Journalist, best-selling author, documentarian
I have been working in the media for four decades, mostly in the newspaper business for The Wall Street Journal but also in publishing and documentary filmmaking, along with some video interviews and museum exhibits. My focus includes stories about business history, leadership, diversity and people who have ventured into new territory: physically, emotionally or socially.
For a complete resume, go to LinkedIn:
I am thrilled to announce that HBO Films has begun development on a movie based on my book “The Real Pepsi Challenge.” Mitchell Kapner will be the screenwriter for the adaptation, which has the working title “The Color of Cola.” Mark Landsman, Michael Karbelnikoff and Peter Kline are executive producers and will be working on a related documentary project as well.
I have written three books (two co-written): My first was the international best-seller “Shackleton’s Way,” about the great Antarctic explorer, who was a master of leadership in crisis. Sales are still strong. In 2018 the book went into its 29th printing with a gorgeous new cover.
“The Birkman Method” is about a workplace-assessment tool that allows for some amazing personal insights and for a practical understanding of how to improve every sort of work relationship.
“The Real Pepsi Challenge” tells the true story of a group of African-American business pioneers in the WWII era who sold the soft drink to their community, helping to define niche marketing. The book is based on my interviews with eight of them. The story has since been transformed into a museum exhibit, and is soon to be a TV film and a documentary. Stage rights are still available! The book is represented by Mary Alice Kier and Anna Cottle of Cine/Lit Representation; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check them out:
I have been working at The Wall Street Journal for more than 25 years. Currently, I am an editor for Mansion—a lively section covering high-end residential real estate. Previously, I edited for the international desk, notably during the remarkable year of 2011, which witnessed a long series of political upheavals and natural disasters, from the Arab uprisings to Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. I also contributed video interviews then to the digital arts section.
For more than 13 years, I was the columns editor for the Marketplace front page, where I worked with some of the paper’s top writers. The columns were ranked among the most-read articles off Page One, reader surveys showed. I edited, for example, Joann S. Lublin’s Management column for about a decade and Walt Mossberg’s ground-breaking Personal Technology column for 18 years, the final years by his special request. Both are Loeb Lifetime Achievement Award winners for business writing.
I joined the WSJ in Brussels to edit WSJ Europe, then moved to New York to join the newly created Overseas Copy Desk.
After publication of “The Real Pepsi Challenge,” I turned my large and meticulously kept research archives into a museum exhibit at the world-class Queens Museum of Art. As guest curator, I designed a popular and multifaceted program that included the extensive display, plus a panel discussion, lecture and film series. The creative museum staff enhanced the experience with a kids’ jingle-writing workshop and other events.
Afterward, a large portion of the exhibit’s original items were accepted—after a multiyear process—into the permanent collection of the magnificent National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
I gave a talk at the NMAAHC in the summer of 2017 on the image of African-Americans in
advertising and their representation in the industry. (See photo below in My Work). It was
one of many appearances I made on behalf of the Pepsi book, in the U.S., Italy and the
Netherlands. Over the years, my book tours have resulted in some 100 broadcast
interviews, mostly on radio but also on TV, including “The Tavis Smiley Show” and Bill
Griffeth’s “Power Lunch.”
“Nazim Hikmet: Living Is No Laughing Matter” is an 86-minute documentary on the life of the remarkable Turkish dissident poet known as Nazim, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century in any language and a beautiful soul. He spent nearly two decades in prison in Turkey for his fight for human rights. Ultimately, he was banned in both superpowers, U.S. and Russia. The film speaks to the sacrifice of an artist for his craft, and to the brutality of the clash between meaningful work and unenlightened politics. The documentary was shot mostly on 16mm film in the U.S., Turkey, Russia, France and the U.K. My partner in the project, Niyazi Dalyanci, himself a former political prisoner, and I interviewed several of Nazim’s remaining family and friends shortly before their deaths.
The film had its international debut, by invitation, at the wonderful Alkionis art-house cinema in Athens, Greece, in May 2015, as part of its festival tribute to the poet.
I am a huge jazz aficionado; a champion of all things Northeast Ohio, especially a certain g.o.a.t. basketball player; a frequent visitor to the “foot” of Italy; a sometimes student; and a committed home cook.
I love to work (really!) but I’m not a total workaholic, because I also love the arts. My three passions—theater, music and film—are well indulged in New York. I average two plays a month and, because of my years-long jazz habit, too many visits to my local jazz club to count.
I also have kept a sense of adventure, though it has been some time since one of my marathon travel excursions. I lived for extended periods in Cairo, Brussels and, especially, Istanbul, and traveled to many countries for work and pleasure—from Russia and Syria, to Ethiopia and Zanzibar, to name a few.
Fun Fact: Many will be surprised to learn that I worked my way through college in my father’s real-estate firm as a licensed agent. My first client? A then-rare female home buyer (laws regarding loan-signing had just changed) who made good money writing fake letters to the editor for Penthouse and Hustler.
When I’m being interviewed by the media—instead of being the interviewer—one question I’m often asked about my work is: “What did you learn?” I can usually sum up in a couple of sentences the general knowledge I gained when writing this or that book. But when I was asked that question about writing “The Real Pepsi Challenge,” I had to answer, “You don’t have enough time for me to respond.”
After reading hundreds of African-American weeklies from the WWII era, I felt as though I had been introduced to a new country—the one I had always lived in (minus a few years) but didn’t entirely know. That experience, plus the understanding I gained as a result of the patience, generosity, intellect and warmth of the former Pepsi professionals, mostly in their 90s when I met them, is a gift that is still being opened. When I asked the men what the main message was they wanted me to convey about their pioneering careers, several had a similar thought: They said they had to accept from the start that all their education, training and work experience wasn’t likely to be fully rewarded. That would be denied to them because of the status of African-Americans then. Instead, they found that studying another language, earning a higher degree, traveling, managing a difficult job, meeting important people—all the things that go into creating a “good resume”—had created for them a wonderful life. The journey itself was the reward. It’s a lesson I embrace and constantly share. (Photos are of member of the Pepsi sales team, led by Edward Boyd, in 1948 and in 2007.)
In 1992, I formed a production company where I could create independent works of substance across all platforms. (No relation to the U.K. company of a similar name.) Substantial Films Inc. is based in Manhattan; 212-600-1280.
Take a look at the SFI website;