A Profile of My Career (Guest Post) Continued
This is Mr. Michael Bourne, Mullen Senior Vice President, Account Director and public relations/social media guru. This is also Mr. Michael Bourne, hilarious, charismatic innovator, dreamer, and family man. While Michael is quick to assure me that his personal life and professional life rarely intersect, it is in fact Michael’s personal passion and confident convictions that make him the businessman he is today.
Michael Bourne never imagined himself in the position he currently holds. In fact, he notes, “my career is like, some weird, weird movement.” A graduate of Marblehead High School’s class of 1991, Michael had his sights set on college in California. He was accepted to the University of California Berkeley as a spring acceptance. Michael decided as an eighteen-year-old high school graduate to do what most college students do as twenty-something juniors: study abroad. He spent his fall semester studying in Spain, traveling and immersing himself in the language and the culture. If this seems brave and fearless, it was. “After that,” explains Michael, “going to college was like nothing.”
But this trailblazer attitude and an infatuation with different cultures was nothing new to Mr. Bourne. He began our interview with a childhood story that demonstrates his first appreciation for a world outside of Marblehead, Massachusetts. Michael had a good friend with whom he spent many days playing. Michael was infatuated with his friend’s toys. His friend’s father had a job that required him to travel to Asia, from where he always returned with a couple of cool, robot toys for his son. Michael had never seen toys like this before, so as any curious youngster, he flipped one particular toy over, reading “Made in Japan.” After that, “I was always eager to go to the place that made all the toys,” he says.
It was with this boyish enthusiasm that Michael eventually did travel to the “place that made all the toys.” After taking what he describes as an awesome Japanese history class at Berkeley, Michael became interested in the JET Program, a government-run teaching and exchange program in Japan aimed at grassroots international exchange between Japan and the rest of the world. His TA had been a JET teacher, and his professor was also a judge for the 1995 Program’s applicants. Michael saw his friends applying to graduate and law schools all around the country, but a self-described “English major by default”, Bourne wasn’t interested. He didn’t want to head right to graduate school, but he also wasn’t ready to enter the corporate world. Michael applied to the JET Program and was accepted. He boarded the plane in August 1995, excited and enthusiastic for the year that lay ahead.
But that year turned into two, and eventually three. Japan captured Michael’s heart, and became his home. Upon his completion of the JET Program, Michael wasn’t ready to return stateside. “I wasn’t really ready to leave after the two years,” Michael says. “I was living right where the rice patties are.” I can see the memories flooding back as he speaks of his experiences in Japan, a fond recollection of a life run without a course or much of a plan. The one constant Michael did have while in Japan was his daily reading of the Tokyo Journal, an Improper Bostonian-esque magazine pitched to foreigners. “I had been reading it since like, the day I got off the plane,” says Michael. He mentions the idea of working for the magazine had crossed his mind before- why not translate his creativity and passion for writing into a paycheck? But Michael admits the idea was abstract; he had no real plans to make it happen.
But happen it did. Ditching a post-JET Program job at Kaplan that provided him a posh Tokyo apartment, a rigid boss whose Japanese name translates to “Correct,” and most importantly a Visa, Michael moved into a teeny, closet-sized cockroach-infested apartment, where he turned a fleeting idea into a reality. It has been said that timing is everything, and in Mr. Bourne’s case, the cliché proved true. Soon after his start selling ad space at Tokyo Journal, one of the editors left for film school. Michael jumped at the opportunity. “I was like okay, I’ll be the editor. I was basically thrown into this feet first into the pool, basically a sink or swim situation. I was 24, this is 1997-1998, and it was fun because I got to talk to all the freelancers, coordinating and editing their stories, writing some of my own…and I did that for about six months, I think. I was so happy doing it. It was like a pressure cooker. I had to come up with interesting content and work on the layout…and this was pre-internet days. The tools we were using, it was pretty primitive, you know?”
You can see the passion and excitement ooze from Michael as he fervently tells of his position at the Tokyo Journal. I asked him why he left after less than a year in this job he loved. “To be on the masthead of a magazine that you look at when you’re fresh off the boat…I was living this fantasy.” But Michael knows the difference between fantasy and reality. “But I was also living in a cockroach infested apartment that was the size of a closet. My grandmother had passed away leaving me with the opportunity to live in her apartment in Brookline. So I felt it was time to return to the states.”
The discussion of his return home was the only time I heard a flicker of sadness infiltrate Michael’s usually sanguine voice. “I totally had reverse culture shock,” he reflected. “I was really sad…I almost felt like, ‘what have I done?’ I mean, all my friends were there, I had built a life there, but I had to make a decision…I could have well stayed there forever, but you can never really become Japanese the way you can become an American. I didn’t really want to always be an outsider, so I figured I could be more successful in the US speaking my own language fluently. So I went from being the managing editor of a magazine in Japan to an account coordinator at the Weber Group. Looking back at it, I think I just wanted a job, to get my feet wet.”
