Rick is the Chief Creative Officer and a founding partner of strategic branding agency CBX. With twenty years of expertise in consumer and retail branding, Rick is responsible for inspiring, directing and motivating creative teams to develop powerful design solutions.
How did you get into the branding industry?
I got into the branding industry rather by accident. I always knew I wanted to do something artistic, but I didn’t always know what. Back when I was really young, I won a scholarship by submitting a drawing of Woody Woodpecker to a kids’ magazine. After that, my mother encouraged me to do all kinds of creative things. I started off going to the regular public high school, but I was not a very good student. My mother had the foresight to know that a traditional liberal arts high school was not optimal, so I transferred to the Youth Performing Arts High School in Louisville, KY. Next thing I knew, I was enrolled at Carnegie Mellon as a theater major. By my sophomore year, I realized that if I stayed in set design, I’d be broke for life. So, I transferred my major to communication arts and the rest, as they say, is history.
Tell us about CBX. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
CBX is an agency that specializes in creative marketing services including branding, retail design, packaging and promotional programming. We currently have a staff of around 160 employees. CBX was founded in 2003 and some of our clients include: Dr Pepper Snapple Group, General Mills, Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, A&P, Pathmark, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor, Shinsegae, Walgreens and Wawa. In addition to our New York City Headquarters, we have offices in Minneapolis and San Francisco.
I was inspired to start CBX because I didn’t want to do time sheets anymore! I’m kidding (kind of). The truth is that I wanted to take control of my own destiny and do the work that I felt passionate about. My co-founder and I wanted to start working with our clients in whatever way we felt appropriate without constraints so that we could create success for our clients – NOT success for a public holding company.
I have a few:
“You’ve gotta have a passion in life.”
“Luck is when preparation meets opportunity”
“ Outwork everybody else.”
We believe that nurturing a culture of creative minds, dirty hands, straight talk and good manners inspires us to find more creative, innovative and purposeful ways to connect with people.
Your greatest success as founder/CCO of CBX? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
When we first started CBX, we were two guys coming from humble beginnings with a wing and a prayer. We were hoping some of our past relationships would start up our business, and that our skills and our talent would be validated. So, I don’t know if I’ve had one greatest moment of success, but I do remember the day everything changed. In the early days of CBX, we were invited to participate in a pitch for a celebrity chef’s private brand. It was a significant piece of business at the time, we were a seriously small agency – I’m talking half a dozen people – and we really had no credentials in the category at that point. As we prepared for the pitch, we found out that we were up against some of THE global leaders in the industry. Just being named in the same sentence as those guys was a huge success in our eyes. So on the way to the pitch, I said to my co-founder, “remember – just being asked to the party means we are on our way.” That was the moment we knew that we were on our way to bigger and better things.
As far as a difficult moment goes… Flash forward 11 years from the day we pitched the celebrity chef and we’re now a multi-disciplined agency with 160 people, 3 offices, and have worked with some of the best clients in the marketplace. Times have changed a lot since that first big pitch. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I can’t do everything. I’ve had to realize that I need to empower, support and grow the talent that we hire, which was a hard reality for me. I started off so entrepreneurial – I was literally doing all of the creative development. But as we’ve grown with time, I’ve built a team full of immensely talented people who complement each other, and I’ve had to adjust my behavior to set them free and let them do what they do best.
Your advice to an aspiring entrepreneur?
My biggest piece of advice is to have perspective. In your endeavors, commit to what you’re passionate about, but be realistic. Open yourself up to learning (if you think you know everything, you’re not going to learn anything) and be prepared to course correct along the way. Understand your strengths and your weaknesses, and spend time learning how to leverage your strengths and improve your weaknesses.
How do you motivate your employees?
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Stewart’s Cream Soda and bucket of Joe’s Stone Crabs.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Porsche – Origin of the Species with a foreword by Jerry Seinfeld.
Role model - business and personal?
When I was in college, my father attended a trade show where Rick Pitino (at the time head coach of the New York Knicks) was the keynote speaker. The trade show gave attendees cassette tapes of Rick’s speech, which my father passed on to me. That was the first time I was introduced to Rick Pitino as a leader. I listened to the tapes right away, and I’ve had them ever since. I don’t have a machine to play them on anymore, but that talk has guided me through my career.
I like his approach to coaching and life. He believes that ego is a potential killer. He’s passionate, and he’s committed to what he does and what he believes in. The other thing Pitino does phenomenally well is that he manages and leads situationally. There are no cookie-cutter solutions. He analyzes the moment and I think that’s very important in business and in life.
I’m passionate about vintage automobiles. The interest stems from my childhood and has been a passion for my entire life. If I weren’t in the business of branding, I’d probably be working with cars in some way. There’s a creative design element to cars, as well as a very personal childhood association for me.
Most interesting headline you've read this week?
Manspreading. What is manspreading anyway? http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/21/nyregion/MTA-targets-manspreading-on-new-york-city-subways.html
Since helping establish the firm in 2003, Rick has played an integral role in expanding its client roster and has been the creative vision behind the rollout of numerous award-winning branding initiatives, most recently the successful U by Kotex line for Kimberly-Clark and a rebranding of Duane Reade’s private label portfolio.
Prior to founding CBX, Rick learned the importance of breakthrough creative while working at Milton Glaser, Gerstman+Meyers, LPK, and FutureBrand. Over the course of his accomplished career, he has contributed his branding expertise to such companies as Del Monte, Exxon Mobil, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Mars, and The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company.
In recent years, Rick was also chosen as one of Graphic Design USA’s “People to Watch,” and FastCompany’s “100 Most Creative People in Business.”