West Managing Partner → Joanna Rees shares her learnings from a decades-long friendship with Quincy Jones.
— Joanna Rees
I was fortunate to meet Quincy Jones more than 20 years ago when he spoke to my cohort of Global Leaders of Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum. Passionate and measured, Quincy was inspiring in the first few words out of his mouth. Of course, I was familiar with the great Quincy Jones—composer, band leader, musician, and arranger who has worked with the greats, from Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra all the way to Michael Jackson and beyond. But that talk was a memory that will always stay with me and was the exact moment when I knew I had to find a way to build a relationship with this magnetic leader.
Over the years, our relationship developed into one of close friendship and mentorship, and as we put together this first issue of West of Everything, I can think of no better truth-teller than Quincy. His clarity of vision and the commitment to that vision transcend the music and entertainment industry, beyond business and leadership, to an approach to life that we could all pause for a brief moment to take in. So in honor of his work and his impact on my life, I wanted to share what I have learned.
Draw from your full capacity
Quincy’s magic in his work is based on his ability to use both sides of his brain, incorporating imagination and creativity with logic and sequencing. He is a conductor at heart and he knows better than anyone else that to create a true masterpiece, a conductor must be able to use the left and right sides of their brain. I’ve always been struck by the similarities between a conductor and a CEO, or really any leader. Both have to orchestrate all the components coming together––moving an entire set of individuals toward an integrated sound, or shared vision. To create beauty, Quincy has always gathered from different angles in order to craft holistic masterpieces. It makes sense though, that someone who can masterfully arrange a big band has almost better wiring to spark innovative business ideas and inspire teams to charge full speed ahead. As leaders, our job is to bring out the best in our team without ever losing sight of the common goal: generating quality work that, by truly combining everyone’s talents, transcends individual contributions. I can see now how earlier in my career I relied more on my left brain or analytical skills. Quincy pushed me to think about how my creative side applied to my leadership abilities. He said, “If you combine both powerhouses you have the opportunity to reach your full potential as a leader.”
Your team is an orchestra
I also think about Quincy’s teaching as a conductor when building teams. An orchestra is composed of many different instruments to create the full range and depth of sound. Sure, artists have their specific style and approach, but they pull from an arsenal of instruments, notes, tempos, and keys. The layers upon layers that exist in one of his compositions could never achieve such richness or depth if it weren’t for Quincy’s masterful ability to unite. How then, as founders, CEOs, investors, and brand builders, can we expect greatness of ourselves, our vision, and our teams if we don’t build a true orchestra of diverse talent?
Live life looking forward
Quincy’s magic lies in his ability to focus on the opportunity ahead. Years into our friendship, I was going through a really challenging time. Some things had happened in my firm and I felt I had been betrayed by some of the people I worked with. Simply put, I felt defeated. I called Quincy to talk it through, and in the first few moments he told me to come down to LA. He shared many stories about people who had disappointed him or taken advantage of his generosity, but rather than indulge my sadness, he said you cannot let those things define your future; “you need to live life looking forward.” He said you can glance in the rearview mirror, but do not let yourself be defined by your past. While you should always know where you come from, you must find the power within yourself to define your own future. I remember his words as clear as ever. “Do not let others decide for you. Do not give them that power.” Whenever I feel like I am being dragged down by a failure or disappointment, I think about his words and focus on the opportunity ahead.
Be your own North Star
Quincy naturally operates like an entrepreneur. He is intensely curious, which I believe is table stakes for anyone who has the courage to start something truly new and innovative. While you might think the person who brought us the greats––from Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington to Michael Jackson––would operate like he has all the answers, that is antithetical to Quincy. He has learned and seen it all, yet remains open to new influences to incorporate into his work, his future.
Passion and belief
But at the end of the day, he is guided by his passion. He truly believes in himself. And this ability to pursue his own ideas, even if they are not the conventional wisdom at the time, has been key to his success. Since his first record with Dinah Washington in 1955, Quincy never made music for other people. He designed what he loved. He said there will always be conflicting opinions and sources of truth in our lives, so it’s essential to remain true to what you know and believe in. He told me to continually feed my brain with knowledge and my success will come. He has always believed that luck is the dust that comes after a collision between opportunity and preparation, and so he never depended on luck. He did the work. To quote him, “Success only comes before work in the dictionary.”