“How Extremely Busy Executives Make Time To Be Great Parents”, With Brandon Friesen

Put down the screens: While this is a tough one, we do our best to put down screens when we are enjoying family time. Anyone using a screen at the dinner table, for example, will be met with family contempt. As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be […]

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Put down the screens: While this is a tough one, we do our best to put down screens when we are enjoying family time. Anyone using a screen at the dinner table, for example, will be met with family contempt.

As a part of my series about “How extremely busy executives make time to be great parents” I had the pleasure to interview Brandon Friesen.

Brandon Friesen is a leader in the media industry, having over 20 years’ experience delivering business growth for brands — from editorial and publishing to influencer networks and business leadership.

He joined JUST Media in 2012 as President and elevated to CEO in early 2018. Friesen is responsible for pioneering the agency’s evolution from specialty media buying and planning to full-service marketing capabilities. He’s a customer-focused business executive with a successful track record across a myriad of disciplines, mostly centered around the technology, marketing, media, content and publishing ecosystems.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us your “childhood backstory”?

Iwas born in Canada and raised outside of Philadelphia. My parents split up when I was young and both of them had great careers. My siblings and I were latchkey kids. Mother worked for the Eagles and Phillies, which had great perks as a kid, but also meant she had an erratic schedule. Nevertheless, she made all of our events. Dad was an entrepreneur who started a dozen magazines back in the day and was on the road most of the time. They loved us and instilled a strong work ethic, but I knew from childhood that I’d want to more present for my kids. I always “worked” when I was a kid, from mowing lawns to shoveling snow off of driveways in the winter. We found ways to be enterprising and earn a few bucks. It seemed more common back then for parents to let their kids do their own thing. I was conscious of balancing work and family from those early experiences.

Can you share the story about what brought you to this specific point in your career?

I grew up in publishing by association with the family business and dreamed of being a publisher myself one day. However, the industry and opportunities changed so I got caught up in the digital world — which I’d loved since the Commodore 64.

Prior to JUST Media I found myself in a situation where I was at odds with the ethics of my employer so I decided to take a chance to join a small agency as President. My kids were young. We had just moved into a new house, but I saw the growth potential. With the former CEO, together we grew the company 7x in revenue. When he was diagnosed with cancer and then sadly passed, I took over as CEO. We’ve now grown the company over 10x since those days.

That said, seeing a close friend and business partner, who was an amazing family person, pass away so young helped inspire me to be a better parent and more present for my family. For years I’d been working at this incredible agency that championed putting people first. That framework worked when I thought of employees and clients but turning it back on myself wasn’t obvious. I’m still learning. I make a conscious decision to be a better father and husband every day.

Can you tell us a bit more about what your day to day schedule looks like?

My day really starts at night, when I review my calendar for the next day. Once daybreaks I focus on deep breathing exercises to center myself and align my goals for the day. During my breathing exercises, I let thoughts flow in and out, but try not to dwell on anything too deeply. As the kids head off to school, I head into JUST Media’s Emeryville office (when I’m not traveling to our Austin office, or elsewhere). On my drive over the San Francisco bay waters I transition into work mode.

I’m in meetings for most of the day, from immediate focus items to long-term planning. Our clients are some of the most forward-thinking and growth-oriented brands in their categories. JUST Media is a services business, so there is always something going on — from jumping in to work directly with a client to pitching a new piece of business. The advertising industry moves very fast, so we’re constantly working to stay ahead of the curve.

When I’m coaching during lacrosse season, I leave the office at 4pm two days a week. There’s occasionally some type of dinner or industry event but outside of that, I’m committed to be home by dinner at least three times a week.

At night we all hang out as a family. Even if we are doing different things — homework, working on a project, etc. — we try to hang out in the same physical area. My family likes to play “high, low, way to go” as a way to catch-up on each other’s days. It always stimulates good conversation and it’s a way to stay connected to their daily lives. Many nights I’m back online after the kids go to bed. When I’m not, my wife and I will try to catch-up on “our shows” or read a book.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the core of our discussion. This is probably intuitive to many, but it would be beneficial to spell it out. Based on your experience or research, can you flesh out why not spending time with your children can be detrimental to their development?

Blink — and your kids are all grown up. It’s a feeling any parent can relate to: The days are long, but the years are short. Investing in myself and my family is a decision I make every day, and while I’m still learning, I’m smart enough to know that if don’t I’ll regret it.

I want my kids to know that I will always be there for them. They can talk to me about anything. Whether they win or lose, succeed or fail, I want them to know they’ll have my support. I constantly tell them the most important thing is their belief in their own abilities and potential — from their attitude and how they treat others to persistence and hard work.

The goal is to ensure they grow up being able to take risks and try new things. Mistakes are okay. Without this, I think it could inhibit their development and limit the potential life experiences they could have. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not perfect at being there and I’m constantly struggling with how to be better at it. Sometimes they drive me crazy. Sometimes I drive them crazy. Any parent who doesn’t admit that is lying or in denial or some type of godlike parent.

On the flip side, can you give a few reasons or examples about why it is so important to make time to spend with your children?

