10 QUESTIONS FOR…Kevin Coupe, “The Big Picture: Essential Business Lessons from the Movies”

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Author interview with Kevin Coupe

Kevin Coupe has been a working writer all his professional life.  He is the co-author, with Michael Sansolo, of The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons From The Movies, which uses movies to illustrate tenets of leadership, the importance of marketing and branding, and how to survive in the workplace.  For the past decade, he’s had his own website/blog – MorningNewsBeat.com – providing what he calls “business news in context, and analysis with attitude.”  In addition to speaking at hundreds of conferences in the U.S. and abroad and reporting from 45 states and six continents, Kevin has worked as a daily newspaper reporter, video producer, bodyguard, clothing salesman, supervised a winery tasting room, run two marathons (slowly), drove a race car (badly), taken boxing lessons (painfully) and acted in a major (and obscure) motion picture.  He is married with three children, and lives in Connecticut.

1.  Tell us about your latest book.

The central premise of The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons from the Movies is that it is much easier and more effective for a business leader to communicate his or her vision to co-workers, employees, business partners and even customers if the leader can create a narrative…in other words, tell a compelling and understandable story.  If you cannot tell your story in resonant terms, it is hard to get people to coalesce around your business vision.  For us, movies are a way of creating a common language, or a common mythology, that leaders can refer to in telling their story. 

Q: Have you always wanted to be a writer?

A.  Pretty much.  Both Michael and I started out as newspaper reporters and moved into business magazines, though I’ve stayed a working writer my entire adult life and Michael made a detour into the corporate world where he was in charge of education for a major trade association.  But even in that role, where he gave many speeches and planned educational events, the importance of a good story was always central to how he approached his job.  We’re storytellers.  Which is a cool gig, if you can figure out how to make a living from it.

Q: Tell us briefly about your book.

The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons from the Movies looks at about 60 different movies from seven decades – encompassing comedies, musicals, dramas and action films, and including both legitimate classics and some that are a little less memorable – to create narratives through which business people can approach issues of leadership, branding, customer service, and even career development.  It really is very simple – we want people to read the book and say to themselves, “The situation I’m facing at work is a lot like the scenario in Jaws.”  Or in That Thing You Do.  Or The Godfather.  Or Bridge on the River Kwai. And when they do so, they may be able to find new ways to deal with whatever business issue they are facing, or at least see it in a different and broader context.

How did you get started as a writer?

I’ve always been a working writer.  I started out in daily newspaper journalism, did a short stint in PR, worked for some business magazines and then wrote and produced a series of videos about the business of global retailing.  For the past dozen years or so, I’ve written about retailing for a series of websites, including my own – MorningNewsBeat.com – for the past eight years.  It is probably a good thing, since I’m not much good at anything else and being a writer has always served my need for some degree of personal autonomy.    That’s not to say that I don’t do other things.  My co-author, Michael Sansolo, and I spend a fair amount of time on the road giving speeches about the business of retailing…and that helps to pay the mortgage.  But basically, I’ve always been a writer.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Up by 5:30 am.  I skim the business sections of about 25 newspapers to find topics for my daily blog/column, MorningNewsBeat.com.  I let the dog out and drink the first of about six cups of black coffee.  At 6 am, I turn on “Morning Joe,” which plays in the background as I work – I find the political discussions to be energizing and thought provoking, and both passionate and civil, which is increasingly rare for discourse these days. At 6:30 am, I bring my wife a cup of coffee the way she likes it – with two Splendas and frothed light cream.  (She’s the person in the family with a steady income and medical benefits, so I like to keep her happy.) By 9 am, my wife and daughter are off to school (my wife is a third grade teacher, my daughter is a high school sophomore), MorningNewsBeat is done, and things get a little more relaxed.  Three days a week I go to the gym and work out.  In nice weather I jog the other three days…though I’m slower than I used to be after two knee surgeries.  After that, I spend the next three or four hours making calls, going through email, writing columns for some print publications, working on speeches (I do about 25 a year), and gathering stories for the next day’s MorningNewsBeat.  At 3:30 pm most days I pick up my daughter at school…and then the rest of the afternoon I try to spend writing whatever project I happen to have on the front burner, or do a little reading – rarely about business, since at that point my brain is a little fried.  (Sometimes, I’ll take a quick nap – I have the ability to fall asleep on a moment’s notice and wake up after 15 or 20 minutes completely refreshed.)  At around 6 pm I uncork a bottle of wine and make supper for everybody.  After dinner, I either watch a ballgame (during baseball season), maybe a TV series I like, or a movie…Michael Sansolo and I already are planning our sequel to The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.  There are so many movies and so little time.  If I can, I like to stay awake long enough to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  But I don’t always make it…because at 5:30 in the morning, it starts all over again.

Describe your workspace.

