…practice forgiveness. Whatever it is that’s happened to you, business or personal, you must let go. A person only has so much energy, and devoting any of that to negativity, resentment or anger will never help you achieve your goals.
Inthis interview series, we are exploring the subject of resilience among successful business leaders. Resilience is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Guy Nickerson, Founder and CEO of Remedy Television + Branded.
Guy Nickerson is a seven-time Emmy Award-winning executive producer, director and CEO of Remedy Television + Branded. Over the past 30+ years, Nickerson and his team have developed and delivered more than 1,000 episodes of programming to top networks, ranging from docu-series to hidden camera work with an array of talent from Natalie Portman to Jack Hanna. In addition to his work developing and producing original television series, he has led the creation and production of numerous branded content projects for Fortune 500 companies.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Military brat, surfer and photographer as a kid, I moved from Florida to Northern Virginia for my final years of high school, which is where I got my start in television at a small local station. From there I worked as a news cameraman and editor in Jacksonville and Tampa, Fla., before leaving to start my production company in 1987 at the age of 23, what is now Remedy Television + Branded. With my background in news, highly visual and factual storytelling became the foundation of everything we do. Initially my focus was on more traditional corporate branded content, but in 1995, we were awarded the opportunity to produce a nationally syndicated Jack Hanna TV series. This started our entry into the unscripted television business. Since then we have produced well over 1000 episodes of programming for networks like National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD, BBC, Travel Channel, The Weather Channel, and Discovery Channel, working with talent ranging from Natalie Portman and Elijah Wood to Jack Hanna and Bindi Irwin. Our programs have received 17 Daytime Emmy nominations and seven Emmy wins. Although we have an office in Los Angeles, our primary studio is still located in Tampa, Fla.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
After completing a shoot in Uganda with Jack Hanna, I learned that the company producing his series was putting the show out for bid. They were targeting companies based in Los Angeles, but because of my work in Uganda they brought me into the loop.
Being in Tampa, with limited talent at the time, I reached out to a handful of people that I thought could help me craft the proposal and also help produce the series if we won the bid. To my surprise, they turned me down and told me that I was wasting my time and that we wouldn’t get the project. Instead of getting discouraged, I just put my heart into the proposal, reimagining the series with sponsor integrations, hunkered down with my small team and pulled a rabbit out of a hat. We won the bid, eventually producing 200 episodes of the series and launching our emergence into the unscripted television industry.
Looking back, the people who didn’t support me were sort of right. We truly didn’t have much of a chance at winning the production contract, but you can’t win if you don’t try, and it’s amazing what you can do when you don’t listen to the doubters.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think the fact that we have built a nationally recognized entertainment and branded content studio in Tampa says it all. Today Tampa is an amazing, vibrant and exciting place to live, but it wasn’t always that way. Back in the day, we knew that the only way to distinguish ourselves from and win projects over bigger companies based in New York or Los Angeles was to work harder, be friendlier, be more buttoned up from a business and creative standpoint and attract the best talent. To do this, we have established a culture with a high bar for entry, but a very supportive culture from top to bottom. Next, we work hard to feed our team’s creative appetite with exciting projects.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’d have to say Jack Hanna. At the time we were under consideration for running his series, although he didn’t own the show, he carried significant influence. Jack’s willingness to give us a shot really opened the door for so much of our success. But beyond the business, in 25 years of working together I’ve learned so much from Jack about being a good person and how to treat people. He’s been my business partner, my father, my brother and my friend. His genuine kindness and generosity are consistent, no matter if he’s meeting with a janitor or the president of a country. That approach set the bar for who I aspire to be in business and life. In many ways, you can feel his influence throughout our company culture and it sets the tone for how we treat each other and our production partners.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I mentioned earlier that I grew up in a military family, where we moved every three years. As a kid, that means walking away from best friends and familiar surroundings and starting from scratch, no questions asked and no input on the decision. You can choose to handle that two ways. You can either sulk, or see it as an opportunity to grow, meet new people and see new places. I always felt this background made me fairly well adjusted. Next, I had hard work drilled into me from day one. So, when things don’t go right, I’m equipped to roll with the punches, roll up my sleeves and fix things.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Being a sports fan, I’m constantly inspired by people who have overcome hardships most of us could never imagine accomplishing their goals and setting an example for others. Athletes Tony Dungy and Warwick Dunn are just amazing inspirations for their resilience. Also, JK Rowling is someone who has really embodied overcoming hardship with lifechanging results.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
As a kid that grew up with dyslexia, I never quite caught on as a student. With no path for college, being told I couldn’t do something was the norm. The upside was that, without much external support or guidance, I quickly realized that I was in charge of my destiny. This also helped me appreciate even the smallest of opportunities as a success.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
In late 2008, on the cusp of the Great Recession, our company was wrapping up its best year ever, with a brisk slate of branded content and television business. We had so much business on the horizon that we were looking to add staff, but by the end of the year we started sensing that projects were disappearing or being put on hold.