When I was a kid my parents worked quite a bit yet my mother made every single one of my school performances and sports games. Looking back, I now realize she must have sacrificed things at work to be there. While parents didn’t talk to their kids like they do today, just the fact that she was present made all of the difference. I keep this in mind every time my kids have some type of event. When you make the time to be there, you’re showing them they will always have your support. This will hopefully help them succeed at life in the future. Oh, by the way, it’s also important for me! Spending time with my kids brings me joy and fulfillment. I guess it’s selfish in some ways. That said, I think way too many parents hover over everything their kids do and don’t give them freedoms. Again, it’s about the balance we all constantly strive for.

According to this study cited in the Washington Post, the quality of time spent with children is more important than the quantity of time. Can you give a 3–5 stories or examples from your own life about what you do to spend quality time with your children?

Well, thank goodness for this study, since I’m all about trying to find quality of time versus quantity of time.

Coaching: It used to give me heart palpitations to think I’d have to leave at 4pm twice a week to coach lacrosse practice. Now it’s one of the most rewarding things I do with my time.

Dates: My son and daughter have their own interests. It’s important to find 1:1 time with them to better understand and guide them.

Games: Working across functions helps us learn about each other while eliciting lots of laughter and lasting memories.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention? Please include examples or stories for each, if you can.

Schedule time: At the start of each week I make a schedule of work and family priorities: Sometimes it’s a new business pitch across the country but mostly it’s school events, sports games or music recitals.

Put down the screens: While this is a tough one, we do our best to put down screens when we are enjoying family time. Anyone using a screen at the dinner table, for example, will be met with family contempt.

Get outside: In a world where we are tied to machines, in our family, it’s extremely important we spend time outdoors. This ranges from a family basketball in the driveway to regular Sunday evening walks in the Marin hills.

Rely on your team: To create space for your family, it helps to have a great team around you. We’ve created a people-first environment so we can always have each other’s backs. One day I might need to help cover someone on the team who has a family event, yet another day they will help cover for me. When we treat our organization as one big family, it helps to create space at home.

Plan ahead: I recently scheduled a business trip to Austin which was to take me through a Friday night stay. Sadly, I did plan appropriately as my wife had scheduled a trip with her friends that weekend and my son had a soccer tournament first thing Saturday. This was a case of failing to do a better job of calendaring and planning ahead. Lessons learned every day.

How do you define a “good parent”? Can you give an example or story?

Be there, but don’t hover. Good parenting is knowing when to let them loose and have fun and when to reel them in and be stern. A great example is ice skating. I taught my kids to ice skate at a very young age. It was a fun activity. They were excited. I modeled the actions so they could observe and learn the moves. However, I didn’t let them hold onto the boards; I didn’t let them hold my hand; and I didn’t help them get up. I stay close by and was there to protect their heads if they fell, but I wanted them to learn balance, how to stand on their own and how to get up when the fell over. I think this is pretty analogous to life. We want to be rescuers as parents, but the best thing we can do is be supporters.

How do you inspire your child to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?

When my daughter was in 3rd grade she was given the opportunity to run as a representative for the schools “Green Team” which helped drive student-led environmental initiatives. She was excited to put together her speech and run for the Green Team. However, since there were many people running and only a few spots to fill, we encouraged her to run and emphasized the journey over the destination. It’s better to try for something and not get it than not to try at all. Long-story short, she didn’t get picked in 3rd grade. She ran again in 4th and didn’t get picked. However, she had stick-to-itiveness and finally got the role in her 5th grade year. This was a really small thing, however it helped inspire her never say quit attitude.

How do you, a person who masterfully straddles the worlds of career and family, define “success”?

Happy family is more important than the pocket book.

I have to deprogram my ingrained notions of his childhood that work ethic equated to long hours, instead choosing to invest my time into myself and my family. As it would turn out, being a more present father, husband and friend was good for business too. There’s a direct correlation between when I re-prioritized family and my business’ growth. According to my own company’s value system, I had to first lead by example particularly for our #1: Put people and family first.

JUST Media has seen an average of 26% YoY growth since I’ve assumed the role of CEO, alongside providing more job opportunities for my staff and success for the many clients I work with. My own growth has led the company’s service diversification from a specialty media planning shop to a full-service marketing agency.

Moreover, financial gains have let JUST Media invest back into our staff from best-in-class benefits (including parental and family leave), competitive and equal pay wages, a healthy work culture and flex hours and work-from-home days, all to ensure employees take care of themselves and loved ones.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?

A favorite book that helped me be a better parent is The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business Paperback by Charles Duhigg.

Habits are hard to break. This includes daily routines, how you are creating time with your family and friends, how we approach our live at work, how we take care of ourselves. This booked helped give me tools to diagnose my habits I wanted to change and how to change them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” Abraham Lincoln

Life is always going to throw obstacles in your way. While often easier said than done, it’s the growth mindset that helps you grow, learn and live a happy life.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 😊

My personal and professional growth comes from realizing I couldn’t be a good leader, dad or partner until I learned to prioritize yourself. Concentrating on a healthy state of mind and lifestyle will actually contribute more to others.

Loosening my work responsibilities doesn’t come naturally to me. Investing in myself and my family is a decision I make every day. And I’m still learning.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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