Our conversation with the VP of Community Affairs for Highmark and President of the Highmark Foundation begins with her upbringing in Homewood with parents who dealt with the hardships of poverty but never let them feel like they were poor. She earned her undergraduate degree at PITT and her master’s degree from CMU all the while holding down a full-time job with Mellon. It was the influence of one of her teachers at PITT, Dr. Lawrence Howard, which initially fueled her interest in public management and eventually led her to her current position.
Yvonne candidly discusses how she faces down and deals with the issues that are still commonplace surrounding white privilege in the corporate and governmental environments by pushing hard everyday with passion, optimism and no fear. She speaks to the “ROI of empathy” and how that is integral to any organization’s CSR policies.
A fervent supporter of the Pittsburgh arts scene, she has been inspired and awed by the talents of the local artists and has helped promote them through development and participation of forums and gallery openings. And it turns out that Yvonne Cook, does indeed, love to cook. We are all invited over to her house for the dinner and conversation question.
Sean O’Connor grew up outside of Richmond, VA with actual Civil War earthworks in his backyard. Fighting off a strong urge to geek out on that bit of mid-nineteenth century awesomeness alone, we instead engage with Sean about his just-starting-out path in both the strategy and writing disciplines as well as his fairly recent move to Pittsburgh.
A product of the VCU Brandcenter, where he cultivated “the whatever happens to you won’t kill you” credo, an understanding of the power of constructive criticism, the art of reading body language and the critical insight that being an asshole benefits no one – along with several other mature beyond his years attitudes towards the challenges the communications business throws at everyone.
We explore how he was hired by his current agency, deeplocal, and how he defines what that agency does and the collaborative structures they employ. We also get insight into some early work he did with “mega church, UFC style, octagon matches”. Which is worth the price of admission alone.
Frank Walsh was a high-school rocker before discovering his true calling with a camera. Now he’s one of the preeminent photographers with an impressive list of clients. In this episode, Frank and Brian relive the tortuous process of photographing ants and discuss the challenge of pushing yourself creatively in the digital age.
He also candidly discusses his initial oblivion with the possibilities this life offered, his early professional partnership with Duane Rieder to form Rieder & Walsh Photography and how the two strong-willed creatives traversed both the successes and eventual break-up of the partnership.
Frank’s current studio is a beautifully renovated church in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh and his work can be found at http://www.walshphoto.com/
Dimeji Onafuwa gets restless often. A native of Nigeria, he has lived in New York City, West Virginia, North Carolina and now splits his time between Pittsburgh and Portland, Oregon. He considers himself a painter at heart but has also pursued, advertising, entrepreneurship and is currently on a path in the design spectrum where he is finishing up his PhD in Social Design from Carnegie Mellon University with a concentration towards designing for sustainable futures for the commons.
Recorded just after the Presidential election, Dimeji brings the perspectives of both the African and the American experiences to draw from in how he is carving a path forward for himself and his remarkable family.
Dimeji believes design is a great leveler and is akin to gardening in that it needs constant tending. He believes “human-centered design” might be better off being called “other-centered design”, that advertising is a necessary evil, that a better word for empathy might be “responsibility” and he gives us the single best answer we’ve had so far as to whom he would sit down to dinner with for a meal and conversation.
Nathan Wadding grew up on a farm. And he loved it – to a point. When the anticipation of experiencing the life that environment offered met head on with the hard realities that often accompany it – it provided a strong stimulus for wanting more even if he wasn’t entirely sure what that was as a child. Initial forays into music, DJ’ing and then his college tour provided the way forward as he embraced technology, editing, strategy and video production which led him to key stints at production houses here in Pittsburgh.
We explore this rural to urban journey that has him understanding the life of both working for someone and of driving an entrepreneurial enterprise. Our dialogue covers how scary weddings are, working with your best friend, why editing is about asking why from each frame and we discuss the idea of losing the literal frame as the virtual reality technology becomes more omnipresent. Check out some of Nathan’s recent digital content work at http://www.skinnytiemedia.com/
One would expect a thoughtful discussion from a person associated with an agency called Thoughtform and with Steve Frank, a Principle with the firm and Director of Business Development, that’s exactly what ensued. Steve approaches every opportunity with a contemplative and curious comportment. This has helped build Thoughtform into one of the leading design consultancies here or anywhere as they help simplify the complex for a diverse range of clients.
