This month marks the 10 year anniversary of October 2007; one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I was 10 months into my first job out of college, one that I got by replying to a Craig’s List ad. When you applied for jobs on Craig’s List in 2006, they rarely gave you any indication as to what the industry you’d be interviewing for, let alone the company. All you got was a randomly generated email address that would reply to your submission, which is exactly what I got 11 months earlier in December 2006. I went to the interview dressed in a brand new suit and power tie (both college graduation gifts), to make sure I put forth the best impression. The intimidating office building two blocks south of Columbus Circle had a ground level with a ceiling of at least 100 feet high (</hyperbole>), and when I got up to the right floor, there was an odd feeling to my surroundings. It was at this moment that a short, unassuming Korean man with glasses approached me wearing sneakers, jeans and a polo and deadpanned “Jesus, I feel like I’m getting audited.” This was my introduction to Sam Frank.
The interview was rough, but not too bad. He explained to me what his team does for Universal Music Group, talked about how drumming is just as much the time between strikes as it is the beat itself, and ended it with “Well… if you’re up for it, we’ll give anyone a shot.” He then walked me around the floor to introduce me to some people I’d be getting to know, most of whom chided me for being way overdressed and making them feel uncomfortable. And just like that, my college career transformed into an actual career.
Sam was beyond tough on me starting out. I almost quit at least once a week for the first 6 weeks or so. One of my first days on the job he asked to see all my work that I’d done in college and told me to rate it all, on a scale of 1-10. When he asked why I gave some bogus piece of art a 7, I said because I knew where the piece came from and how I felt when I made it. What transpired after this was a crash course in your professional life. Your feelings don’t matter. “So when I take this to my boss, and she says ‘This is crap why did you bring this to me?’ all I can say is ‘Well, the kid who made it REALLY likes it and knows what it means.’” He was laughing as he said it, as though he enjoyed the hazing. This was one of the many lessons Sam taught me over the course of my 17 months working for him. “If it’s quality, rip it off, baby!” and “I’d rather be lucky than good.” My personal favorite was always “Nothing gets done without a list.” I still use the phrase to this day, to the point that some of my friends who never even met Sam have adopted it as credo. Sam was always, and I mean always, the funniest person in the room. And half the time he wasn’t even trying.
Ten months later, in October 2007, when the guy in charge of day-to-day operations under Sam was moving on, Sam thought I would best be fit to take over his role. The same kid he lambasted to no end 9 months earlier was now going to oversee 6 web producers on all their projects. I will never forget the butterflies in my stomach when he called me into his office to tell me it was my turn. He saw in me what I didn’t even realize I had in myself. I like to think that I “excelled” in this new role, but the reality is that under Sam it was easy. Sam had all the answers. He knew it all. He never let us get in trouble or yelled at by anyone else; if anyone was going to chastise us, it was him. He would never give you an assignment he couldn’t do better or faster than you. He was sympathetic to personal time, but never laziness.
I learned more in the nine months as New Media Manager than I have in the subsequent nine years of my career. You could chalk that up to being so young and fresh that it’s the perfect time to soak up information, or you could say it’s because Sam was the only true mentor I’ve ever had at any of my jobs, and the definition of a leader. He was not above a long liquid lunch or a Friday beer run, as long as both were deserved. Sam’s success was our success; he seldom took credit but always took the blame. When Lil Wayne was launching a new video that UMG was hosting on our own server, and we were supposed to go live at 7 and it was 9:30 and we were still having issues, you would think he would be blowing a gasket. The exact opposite. He was as calm as it gets, answering his phone every 5 minutes and telling us to just work slowly so we get it right once. It wasn’t our finest hour, but I’ll never forget that launch over some of the others because he knew the value in keeping cool in that moment. Hysterics rarely lead to production.
Nine months later when I informed him of my plan to leave UMG, he already knew the reason why before I could finish my thought. “You’re stagnant.” He was right. He helped me completely re-write my resume, gave me a few leads for new jobs, told me which leads I got on my own he thought I should follow (“Verizon is pretty much recession-proof”), and let me phase myself out slowly so they could get someone else trained to take over my role. We always kept in touch. I ran into him on Houston Street a few years later before a date, and we vowed to meet up. In 2012, at a happy hour of new and old co-workers, Sam showed up and we all just had a blast. At that outing, he said that of all the people to ever work for him, I got the worst of his “morale boosts” when I was first starting out. To say that felt like a huge badge of honor would be an understatement. As recently as 2013 he got me an interview for a position I had no business even applying for. “…this kid would be perfect… priced right, and he knows the deal, he has worked in the bldg before. I hired and trained him myself, he’s a real good kid, smart, hard-working etc.” I didn’t get the job, but that’s really not the point is it?
The feeling I have now is remorse. We take friendships like this for granted. I didn’t take advantage of my access to Sam’s mind enough while I had the chance. I assumed Sam would always be there. I didn’t just lose a reference, I lost a mentor and a friend. We all did. We all went to Sam School and came out no worse for wear. In fact, we all came out better for it. He always said he’d rather be lucky than good. The extreme irony of that is he was good. We were the lucky ones.