It is no mystery to regular readers of this blog that I am a massive John Legend fan. Not just for his music (which I adore), but also because of his life story, and how it relates to the core message of Escape from Cubicle Nation. I even wrote about him in my New York Times article last April.
You may not know that before becoming an international superstar (and notable social activist), John Legend was a consultant with Boston Consulting Group. At that time, his name was John Stephens, and he was an Excel cowboy (Chandoo would be proud!).
I got a comment on my blog yesterday from Jane Park, who used to work with John. She said:
Pamela, I used to work with John Legend (aka John Stephens) when he was a consultant at BCG! He was lovely and brilliant and built excel spreadsheets like there was no tomorrow. But he also seemed quiet and I would have characterized him as an introvert. “He’ll never make it in client services,” I thought, “he doesn’t have much of a personality.” Now, when I watch him emerge out of a cloud of dry ice, bursting with . . . personality, I eat my words. I too have left Corporate America to start my own company – Julep Nail Parlor.
As you can imagine, this delighted me to no end to confirm what I had always suspected: John was a classic example of a smart, talented corporate employee who had a tremendous creative gift inside.
By working on his creative gift as a side hustle (he sang evenings and weekends), he eventually was able to break into music as his full-time gig. He also used the Connector strategy, and met up with Lauryn Hill, then Kanye West, who opened the gates to his market.
What separates John from all the people who have deep creative talent but are afraid to bust out of a “safe” corporate job?
He believed in his gifts. And he was willing to test and try them in the real market until he got confirmation that he could earn a good living outside of creating Excel spreadsheets.
He taught me how to build complex models using buttons in Excel (for predicting the likelihood of success of early stage pharmaceuticals). He always had his headset on – sang softly while he worked. Little did I know that I should be treasuring those moments.
I, for one, am so glad that he had faith in his talents and endurance to work hard on a side hustle. And that his lasting contribution to the world was more than killer Excel models and pivot tables.
Hiding your special talents, your deep hungers and heart-filling creative gifts, does not serve the world.
And then there’s Jane
As for Jane, I am so grateful that she chose to stop by my blog and confirm my hunches about John!
She has an amazing story herself.
She is a first-generation Korean immigrant who graduated from Princeton and Yale Law. Then went on to open a nail salon (Julep Nail Parlor), which broke her parent’s heart, since that is typically a business recent Korean immigrants open with no formal education background (or expense!).
They soon came around when they learned that she was a formidable businesswoman and had a powerful and unique approach to the spa business. Watch this PBS episode of Trendspotting which interviews her and her parents to see how she has innovated the nail business in Seattle. I know I will be meeting up with my Seattle friends there next time I visit that great city!
Seeing Jane and John’s success makes me think that Boston Consulting Group may have had some excellent recruiters on board, even though they didn’t realize they were grooming the next generation of creative entrepreneurs, not lifetime consultants.
I am a few degrees closer to getting an interview with John for my podcast. It will happen!