the whole point of the development course was to get me to lose my Southern accent, but they didn’t feel I would have credibility on the world stage with a Southern accent.” He looked at me and went, “I quit because I realized my voice ain’t no bug. It’s a feature.” Our imperfections are features. It’s what people buy. You know this from commercial shoots, we used to fire the DOP or the director if we’ve had a lens flare. We consciously put lens flares in. Why? People trust imperfection. If it’s too scripted, it’s too polished, I don’t trust it. There is a script, not so much in food service, but certainly in traditional apparel retail.Our imperfections are features. It's what people buy because people trust imperfection. Click To Tweet
If you walk into a clothes store and a sales associate comes up to you and says, “Hi, I can help you find anything?” You say, “I’m just looking. I’m just browsing.” It’s as if the person goes, “Hi, I’m going to deliver my half of the script. You’re going to do your half of the script, then we can both go our own way. We’re good.” We know this story. It’s the scripted story. You’ve got a role. I’ve got her all. None of us wants to be here. We do this and we shove these scripts instead of saying we’re going to hire on values. We’re going to allow people to deliver the service in the way that they want. I will finish up here about stories and life stories. I will tell you a story right now that is dark and very personal.
I’ve only told it once publicly before. I need you to know that I find it rather funny. If I find it funny, you can find it funny. In 2003, my dad passed away what a way to start out of the gate. My dad was not an evil man. He was a flawed man. To give you an example of how we thought of my dad, our nickname from my dad growing up was Bozo. Bozo because my dad got married four times and my mom was wife number one and he had four children. His second wife was Rita and they had a daughter, my half-sister, Joanne, and then two other marriages. He’s not an evil man, but a flawed man that we called Bozo. “Bozo called,” “Bozo wants to see you.” We clearly weren’t close.
He died in 2003, and all we knew is that he didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want a ceremony. We had a conference call, the four kids from family number one. My brother said, “He didn’t want anything. There’s no funeral, no ceremony.” I said, “You guys want to do dinner? I feel like we should do something.” “No.” “All right, whatever.” That’s the last I heard of it until last summer. I got a call from EA and she said, “Someone called the office looking for you.” She said, “You don’t know her, but she had your dad’s ashes. She wants to know what you want her to do with them.” I contacted this person. This is what went down. My dad passed away in 2003. Sadly, the next year, his second wife, Rita also passed away.
Tragically three years ago, my half-sister Joanne passed away. Joanne had a husband and three kids that I met once. Again, we weren’t close. The widowed husband of my half-sister of my father’s second marriage has a mental health lapse and is committed to an institution. I know right now you’re going, “This can’t get any worse.” “No, it can.” He’s committed to an institution. He gets a girlfriend. The girlfriend has to adopt his kids. She has to sell his house. She’s got to sell his car, everything. She finds that he has a storage locker. In the storage locker are the ashes of three people in boxes, my father, his second wife, Rita and their daughter, Joanne, she doesn’t know anybody. She got here. She begins to reach out and she finds a sister of Rita, the mother in Ottawa. She contacts her and says, “I have these three boxes. I’d like to know what you wanted me to do with them.” That woman says, “We’ll take Rita and Joanne, but we’re not taking Ron.” My dad’s name was Ron.
She’s left with a box of ashes for a guy named Ron Tite that she doesn’t know, so she googles Ron Tite. I pop up. I say to her, “How did you find me?” She’s like, “You’re all over the internet. This is not a big deal.” I said, “Where do you live?” I was like, “I don’t want them, but you definitely should not have to handle this. Where do you live?” She’s like, “I live in Huntsville.” “Great. That’s where my cottage is. It’s twenty minutes away. I’ll come and I will do an exchange.” In the most Canadian moment ever, I meet this woman in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s, like some cremation drug deal gone bad. I take my father in a box and I bought them in my car. My three siblings were coming to the cottage. They know nothing. We’re at lunch and I say, “You’ll never guess who’s in the car.” They’re like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Bozo’s in the car.” I said, “We didn’t love him. We didn’t necessarily hate him, but he was a human being. We need honor that life. We’re going to do a ceremony.” It’s not on my property, but in the crown land out back. We did that. No word of a lie, when we walked back into the cottage, the song playing on the radio was Another One Bites The Dust.
That’s when it hit me as a new father with a bar for fatherhood that’s ridiculously low. Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story? What’s the story that will be told? I think at the heart of that story is love. We can either have people telling a story about us either as a parent, as a marketer, as a human being or as a member of our community. That reaches back to what we did, how we made them feel. Through those actions is love. The love for what we do, I don’t mean intimate love but it’ the love of what we do. It is a passion for the people that we surround ourselves with.
It is a passion for taking risks and moving forward, being bold and either the story we tell is going to be a happy, loving, warm story. It’s going to be a story about someone unwillingly passing our remains in the parking lot of a Tim Horton’s. That’s at the heart of leadership. Those are great stories. The stories that we have to tell. Please don’t think that me finding the humor in my story means that I need to find the humor in every story. It’s certainly not the one you’re going to hear. I hope that you will take that story for the story that it is. It’s a deeply emotional story of people who desperately want to tell it. Great stories have a range of emotions, different stories, and different emotions. It’s been such an honor to be with your last couple of days. Thanks so much.