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Filmmaker Terrence Patterson: Why A Diverse Executive Team Will Enrich Ideas & Help Make Them Better & Attainable

I believe one very good reason for having a diverse executive team helping you bring your dream to fruition are the ways they enrich your ideas to help make them better and attainable. Their life experiences inform their ideas and that alone is magic waiting to happen when you, as a CEO or employee need a new perspective on a problem or solution. I love it when a director, actor or fellow producer suggests ways to enhance a scene we are filming, on the spot, it feels good to have the diversity to pull from. Another reason diversity is important for your team because it is incumbent upon everyone in power to provide opportunities to those who are often overlooked. Having several representations of people at the executive level gives hope to those disadvantaged by not having access. The younger generations need to be able to search your website and see possibilities when they view your “Our Team” tab on your website. And lastly, allow your executive team to have a mentorship approach in their management style to nurture their own teams and hopefully they (teams) are diverse as well. I like to hire people and trust that they are encouraging to their staff and that they are problem-solvers for those who report to them.

As a part of my series about “Black Men and Women of The C-Suite”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Terrence Patterson — Creator/Writer/Executive Producer.

Terrence graduated from Oglethorpe University in Atlanta with a BA in Economics. He later moved to New York to pursue acting or eventually go to law school. He worked in a few international law firms during the day (honing budget skills, hiring a team and advising demanding law partners about e-discovery technology) while also working at an independent film production company (Aditi Pictures) for 10 years. Terrence also co-produced an Off-Broadway play, The Newlyweds, at The Producers Club and eventually for a few years at ATA (The American Theatre of Actors). He later founded his own independent production company, Paragon Multimedia LLC, as a way to create content for streaming and/or theatrical release.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I will start with the first experience where I realized that I could actually make a career in media/entertainment. I come from a background where the expectation was to have a more traditional job. I was actually on my way to law school or least taking the LSAT again, newly transplanted to NYC, and I was consulting at a bank on Long Island. A co-worker, and later on my mentor, Beverly Simmons, and myself we having lunch and discussing a movie she had written. I had no idea that she was a NYU film school grad and her dream was to open her own film production company and make her films. I had been in New York for one year, which was my timeline to get serious about a career. I told her that I had always had the desire to express my creative side, having previously acted in school plays and really enjoyed the experience. She convinced me to take acting classes, to write and actually execute my own ideas of media content. Before that and before moving to New York I had lived in Atlanta, well before the current Hollywood South emergence in Atlanta and I was not convinced I could take the chance to pursue a career in entertainment at that time. Beverly had real connections to people in Hollywood who could actually make my once far away dreams come to fruition. It was a joy to watch her work. She was a powerhouse at multi-tasking all while having a day job, raising her daughter and still produce Off-Broadway shows. Eventually, we both started pitch to NBA agents on how their players would be making a wise investment in our movies and I co-produced her Off-Broadway play, The Newlyweds. I eventually opened my own media company. I am convinced if I had not met Beverly and that conversation hadn’t taken place, I would most certainly would have pursued something more stable, from a career choice perspective. I now know that I made the right decision.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Well, the story that jumps out to me as the most interesting is one that involved, a shady middle man whom we eventually found out he was a wanted man by the FBI. I couldn’t make this up if I wanted to.

So we were excited, after many years of trying to raise funds for our independent movies, when we were about to close on a deal to actually have money to make a film. The years of having day jobs and on our lunch breaks calling NBA agents, local entrepreneurs and attending movie premieres in order to network did not produce much in terms of capital or access to it. This time we were on our way, our struggle saw light at the end of the tunnel. This deal was going to be our lifeline. I got an email from her the night before she was to sign the papers thanking me for helping and supporting her dream. As we got closer to signing day, I had started to do some research on our broker from a due diligence standpoint. I eventually found some disturbing information of someone with same name on the internet. We had given him a broker’s fee in advance (huge mistake in hindsight). Eventually, a conversation was had with him about my findings and he said it was a case of mistaken identity and that he had never lived in the state where I had found a link to a legal document outlining a fraud case, similar to what we later experienced, that was being pursued against someone with his exact name. As you may have already realized, it was him and we were contacted and was told there was an ongoing investigation. It is was wild and sometimes I reflect on the hard lessons we had to learn but it has made me a better entrepreneur, CEO and owner of my own media company.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

At one point I owned a record label. You have never heard of any of the artists on my roster. Although I enjoyed it I quickly, realized that I was not built for maneuvering in the underground hip-hop scene and have a full-time day job. It is funny because I met a cast of characters in the scene that would make a for a good TV show. I was working at a downtown, Manhattan law firm with its rules and traditions etc. and in the independent music scene at that time, and probably still today, rules are made to be broken, they are expected to be. Which is fine, but coming from a more structured background, it was not my best decision. This is not a particularly funny story, but if you knew me personally, most of my friends laugh when I remind them that I had a rap label. It seems out of character to some people. I lost the passion which was my lesson to move on and focus on film and streaming content and still use music as a tool to set a scene.

Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?

I believe one very good reason for having a diverse executive team helping you bring your dream to fruition are the ways they enrich your ideas to help make them better and attainable. Their life experiences inform their ideas and that alone is magic waiting to happen when you, as a CEO or employee need a new perspective on a problem or solution. I love it when a director, actor or fellow producer suggests ways to enhance a scene we are filming, on the spot, it feels good to have the diversity to pull from. Another reason diversity is important for your team because it is incumbent upon everyone in power to provide opportunities to those who are often overlooked. Having several representations of people at the executive level gives hope to those disadvantaged by not having access. The younger generations need to be able to search your website and see possibilities when they view your “Our Team” tab on your website. And lastly, allow your executive team to have a mentorship approach in their management style to nurture their own teams and hopefully they (teams) are diverse as well. I like to hire people and trust that they are encouraging to their staff and that they are problem-solvers for those who report to them.