It depends.   During much of the year, when my 20-year-old son is away at college, I commandeer his room and desk and work there – it has a couple of windows, and my dog, Buffett, likes to hang out with me there.  Plus, the kitchen is just a few feet away and it makes me easily available to my daughter when she’s home.  When my son wants his room back, I have a small office a few blocks away that I go to – it is over a pub, which I find pleasing.  A third of the time, I’m on the road…which means my workspace is wherever I happen to find myself – hotel rooms, airport lounges, restaurants, coffee shops, bars, or airplanes (which happens to be where I am responding to these questions).  One of the great pleasures of being a writer is that I can do it anywhere, anytime.

Favorite books (especially for writers)

A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill

Piecework by Pete Hamill

On Writing by Stephen King

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

Early Autumn by Robert B. Parker

The Night of the Gun by David Carr

The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons from the Movies by Michael Sansolo and Kevin Coupe

Tell us 3 interesting/crazy things about you

A.  I once was a bodyguard for Farrah Fawcett.  Really.  I was 30 years younger and 30 pound lighter, but I actually had the job in late 1977 and early 1978.

B.  Some of the best hours of my week are spent in a local gym where I take boxing lessons and work out on the heavy bag.  It is a great stress-reducer, and it clears the mind.

C.  My co-author, Michael Sansolo, and I grew up in the same town.  His mom and my dad worked for the local school system.  Michael went to high school with the woman who later married me.  We worked for Gannett as newspaper reporters when we got out of college in offices just a few miles apart.  And yet we did not meet until the late eighties when we found ourselves working for the same magazine company, him as editor in chief of a print publication and me running the editorial side of the video division.  It was like meeting a brother I did not know I had… and it led to a fast friendship and constant telephone conversations that spawned a number of business projects and, now, this book, The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons from the Movies.

Favorite quote

There are many…so many that it is hard for me to choose one. So I’ll go with this one:

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.”  – Jimmy Buffett

Best and worst part of being a writer

The hours and the money.  Not necessarily in that order.

Advice for other writers

Write.  And if you don’t understand why that’s the most important advice that can be given to a writer, find another line of work.

Tell us a story about your writing experience.

Woody Allen once said that the most important thing in life is showing up, and my career is proof positive of this, though I’ve also been exceedingly lucky.  Let me explain…

After I graduated from college, I was looking for a job as a writer, but couldn’t get one…I really wanted to work at a newspaper, but I’d never taken a journalism class, which was sort of a handicap.  So a friend of mine who was both the stunt coordinator and head of security for Farrah Fawcett’s first post-“Charlie’s Angels” movie, gave me a job on her security detail because I did know something about movie sets.  This was late 1977, early 1978.

Once the movie wrapped, I went back to looking for a writing job.  In February 1978, I managed to get an interview with the head of human resources for Gannett’s suburban New York newspaper group.  This was a big deal.  The interview was at 10 am, and when I woke up at six that morning, I discovered that we’d had more than a foot of snow overnight, which was going to make getting to the interview problematic.  So I woke up my two younger brothers – I was living at home – and got them to dig my car out of the driveway.  Then, I took them with me for what should have been a 15-minute drive to the interview, but instead took more than an hour because we kept getting caught in snow drifts…I made them come with me because I had a feeling this might happen and that I’d need their help.

When I got to the office – on time – the security guard looked at me like I had three heads and told me that the HR guy wasn’t there…he had not been able to get to the office because of the snowstorm.  I made sure that I left my resume on his desk with a note that said something along the lines of “I got here, sorry you were not able to,” and we headed home.

Now, this was completely deliberate on my part.  I knew that the odds were that the office would be closed because of snow, but I also knew that I needed to find a differential advantage to make my resume stand out from those of people far more qualified than I to work for a newspaper.  Which is what happened.  I got the reputation for being the guy who showed up in the snowstorm, and the HR guy promised to get me an interview with the first newspaper editor in the chain who had an opening.

About a month later, I got the call.  Bill Chanin of the Rockland Journal-News wanted to meet me.  I drove to the newspaper building and was ushered into his office…and there, on the wall, was the iconic Farrah Fawcett poster (which could never happen today, but remember, this was the seventies).  I instantly thought to myself, “I got this job.”   And I did.

I haven’t stopped writing for a living since.

Where can people buy your book?

The Big Picture:  Essential Business Lessons from the Movies is available from the publisher:

http://www.raphel.com/osc_catalog/product_info.php?cPath=21&products_id=55

And from Amazon.com:

http://www.amazon.com/Big-Picture-Essential-Business-Lessons/dp/0971154287/ref=pd_rhf_p_t_1

To read our daily blog, go to:

http://www.MorningNewsBeat.com

To learn more about Michael Sansolo, go to:

http://www.MichaelSansolo.com

To learn more about Kevin Coupe, go to:

http://www.KevinCoupe.com

2 responses »

  1. Thanks for hosting Kevin and Michael today. This is a great book. Its lessons can be applied to business of various sizes. The authors’ passion is obvious throughout The Big Picture, and it has even inspired me to watch some movies I had forgotten about.

    Thanks again.

    Cheryl
    http://www.pumpupyourbook.com

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