How World Class Innovators Create the Unexpected
Ted Saad created fusions of:
- media: first successful integration of TV, radio, Internet, VoD, & mobile
- visual arts & business
- diverse technologies & teams
"You LOHAS people are so serious! Couldn't you be a little lighter like LIME — a lighter shade of green?"
- Cyndi Lauper
LIME was way before its time. It was about being green, sustainable, aware, planet-wise — conscious of our impact on the Earth. Today, "eco" and "green" offer mass-appeal and attract premium pricing, but in 2005, whenever LIME Media's founders said, "green" people responded, "What, grass? The color?" No one knew what "green" was in the way we know it today.
Environmentalism was certainly around back then, but mainly embraced by highly-serious eco-advocates. At a convention of "dark green" conservationists, world-famous singer-songwriter Cyndi Lauper was performing, stopped, looked out at the audience, and asked if the crowd couldn't lighten up (via the illuminating quote above).
CJ Kettler was in the audience and resolved to use the name LIME to found a new company for people who wanted to be more gentle on the planet but also gentle on themselves, not restricting their food to organic-only or turning major parts of their homes into mini-recycling plants. "LIME, Healthy Living with a Twist," would become a brand for personally-sustainable conservation — sustainability you could live with.
The LOHAS market (lifestyles of health and sustainability) was nascent but showed great potential. The Natural Marketing Institute estimated it at 50 million people in the US alone (1/6th of the population), comprising extremely-loyal consumers who were already spending USD 227 billion a year on "eco" and "alternative lifestyle" products and services such as organic produce, hybrid cars, yoga, and acupuncture.
America Online Inc.'s founder, Steve Case, saw the potential and believed "new-age" lifestyles would become mainstream. Having placed USD 500 million of his own money into Revolution LLC, his new investment vehicle, Steve met with Jirka Rysavy, CEO of Gaiam Inc., a producer and distributor of yoga and Pilates videos.
Jirka was living at the time in a cabin outside Boulder, CO (USA), with no running water and an outhouse master-bath. Despite their divergent lifestyles, the two saw the same green vision, and Revolution invested USD 20 million in Gaiam. Revolution bought Wisdom Media Group, a small, family-run health & wellness cable company (radio & TV). They rebranded and relaunched it as a multimedia lifestyle company helping people lead healthier, greener, more balanced lifestyles. Content would be available on television, Internet, video-on-demand, SIRIUS Satellite Radio, and mobile phones.
No one had integrated those 5 media before, although some talked about channel integration as the future of entertainment. In addition, no one had created content for a "light-green" audience, since that was new, as well.
Newly-hired LIME executive Judith Tolkow had to get the right producer and director who could both create new content and integrate separate channels in a new way. Having launched Sundance channel with a star producer-director and worked with him for many years, she knew just who to call.
Multi-Emmy-award-winning Executive Producer Ted Saad joined the founding team as Vice President of Programming and Production, got involved in all aspects of production and delivery, and together they created leading-edge content, pioneering multi-platform programming along the way.
LIME was the first entertainment company to successfully deliver the same content on 5 different platforms, in a user-centric, integrated fashion. They grew their customer base to 6.5 million cable subscribers, 2.2 million unique website visitors each month, a loyal base of 24-hour radio listeners, and 200,000 newsletter readers each day.
Two years later, LIME was bought by Gaiam, which had become the largest distributor of wellness products in the world, and more people every day were pursuing healthier, more sustainable lifestyles that were a lighter shade of "green."
Ted had gotten the call to join LIME while producing a show focussed on New York City (which he did for 5 years) — "the crazies, the geniuses, the culture, the life." He had developed his broad range of skills working in every entertainment-production role from conceptualization through post-production, including creative director, scout, producer, executive producer, and editor.
It all began with what you might call a little "acting." He was working unhappily for an interior designer and found that a friend of the designer was a producer at America's Most Wanted. Looking to make a change, Ted said he was a Producer but was willing to take an Assistant-Producer job just to get his foot in the door — and only for one project.
His resume included a few embellishments. Back then, without Internet, few people actually checked references, and "creative writing" wasn't unknown in entertainment-industry CV's. They hired him. With skills learned on the job and in his mostly-finished Arts-Administration MBA, he performed beautifully.
