I had the pleasure of interviewing Christian Lachel, Executive Creative Director and Vice President at BRC Imagination Arts — an experiential design and production agency that turns brands into destinations. Christian and his team are the creative force behind some of the world’s most popular brand homes, tours and destinations, including Jameson Distillery Bow St., The Ford Rouge Factory Tour, The Guinness Storehouse, The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the World of Coca-Cola. Christian is also a past service member of the United States Navy and disabled veteran, who’s life was enriched by his training in Coronado with the US Navy SEAL instructors.
Christian’s background gives him a unique perspective on leadership and team structure. His experience at Art Center College of Design, and military training inspired BRC in building an elite creative team — a diverse group of renaissance producers, designers, artists and directors who work to create brand homes and tours for some of the world’s most recognizable companies.
Chris: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Can you tell us about your military background?
I’m a fourth-generation veteran of the U.S. Navy. With family members serving in WWI, WWII and Vietnam. While I was in High School, I joined an NROTC like program (Naval Sea Cadet Corps) and spent my summers training with the U.S. Navy. It was during these summer Navy programs that I first trained with the Navy SEALs in Coronado, CA and also in Little Creek and Dam Neck, VA. I was hooked, graduated High School early and went directly into the US Navy while Operation Desert Storm was underway.
During my time in the service, I lead an 80-person company in boot camp, graduated with honors, completed my “A” school and was accepted into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training in Coronado. The rest of my time in service I spent at the Naval Special Warfare Center/Command and in training. During this time, I had the great pleasure (and a bit of pain) to learn from an inspired group of elite sailors and leaders. My Navy career was cut short due to an accident and I left the Navy as a 4.0 sailor with a deep respect for the elite community I got the pleasure to serve with and learn from.
Chris: What from your time in the military, do you think most prepared you for business?
There are so many lessons that you learn while serving in the military and leading teams. One of the most important things you learn, is no one does it alone. It doesn’t matter if you’re the fastest swimmer or runner. In the end, your strength is defined by the team and not the individual. So, you learn to build on the strengths of all team members and together you have greater power to overcome challenges and complete the objective.
The other thing I learned is success lies within. One of my favorite BUD/S instructors taught us that the only thing that stands between you and success is you. Often, I see people blame others for their situation, their problems or not believing in themselves. The power to shape your narrative and life is up to you. If you can find that fire in the gut and a deep passion for what you love to do, then great things can and will happen.
Chris: How would you define your leadership style?
My leadership style is definitely a lead from the front approach. I’ve never understood how leaders can ask the creative team to do something they wouldn’t be willing to do themselves or have done many times before. In creative environments or producing projects in the field, it’s inevitable that there will be late nights and hard pushes. It comes with the territory. The goal is to control the frequency of these moments, push through them as a team and then celebrate the victory together. The only way you do that is by getting in the trenches and pulling your weight. In those situations, titles don’t matter. It’s one team, pulling on the same rope in the same direction. As long as you’ve set commanders intent, you have clear goals/objectives, and everyone believes in the mission, a small group of committed people can do amazing things. We call it “Doing Epic Work that Matters.”
This same lead from the front mentality is also how I work with clients. There’s a lot of listening, understanding their goals, making sure the objectives are clear and measurable and then crafting the right story and experience to deliver on their vision. And when done right, there is a co-development approach that fits hand in glove. You become an extension of the client team and you work the project together. When you do this, you limit the surprises throughout the process and you feel co-ownership. In the end, the projects we create are not BRC projects; they are our client’s projects and we do them in service of their target audience. We’re there to help marry the heart of the audience and heart of the brand together in an emotional and transformative way. To do this, we become one team, leading from the front and together.
Chris: What are your Leadership Lessons Businesses can learn from military experience? Please share a story or example for each.
