An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You learn from each other and become a well-rounded person. When you live in a nation that is a melting pot, it broadens your horizons. You are able to understand others and their struggles.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Mesfin.
David Mesfin of Huntington Beach, California is an award-winning creative director and multi-disciplinary designer with over 15 years of marketing and advertising experience currently working for Innocean Worldwide. He is involved in several professional and community outreach programs including the Innocean Worldwide INNclusion Council, the International Academy of Digital Art and Science, and serves as a mentor for both the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program and One School. A member of the Black Surfers Collective, he is an avid supporter of the sport and recently launched a multi-digital narrative journey titled “Wade in the Water,” which features a long-form documentary, a collection of fine art prints and NFTs that chronicle the Black surfer tradition.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?
I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and eventually migrated to the United States to live in St. Augustine, Florida for eight years prior to moving to Southern California to attend California State University, Long Beach, where I studied design and advertising. After completing my education, I worked at various agencies in the Los Angeles area. For five years, I also ran my own agency in downtown Long Beach. I was exposed to advertising and design while living in Ethiopia. My father worked for a firm called Neon Addis as the head of accounts, and I loved the nature of the industry and creative services they provided. I have never looked back. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences.
Currently, I manage a team while working on the Genesis USA account at INNOCEAN USA in Huntington Beach California. I have been at INNOCEAN USA for over 10 years working on the Hyundai and Genesis accounts. My father was a Korean veteran, so it has been an interesting 10 years working for a Korean-owned company and the legacy of my father as a veteran of the war.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One of the most interesting projects I have ever worked on was for Hyundai where we traveled to Zagan, Poland to a remote military base to enable three United States soldiers to watch Super Bowl LI with their families. There were a lot of logistics to figure out for the project. We shot interviews during the first half of the show and then edited it until the game was over. We aired the just edited spot immediately following the game — almost as it was shot live. It was quite interesting to be on that base. It was the same base Hitler used for soldiers during World War 2 and the movie, The Great Escape, was filmed there. There was a lot of history there including the hotel where we stayed. The hotel very much reminded me of a scene from Wes Anderson’s movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel, with the symmetrical design and interior decorations. The owners and employees also had a charm and distinctive personality.
The most interesting moment of that shoot was the post Super Bowl party with the soldiers. They were grateful to be part of the Super Bowl, but most of all, a brand that took the interest to connect them to their family members in a memorable way. Even the other soldiers were thankful just to be part of the festivities and behind-the-scenes spots. The idea went a long way for a few of the soldiers who needed a change of pace. Several of them came up and thanked us for the experience.
I would say the lesson I learned from this experience is to not take people for granted. Every little decision you make as a brand or a person has an impact. You should always be mindful of your intentions.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
“Failure is the secret to success.”
This quote came from the founder of Honda. I thought that quote was so interesting the first time I heard it. It just opened up a whole new world for me and how I approached certain projects. When you go to school, you learn this idea of following the rules. Once you build some confidence and you start to experience life, you tend to break the rules here and there. I was always very conservative in my ideas. But this quote helped me learn to take a leap and know that it is OK to fail sometimes by breaking out of the rules and trying different things.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I was lucky enough to have had two fathers in my life. They both had different personalities, and I gained a lot from each of them.
I lived with my birth father in Ethiopia until I was 14. He was a soldier, and he was very easy going. He was a person who had a lot of friends and was easy to work with. When I came to the United States, I was adopted by a Greek Orthodox Rev. Dimitrios Couchell (he is now a retired bishop). He is very organized with this time and budget. He is very methodical.
The one thing they both had in common was they were both very disciplined. It was a unique upbringing and gave me a perspective in life like no other. They both helped me achieve success in their own ways. That’s why at the age of 14, when I found myself in a completely different culture with a different language and completely different lifestyle, I was able to learn and adapt so well.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The 10 years I have spent with Innocean, I have learned that it is really about the people.
I enjoy getting to know my colleagues and learning about their lives and their families. That feeling of inclusion knowing you have built a relationship with these people and the history we collect together, that has really kept us all together, I am grateful for the family atmosphere.
