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Tips From The Top: One On One With Richard Kirshenbaum

I spoke to Richard Kirshenbaum, CEO of NSG/SWAT, about his journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Richard: People would be surprised to learn that I started out in the business as a receptionist. I am the first generation of men to have worked for the first generation of female executives. When I was hired as a Boy Friday to work for a legendary female advertising executive out of college, she put me right at the front desk on the phones. It was a perfect way to start my career.

My new novel ‘Rouge: A Novel of Beauty and Rivalry’ is dedicated to all the wonderful and fabulous women I worked with and is an homage to the great, entrepreneurial women who founded the multi-billion dollar cosmetics industry.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Richard: I was brought up in a traditional environment where it was respected to be a doctor, lawyer or accountant. Hardly anyone was creative and creative people were greatly misunderstood. I received criticism and sometimes scorn from my peers. The challenge was to remain true to myself. I could never be a doctor as an example.

Being true to myself put me on a unique and wonderful path. However, I had to overlook the negativity and boost myself. I did this through having a sense of humor. I always said “ I may not have gone to Harvard but I can be the funniest or most interesting person at the cocktail party. And I never cut my hair!”

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Richard: In order to be a leader you need people to “WANT” to follow you.

I think one needs to be balanced and hear all sides. I personally subscribe to the Harry Truman school of leadership, which is to listen to all sides and then make an informed decision.

I also once worked with a famous Miss America and businesswoman Phyllis George (the first female sportscaster and First Lady of Kentucky). She gave me an invaluable tool… she called it PNP (positive, negative, positive). If you can critique things in this format, first by saying something positive, then raising the issue and then a positive wrap up, people will always want to hear what you have to say.

I believe that this is the mark of a good leader.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Richard: My three best tips are:

1) Always be nice to someone’s assistant and write hand written thank you notes.

2) Always google someone you are meeting with and know the correct way to say and spell their name.

3) Never, ever give up your dream, despite the odds and criticism.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Richard: The best advice I have ever received was from my father who told me two things I live by:

1.) “You can never go wrong doing the right thing.”

2) “Do what you love and love what you do.”  

My father’s advice serves as a great career and life guide.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Richard: To pay it forward, be gracious, grateful and thankful. Everyone always ends up knowing each other and your reputation will always catch up with you..the good as well as the bad. Keep in mind that the most random people know each other and they will ask about you before they work or get to know you. So you’re always better off if they are saying good things.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Richard: I always say until you can pay your bills with it, it’s a hobby. My writing has always been a hobby. However, writing has always been my passion.  

I started out by selling jokes to comedians like Joan Rivers when I graduated college. But it only paid $8 a joke so I was never going to pay my rent being a comedy writer.

Advertising copywriting was equally fun and practical. It was a great way for me to earn my living doing something I love.

Now after all these years my career as a novelist is getting traction. And now that I am getting paid for it, it’s not just a hobby since I have more than a few bills to pay.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Richard: I have another rule which is “I know what I know and I know what I don’t know.”  I always look for information and people to advise me on the things I don’t know. One can’t be great at everything. Great partners and valuable information come from those people who know what THEY KNOW. And not to have an ego about it!

As an example my head digital person at SWAT is only 24-years-old. Yet, he knows everything I don’t know since he is a digital native and I am a digital immigrant. So I am always seeking his and others advice. Once you do that, you are golden.

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