- Define clear expectations and calculated objective — While expectations are much higher in elite units like the Navy SEALs than in the corporate world, having a strong leader that sets a clear direction for the team is crucial for any group. There is a strict code of conduct and ethos that every individual in the Navy must follow. These expectations are laid out in the beginning of training and exemplified in every action. At BRC, it’s essential to plan ahead of time what success looks like for both the team and the client. Once clear goals (KPI’s) are established, each move the team makes must revert back to achieving the goal for the client and their audience.
- Communicate and collaborate as a team — In the Navy, you must work as a unit to ensure the safety of all members while you collectively work toward the same goal. If one person decides to veer away from the group, it puts the individual and the unit in extreme danger. The same team-mentality can be applied to the corporate world. If an individual decides to stray away from the original plan and not communicate with their coworkers, that team will eventually fail due to the unorganized structure. When the BRC team takes a brand home from ideation to production, there are senior creative producers and directors managing the execution to ensure the experience is created with world-class quality and emotional delivery. They communicate often to all parties, to ensure no one is left behind and that decisions can be made in a timely fashion. This is the role of the creative producer, to make sure everyone is making the same project and feels invested in making it great.
- Push the boundaries/challenge yourself daily — The intensive BUD/S training is mentally and physically demanding. Candidates are purposefully pushed to their physical and mental limits so they can achieve their greatest potential. In the business environment, leaders must also encourage their teams to think beyond their comfort zones to maintain a competitive advantage. At BRC, we push storytelling boundaries as we take visitors on an immersive and transformative journey that taps into their deepest-rooted emotions. We’ve brought the soul of Nashville to life at the Ryman Auditorium, inspired future engineers at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation and Ford Rouge Factory Tour, and created Jameson fans for life with the newly renovated Jameson Distillery Bow St. But we’re never complacent in the work we’re doing. The best teams have a deeply embedded ethos of being endlessly curious and striving for continual improvement in our craft. The moment you lose that, you also lose your edge.
- Always innovate, improve and adapt — Even the most well-planned missions will have speed bumps, but in the Navy you especially train to adapt in the face of adversity in all environments. The biggest business lesson I’ve learned while serving my time in the Navy is to never quit or make excuses as to why something isn’t successful. Instead, quickly assess your situation, address the problem and move on your newly successful path. Even when things are running smoothly, there are always ways that processes can be improved — which is why you constantly learn and adapt. Each of our clients are looking to push the boundaries of traditional brand and experiential marketing when they work with us, so I think about this lesson on a daily basis. The BRC team is constantly working to create transformative experiences and cultivate lifelong loyalty for our clients.
Chris: The future of many industries rely heavily on millennials and gen-z in regards to consumers and talent. Can you tell us something you or your company is doing to stay ahead with attracting both?
One of the things I’m most proud of and what gets me up in the morning is working with amazing people. I’m fortunate to work with a talented and very diverse group of artists, producers, designers, writers, technical wizards and more. And some of these talented individuals are younger and they bring a unique point of view and energy to the work we do. I believe what attracts people to work at BRC are two things: the diverse and exciting projects we create. And secondly, doing great work that matters. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves, so we strive to do work that touches people emotionally and awakens the best in people. And my best advice to young people, is find work that emotionally connects with you. Find your bliss. If you do that, it’s not work, its love. So, we look for people who share this vision for making the world a better place and a deep passion to do something epic that touches people.
Chris: Can you tell us one person in the world, or in the US whom you would want to sit down and have a drink or cocktail with? He or she might see this. 🙂
It would probably be Bono of U2. I’m a big fan and have been for many years. The music that they create is incredibly powerful and connects people. And his work on a wide range of issues personally speaks to me. I would love to collaborate on something and move the world emotionally.
Chris Quiocho is a combat veteran and pilot of the United States Army. Millennial leader and CEO of Offland Media, the premier content partner for business aviation. Chris is an insightful and motivational public speaker, and an emerging thought leader for the aviation industry.
Originally published at medium.com