This company, which employs over 500 people, does such an excellent job of taking care of its employees. They were incredibly supportive throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Another incredible way they have been supportive came after the Black Lives Matter movement. About two years ago, our company started the Innocean Worldwide INNclusion Council, which I have co-chaired with my colleague, Tiana Goston. Our job is to make sure there is inclusion and diversity throughout the company. It is an investment that our company makes for the employees, and that speaks to the diversity and knowledge base we have. We develop different programs and bring in speakers as part of our “Real Talk” series. We also support small minority-owned businesses and nonprofits in the community. One example of this is The Lantern Network Project, a mentorship program for African Americans where we connected a mentee and mentor to offer support from college throughout their career.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I just launched the “Wade in the Water” documentary, fine art exhibit and NFT sale project. The entirety of the project highlights the history of surfing in the Black, Indigenous, and People of the Color (BIPOC) community. It is really nice that an agency allows you to do your own passion project and becomes so supportive of it. It allows us to express our feelings and creativity in another way. That really goes a long way for our employees. And with Innocean being so supportive of that kind of thing, it shows other agencies the benefits of allowing their employees to explore their passion projects and how that helps them become better employees and live more fulfilling lives.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I am a member of the mentorship program at One School, a portfolio program aimed at passing along my experience to others who have their sights set on working at the top ad agencies in the world. I enjoy sharing the knowledge I have, opening doors for people of color in the advertising industry. There is a small percentage of African Americans in this field. For me, the idea of mentoring and bringing people of color on board, it’s very important because that brings a different perspective to the work being done. We are able to bring out our culture and challenge the status quo. It’s healthy for America as a diverse nation to have a marketing and advertising space that resonates with everyone. That goes a long way for the bottom line of a company.
People from diverse walks of life and with different experiences can draw from their personal knowledge, share new insights and challenge the status quo. Diversity also impacts the bottom line: a study found that companies with more diverse executives were 36% more likely to see above average profits.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line.
1. Diversity drives innovative thinking. When you have a diverse group of people, it’s not only the color of skin. It’s the way they think. Having women, having those with disabilities, they all bring a unique perspective to a solution that others didn’t think of. It stems from their own personal experiences.
2. Diversity helps companies be aware of cultural sensitivities. A lot of time, organizations create campaigns not taking into consideration what a certain language or visual could mean to other people. So, a more diverse group may be able to see something in a script or visual and call it out in advance.
3. You learn from each other and become a well-rounded person. When you live in a nation that is a melting pot, it broadens your horizons. You are able to understand others and their struggles.
4. You better reflect the customers. A more diverse employee base is a bigger representation of the customer base. Whether it is the color of skin, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever the diversity of the situation is, the more people who can speak from their experience allows their colleagues to understand others more effectively.
5. Increasing the diversity among the leadership team can lead to more and better innovation and improved financial performance. That goes hand-in-hand with a diverse employee base. The more diversity you can fit into every step on the corporate ladder, the more effective the company will be in achieving success.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
Make sure there is a representation of diversity in your leadership team. Not only does that help the company as a whole serve customers more effectively, but it also helps individuals within the organization learn and grow, both personally and professionally. The more exposure people have to a diverse group of others will lead to more acceptance of all of those in our society. That is achieved from learning and understanding, and for some who may not otherwise get that exposure in their lives, the workplace is a wonderful opportunity to provide that space for them.
What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?
In my team, I learn so much from individuals’ life stories, where they have been and what they are going through now. I learn from everyone — whether they are senior to me or junior to me in the company. My advice to business leaders would be to continuously have their finger on the pulse of their team. Even as the leaders, they can still benefit from what they learn from all of those around them.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 🙂
Oprah Winfrey. I love her life experiences and how she overcame the trauma of her young age and her overall success in helping other people overcome their challenges. She is a great beacon, a voice, of individuals who are thriving to do good in our society.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Wade in the Water Project
Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.
David Mesfin Of INNOCEAN USA: How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.