Our conversation covers a wide arc of subjects: what entails beauty in the design process and the integral role it plays, how he defines and moves forward from both failures and successes, what industry he would disrupt, the ebb and flow in the importance of titles for individuals and if there is anyway to rid the world of both timesheets and powerpoint.
A graduate of Lehigh University with a background steeped in Wall Street, the entrepreneurial sector, technology and sales, he has always brought an up-beat and fun approach to the work with everyone he intersects. Check out the great work Thoughtform does at http://thoughtformdesign.com/
The mission behind Pressley Ridge is to “do whatever it takes to create success for children and their families” and is an apt description for their CEO, Susanne Cole as well. She has done whatever it takes throughout her life, particularly in her nearly 30-year career with Pressley Ridge where she has held a multitude of positions both on the clinical and business sides of the organization. She traces a remarkable story that begins in Charleston, WV as the adopted daughter of a teacher and shoe store manager who was interested in both teaching and law enforcement as career paths and has culminated so far in her leading one of the most innovative children’s non-profits in the country.
Susanne talks about the challenges of secondary trauma, her insistence on goodness being employed versus simply talking about it, the future state of the non-profit world and whether that label hurts or helps when intersecting in the marketplace, how poverty continues to be the root cause of most of what her group has to deal with and why cussing now and then is pretty important.
To learn more about the good people and work of Pressley Ridge, visit http://www.pressleyridge.org/
Brett Yasko once opened up a talk he gave for a local Pecha Kucha event with the words “welcome to my nightmare”. Yes, he’s not terribly fond of talking about himself – preferring to let his prodigious body of work mostly speak for him. Still, on those occasions when he does open up about his life and work you quickly learn how much he truly, madly, deeply, loves both. Brett talks about his path from advertising to design, the challenges and opportunities he experienced with the transition from going to work to working from home, how parenthood and politics have influenced his work, that his self-initiated projects have been some of the most fulfilling and why he prefers to set his name – when he does – in 6.5 point type. He’s a generous, stubborn and empathetically driven designer whose nationally acclaimed body of work can be viewed at http://brettyasko.com/
Mila Sanina was born in the Soviet Union, raised in Kazakhstan, and speaks four languages. Brian wisely chooses English to discuss Mila’s amazing journalistic journey that took her from CNN to PBS to Pittsburgh where she now leads PublicSource, an investigative locally focused news organization. She shares her timely observations about the American experience and the perfect storm that has hit journalism. To see the good work Public Source does, go to http://publicsource.org/
Randy Rossi looks to answer questions. Difficult ones. Is there a solution for food waste? Can water be more efficiently delivered to put out fire? What will be the viable currency system of the future? Central to his work is how to reduce and even eliminate burden. President of Bally Design for the past 12+ years, he has invested his energies into the challenges inherent within the product, interface and service design disciplines. A wide ranging conversation that covers topics such as the sharing economy, minimum valuable products vs. minimum viable products and the somewhat oxymoronic sounding dialogue around the digital definitions of humanization. Check out Randy's and Bally's work at http://ballydesign.com/
Chris Amar is that rarest of breeds - an optimistic and yes, happy, attorney. A fairly recent transplant to Pittsburgh, Chris has always had a passion for helping people - from his early days as a middle-schooler in Boston working with that city's homeless population to his efforts on behalf of his current clients. We talk about the writers that have stimulated his curiosity, take a slight dive into American history, analyze his short horizon lines, participating in democracy and how vacations sneak up on him. He has an infectious personality with empathy being central to his DNA.
Larry Richert is the consummate professional and a staple of the Pgh television and radio scene for decades. Despite the ungodly hour he starts his day, he always brings warmth, a great sense of humor and a sincere humility to his profession. He takes none of what he has accomplished for granted, reveals his secret desire to become a voiceover for movie trailers and discusses how radio - despite the broadcast description - it's really a one-to-one, intimate medium.
She has the old-school agency stories from Mad Men delivered with an accent closer to Mad Max. She is the one-of-a-kind Ann McFadden. In this episode, Gordon talks with Ann about her improbable career that began in Australia and continues today as a hall-of-fame creative director.