More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?

Having access to opportunities is the most important part of any legacy I leave behind. I want other people from my background as an African American male or for black women of any age to feel that they have a serious and realistic chance of one day leading a team. At someone else’s firm or one of their own. They want to be chosen because they are qualified and when their education or life experiences allows that they should be in the room we have to make sure that they see themselves in different and aspirational spaces.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?

One of the things that I think could be done to address diversity and its role in executive leadership are that we have to open communication across age groups within our community. The younger generations need to have direct communication with mentors who have the experience and leadership roles they desire. I am not sure if that is with technology such as an app or more local, grassroots initiatives but something has to be done. We need to be available more and make time in our calendars to do that instead of scheduling an unnecessary meeting where an email would suffice.

Another way to address the root of issues with the lack of diversity at the executive level is at the community level we should increase ways we encourage young, black children and teenagers to graduate high school at higher rates. There are many black communities that have well-managed school systems and other infrastructures in place to promote education as a solid tool to anyone wanting to become a CEO or owner/entrepreneur. And then there are those that are the polar opposite. We should be able to share resources easily to help those that need help in an efficient manner. Every future executive should have that early foundation to start with at the very least.

Lastly, I would like for society to see our humanity more, in all of its forms. There are many misperceptions of African Americans and their contribution to society as a whole. I know we have made some great progress and that was mostly because we had to take charge and make societal, financial and philanthropic measures to save ourselves.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me means that everyone on your team feels comfortable coming to you to help them make decisions. A title of CEO is only of any value if her/his team is willing to say they may need help or they have made a decision to take a bigger risk than formerly discussed. All of this really comes down to having led by example more often than being unwilling to face reality when tough decisions need to be made.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. “You are going to fail way more often than you think. And it's OK.” Be comfortable in the “failure” because it only takes one time to win and start your path to success. For me “failure” in the beginning meant not making a return on my investment in an Off-Broadway play. We sold a lot of tickets and had sold-out shows. What we didn’t factor into the budget was having a cushion for unexpected emergencies that can be costly for theater productions. Every project I produce has an emergency fund and backup plans as well.

2. I wish that I had been told that I would have to “keep my day job” much longer than I did when I quit. Not the smartest decision as it was during the financial crisis. I had been receiving many recruiters calling me with an extra $25K annual increase in my current salary, and 30 days later in February, the silence was deafening when I reach out to those same contacts to follow up after I had quit my job. In hindsight, it was the best decision I could have made at the time but it was rough after savings ran dry.

3. “It will take time to assemble a good support team.” When I first started out I didn’t have an extensive network to draw from so I started to assemble a team for a project by referral. In the beginning that is sometimes your only route however, with that you are going to hire people who are not as qualified as their references emphatically relayed to you when you did your due diligence. It is trial and error and that is part of the process. Ultimately you will find your core group of people you trust to make decisions when you are not around.

4. Have the ability to delegate duties/tasks to your team as you start to grow. As an entrepreneur, you are usually a one-man band and you are comfortable wearing many hats. There comes a time however when you have to have your eye on the bigger picture and you have to step back from parts of the process. Your team will only get better and function more cohesively if you give them more responsibility when you believe they are ready for the new challenge.

5. There will be days when you will want to quit. Throw in the towel. I was recently watching a great documentary “She Did That” on Netflix that profiled the struggles and journey of numerous African American women. I identified with so many parts of their personal journeys, struggles, financial woes and thoughts of giving up. These ladies were resilient and kept pushing through to the end. I am lucky to have great examples, in New York and in Atlanta where I attended college, of black men who were warriors when it came to their aspirations. I am very lucky to have great examples from all genders. I will never quit just because I owe it to all of those who paved the way for me.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I am interested in technology and its effect on the workforce. With AI and automation slowly beginning to enter the workforce in different ways, there will be a class of people who will be left out of the equation. The jobless rate among minority groups is already higher than it should be, it will get worse if our communities are not prepared. I believe for example, that we can train people to learn different coding languages, how to day trade from home, open e-commerce companies on Amazon etc. Most service industries will be hit hard by automation and they are compromised of many people of color who work on the front lines. It will slowly start to affect office work as it did with me and my former role as an e-Discovery & Compliance manager in a law firm. My role became obsolete when natural language processing and machine learning reduced my role in administering a database containing terabytes of data. Our roles were outsourced to third party vendors. I was laid off and it was then, in that very moment, that I knew I had to make my company successful at all costs. Changing peoples mindset about traditional jobs will be challenging but I would not want for communities to be prepared in some way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That is easy. “Be of service to others.” This mantra totally encompasses being kind and supportive in any relationship that you foster with someone else. It has served me well. From an entrepreneurial standpoint I make my content with the focus on providing opportunities for my cast, crew, editors and fellow producers. It is important to empower others and being of service is inherent in the idea of helping others. Drive their talent and you will drive their instincts.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Rihanna hands down would be the person that I would like to have a private lunch within this lifetime. She is the epitome of a person who has had a rollercoaster success story and she continues to grow and exceed expectations. Outside of being a great conversationalist you can see why her business acumen and determination has allowed her the freedom to do anything that she wants to do. I saw an interview with her recently, it was probably 6 years old, but her advice still rings true. I am paraphrasing but she said something along the lines of “Let the competition do what is best for you. Once you take your eye away from what your focus is, the competition has already won.” This is not an exact quote but the message was clear to me and having lunch with Rihanna and receiving a few gems like that would be a highlight of my life. And her laugh is infectious so there is that as well.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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