But the job at the Weber Group didn’t satisfy his needs for long. Bourne won Innovator of the Month in July 1999, and in August, he quit to pursue an opportunity at Where Magazine, a publication focusing on hot spots around Boston. He was exuberant; the job was basically doing what he had loved in Tokyo, but in the comfort of his own culture. Unfortunately, the job didn’t live up to his expectations. “Without going into detail, the environment wasn’t that great,” he notes, his face twisting into a sideways smile.
It has been Michael’s passion for creation that has made him mobile and unable to settle in a job that leaves him less than enthused. He has had to balance paycheck versus passion, salary versus satisfaction. Regardless, Michael is an advocate for chasing dreams, even if they don’t turn out to be as satisfying as once imagined. “A phase of experimentation… I think that’s better,” he says, musing about what I can only imagine is his own life experience, which includes three countries, three languages and a handful of jobs and skill sets. “It’s more about what you like and what you’re good at, that’s a good place to start. What makes you happy? I’m a writer, I’m a creative person. I could be a numbers person, but that’s not how I’m engineered. For me, it’s creating something new, putting something out there that hasn’t been done. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.”
And that is why Mullen has been Bourne’s home for the past eleven years. In his job as Senior Vice President, Michael is able to create, delegate, and foster relationships with both clients and coworkers, something he believes is most important. “I want my coworkers to succeed. That’s the best thing any boss could do for anyone who works with them. Make that person feel like they’re valuable, and that they really want that person to do well. Because I’ve had bosses who have really treated me poorly. I have a sense of humor; I like to laugh…I don’t want my coworkers to feel threatened or intimidated.”
Michael’s humor is evident both in and outside the office. Michael calls members of his team by designated nicknames when he would like a word. He prides himself on the familiarity and camaraderie he shares with his team members, which makes him an ideal manager.
Louise Lloyd Barclay Owen, Mullen Assistant Account Executive and member of Michael’s team describes him as “a great person to have as your boss. Michael doesn’t spoon-feed me with ideas every day. Instead, he pushes me to come up with my own ideas, while helping me along the way. The expectations that he puts forth are demanding, but in the best way possible.”
Louise’s testimony is echoed by Michael’s own leadership philosophy. “People will perform up to the level of your expectations,” he asserts. “If you make them feel like they’re not good enough, they will feel like they can’t do their best work, and they won’t ever be better.”
Michael leads his clients with this passionate force and mutual respect as well. It is clear from the ten-year relationship with client Olympus that he is an excellent PR practitioner. Yet in the end, it is his zeal that has kept his clients at the forefront of the industry. Michael beams when he expresses what he believes to be the proudest moment in his thirteen years in the field. In 2009, Michael’s team won a Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange (MITX) Award for Olympus, but he knew he hadn’t reached his full potential. “Suddenly this was just the beginning. I’m just getting started here. I was wondering, Where’s my second act?” And he found that second act this past fall. “I came out of the first MITX and called a guy from Oddcast and said, ‘I want to create a virtual reality camera and I want it to be super interactive and do some crazy things and have it be super social and sharing.’”
Never one to dream small, or resist collaboration, Michael drew upon the creative team at Mullen to aid him in his vision. “To see something that was in my brain become something real made me very proud. Because I think that’s what people want in their marketing career. They want to feel like they’re giving birth to something memorable that people talk about. And it makes me proud because I was able to help my clients get into social media. It was validating.” And he now has several MITX awards under his belt in case he ever needs a reminder.
The pride Michael exudes is palpable and contagious; I couldn’t help but smile right along with him. “I think I’d probably regret not having done certain things, you know, that maybe I could have done and didn’t do. It’s hard to say if I have any regrets because I don’t usually stick around with something that is clearly not going to work.” It’s exceedingly clear, though; whatever it is that Michael is doing is working. “Sure,” he says, confidence radiating through his voice and a sparkle in his eye, “there’s constant change in the industry, in regard to social media specifically. But I’m not scared of change. You can probably figure that out. I like to be thrown into uncomfortable new situations and then figure it out, and make it up as I go.”
It’s impossible to describe Michael without using the adjective “successful.” He is undoubtedly a successful businessman; just look at his portfolio of clients and awards he harnesses under his belt. But Michael is also successful on a personal front. He is the father to two young children, Leila and Jake, and husband to wife Karen. Together they read, watch movies, go out to eat and take long family bike rides. Michael explains, “It’s easy to define success by others. It’s harder to define success by yourself. What’s going to be good by your standards? If you feel that way, like I am in control of my standards, then you aren’t really reliant on anyone else to tell you if it’s good or not. It forces you to define your standards up, always trying to do something better.” I push, asking Michael to provide his definition of success. “I don’t know, man,” he says with a laugh, “it’s like you know it when you see it. Either it is or it’s not.”
Editor’s Postscript: Amazon replaced my broken Kindle in 24 hours and was amazing. And those Transitions glasses are still creepy.