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Ian Schafer of Kindred: “I’ve always been obsessed with problem-solving”

I’ve always been obsessed with problem-solving. From the moment I got my first computer, I started building things, taking them apart, and then trying to build them better — and learning to be OK if there were pieces left over. Nothing is perfect, but most things could be more perfect. That led to an obsession with breaking […]

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I’ve always been obsessed with problem-solving. From the moment I got my first computer, I started building things, taking them apart, and then trying to build them better — and learning to be OK if there were pieces left over. Nothing is perfect, but most things could be more perfect. That led to an obsession with breaking the ad agency/industry model by founding Deep Focus (and of course, trying to put it back together), the business world, and now society in general with Kindred.


The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Schafer, Co-founder and CEO of Kindred.

Ian Schafer has been at the forefront of the media and advertising industry since 1997. He was inducted into the American Advertising Federation’s Hall of Achievement in 2015, the winner of its esteemed Jack Avrett Volunteer Spirit Award, and named one of “100 People Who Make Advertising Great” by the 4A’s in 2017.

Ian is the CEO & Co-Founder of Kindred, a network of leaders rising to meet a set of challenges that are bigger than any boardroom. Kindred gives business and nonprofit leaders the support, access, and education they need to effectively address social issues and hold themselves accountable for systemic change inside — and outside — their organizations.

Prior to founding Kindred, Ian was the founder, CEO, and Global Chairman of the influential advertising agency Deep Focus (sold to Engine Group in 2015), VP of New Media at Disney’s Miramax Films, and winner of numerous accolades including Cannes Lions, Webbys, and Emmy Awards. An active investor and advisor, Ian has helped several companies along on their journeys from founding to exit.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’ve always been obsessed with problem-solving. From the moment I got my first computer, I started building things, taking them apart, and then trying to build them better — and learning to be OK if there were pieces left over. Nothing is perfect, but most things could be more perfect. That led to an obsession with breaking the ad agency/industry model by founding Deep Focus (and of course, trying to put it back together), the business world, and now society in general with Kindred.

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

“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” — James Baldwin

It’s a daunting task to change systems and ways of thinking, working and doing. How can we remain satisfied with the status quo when the status quo is unacceptable? Making a profit does not have to exist independently of making an impact. But you can’t expect the latter to just happen. You have to make a commitment, especially when one of the most important places to make an impact is in the environment you control — your own organization. Right now, in the middle of a pandemic and a cultural ‘awakening’ to the myriad inequalities present in our culture, it is evident that without systemic changes, most companies will fail an accountability test. Companies that are investing in purpose-driven work, establishing more equitable systems, and addressing issues relevant to consumers are the ones that are set to propel the future of business, and the future of work.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began? What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

Before the pandemic, I was still the co-Founder and CEO of Kindred — but Kindred was on track to take place as an inaugural conference in May 2020. After drawing in over 2,000 corporate, nonprofit, and cultural leaders, the COVID-19 lockdown forced our team to rethink our business.

Initially, we pushed the conference to Fall 2020, but as the summer rolled around, it became clear that in-person events wouldn’t be feasible for some time. It dawned on me that what we were doing with Kindred as a conference was more than us wanting to host an event. We wanted to start conversations, to fire the synapses between leaders. Responding to the sense of urgency was our responsibility to society, and we made the decision to cancel the event and become the executive membership network that we are today.

Now, mid-pandemic, I am the co-Founder and CEO of Kindred, an executive membership network built to prepare executives for the future of socially responsible business.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

In March and April of 2020, we saw companies such as Nike, GM and major corporations pivoting to make hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment — meeting the demands of a world in crisis almost on a dime. I thought to myself, “If a company can pivot to making wholly new products overnight, then why can’t they pivot their approach to single-use plastic or diversify the members of their board?”

As it turns out, a global pandemic, compounded by successful social movements, contributed to an environment that made issues more urgent. It also left leaders reeling about how to react, and I realized that Kindred could help. We could provide a community and actionable steps for today’s leaders who understand that social and cultural shifts have breached corporate culture and that business leaders can no longer ignore issues of equity and justice, the impact of business on climate and sustainability, the mental and emotional well-being of their employees and much more.

How are things going with this new initiative?

In just four short months post-launch, over 150 companies signed up leaders to join Kindred, including purpose-driven executives from Fortune 500 companies, heads of global nonprofits and cultural leaders. We are also working with members who extend beyond purpose-built companies and include organizations at all points in their journey to becoming more socially responsible.

Most importantly, though, we’re providing the expertise, resources and community that are spurring executives’ individual growth and helping inform their decisions as they move from intent to action.

How can our readers further follow your work?

You can find me on LinkedIn as Ian Schafer and on Twitter @ischafer. I encourage you to check out Kindred at kindredmembers.com to find out more about how to turn your business intentions into action.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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