In January 2009, the bottom fell out when our CFO, who is also my wife, pulled our head of sales into a meeting to figure out what was happening and she discovered that everything had fallen through over the past two months. After the meeting, my wife (a former Big 6 CPA) came into my office, shut the door and told me through tears that we would likely have to close our doors.
We spent the next 24 hours hashing through numbers and analyzing cash flow (fortunately we are very conservative) and our obligations, and realized instead we needed to fight for the company and, more importantly, do what we could to help the people on our staff that were about to have their lives disrupted.
Next, we pulled our leadership team into a room and explained the situation. The rest of the week we mapped out our core competencies and selected the staff members who we believed would best help us preserve who we were creatively and culturally. So much more went into the decisions we made throughout that week, but I can promise we shed tears over every single person. We figured out how far we could stretch our cash with this core team, while also planning to offer the best severance possible to anyone we weren’t able to keep long-term.
The day we laid people off was the hardest day of my life, having to meet with amazing friends/coworkers who committed to my company and release them for no fault of their own. I don’t think anything I say can convey the sadness we went through that day, but it was devastating to put it mildly. My wife and I stopped taking salary for roughly a year to ensure we didn’t have to cut salaries for the staff we retained.
From that point forward, we were an all hands on deck, uber talented, eager, multi-hat wearing team. We took every project we could get our hands on, appreciated every one of them and made even the smallest project look like a big budget branded project. The goal was to slow the burn of cash long enough to get our footing.
Within a year of the crash, projects started coming back, former employees returned and we were in production on a new TV series. The company stabilized and started growing, and has continued to grow steadily since. To this day, my wife and I remember how we looked beyond the potentially catastrophic situation we faced for the solution, thoughtfully made very difficult decisions, saved as many jobs as we could and survived as a company, and we count it as one of our proudest accomplishments in business and in life.
The impact that the Great Recession had on my staff and company still influences me to this day. Even though our culture reflected qualities of pride and appreciation in our staff and our clients all along, the experience reinforced never taking one client or person for granted, and that’s how we operate to this day. On the personal side, that year without pay forced us as a family to tighten our belts (to say the least) and really appreciate and enjoy the little things in life. It truly was the best of times in so many ways.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
That’s a tough one, but as with anyone it’s rarely one experience that molds us. From growing up in a strict military family to overcoming just about every personal and professional catastrophe…it’s all played a part in my success. But the one quality I’d have to say played the largest role in my resiliency has been positivity. I joke about having a short memory, but if you hold onto every bad thing that’s happened to you it will eat you up. You truly must compartmentalize your experiences and move on with a clear mind. Positivity always works and is infectious.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
When faced with difficulty, you must first assess your situation, identify your challenges and develop step-by-step plans. Stay focused, but nimble. If something isn’t working, be prepared to reassess and shift direction. The following five steps will help get you through tough situations and come out stronger:
- As I have mentioned, unwavering positivity is a great way to start the process of moving past challenging times.
- Next comes hard work. I always tell my son that he doesn’t have to be the most talented basketball player, but that no one should be able to outwork him. I’ll always help someone who shows determination and hard work.
- Then, I would have to say practice forgiveness. Whatever it is that’s happened to you, business or personal, you must let go. A person only has so much energy, and devoting any of that to negativity, resentment or anger will never help you achieve your goals.
- Also, and this slightly goes against what I just said, but feel everything. It is only human to hurt when things hurt and smile when things feel good. Don’t mask that. When things hurt, channel that into action and remember that feeling so that you do everything in your power to never feel it again. Use fear as a motivator, not an inhibitor.
- Finally, never get complacent. When you are most successful is when you should be looking for the next big thing.
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. 🙂
I will reiterate what I said about positivity, hard work and forgiveness as things everyone should aspire to embrace. Aside from that, having been immersed in running and growing my business since I was 23 years old, I’m entering a time in my life that I wish I had given more to people like me that just needed one break. I’ve always felt that providing good, stable jobs and creating a positive workplace was enough, but moving forward my goal is to ensure there was a purpose for me being given the opportunities I’ve received.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
I’ve been fortunate to meet presidents, celebrities and sports figures — all inspirations. But I truly am most inspired by everyday people who get no attention for the fights they fight or the people who use their influence to thrust the spotlight on these inspirational people. But off the top of my head, I would love to meet Warren Buffet, a no nonsense, simple guy who does what he does for the love of it, then uses his success to better the planet.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!