Soon after, Ted got a call from Unsolved Mysteries, upset that he was producing a story the caller had (really?) scouted first. Knowing nothing about the origin of the project, Ted asserted (truthfully) that he didn't know about that — he's just working here — "…but why don't you hire me, since I already know how to do this entire story? I've got everything — I've got cranes, I've got helicopters, I've got everything ready to go for you." They hired him, and project after project flourished under his bold (brash?) leadership and infectious creativity.
When Unsolved Mysteries went off the air, everyone scattered, but Ted was still the "East Coast guy" everyone knew and loved to work with. He continued to get more work than he knew what to do with for years to come.
"At one point in the early 90's, I think I had something on almost every major network and cable channel, so I started my own production company. We were nominated for 4 Emmys and won 3. We had a blast."
The Saad and Moss Production Company (later Ted Saad Media) grew to 100 employees and became a multi-million dollar enterprise, working with top-tier clients such as ABC, NBC, CBS, HBO, Showtime, A+E, Discovery, Food Network, FOX, PBS, TNT, Martha Stewart, MTV, and New York Magazine, to name a few.
Before his "big break" at America's Most Wanted, survival was the order of the day. Ted was USD 75,000 in debt when he was 75% into NYU's MBA program in Arts Administration. Landing an agent job he would gladly have taken post-MBA, he skipped his last semester and began his entertainment career instead.
Imaginative and gregarious, he crafted USD 300,000 of custom-designed contracts for his performing artists (a huge sum at the time for mostly-unknown artists), but the agency wouldn't pay USD 500 for a booth at a conference where he'd sign all the deals. Despite the scorn of his standard-contract colleagues and restrictive "organizational" rules, he scurried around outside restrooms and other venues getting the deals signed. Predictably, his temper ran out, and both he and the agency realised he wasn't the right cog for that organizational machine. So he took a job with the competition and another with the interior designer (above).
One of his most valuable work (and learning) experiences happened during (but outside) his MBA program, which was partially paid for by waiting tables:
"I think everyone should be a waiter at some point in their lives. It teaches so much — organisation, communication, how to deal with an intense situation when everything is falling apart and somehow you have to keep it together. It also teaches you to be aware. You walk by a table and without a request say, ‘You need water — coming right up.' You see the glass, you know the look, you get the water. You have 20 tables, you see 20 things, and they're all happening at once. How do you prioritize? What's the most efficient way? It teaches you skills for getting through life. I loved waiting tables … until I didn't. I put myself through college doing it and made a fortune (in student terms). But then egos, rude & mean people started to bother me, and I was done."
Ted's early talents were not academic. In fact, he was highly dyslexic all throughout school, and people thought he was not the sharpest kid around. But he had savant-like talents in music.
"When I was 3 years old, I heard a little song on the radio, so I toddled over to the piano and played it. It was quite a surprise. But there were lots of musicians in the family, so it was an easy decision to have me study music."
Music, family, food, and fun were all part of his experience growing up, although he would later learn — and produce a film about — the harsher realities outside the family circle. It was emotionally difficult to open up to those inherited realities — of what it is to be Palestinian.
Both of his parents were Palestinian Christian Arabs — mother from Bethlehem and father from Jerusalem. His mother came from a very wealthy family, and in 1948, soldiers knocked at the door and said, "There's going to be a war — leave and take nothing." She took a suitcase of paintings and left. The family's belongings were confiscated, and she never went back.
Survival was the order of the day, but life went on. She eventually made a new home in the US, married, and she and her husband started a family that was middle class, Midwestern-Middle-Eastern, and very "normal," but with a core of survival, learning, growth, and creativity that could never be confiscated.
Friends describe Ted as enormously creative, energetic, persistent, fearless, reliable, sensitive, co-creative, funny, spontaneous, talkative, and an always-ready listener, albeit distracted, because he thinks several steps ahead and then has to be pulled back to the present. He seeks to learn from others and quickly becomes a trusted friend or family member. He's a gracious and generous host and a creative, list-making problem-solver.
"Part of his creativity is that he has a great sense of humor and no filter. When everyone is thinking about it and wanting to talk about it, Ted's the one who actually says it and does it. We call him ‘no-filter Ted' sometimes. Whether you like what he says or not, he's truly, truly honest."
- Ed Guski, partner
Ted keeps notebooks in various locations around the house for ideas that continuously pop into his head. He walks every morning alone, meditatively, along farms and greenery and says if he doesn't do it, he's useless all day. He also clears his head and focuses his thoughts by playing piano.
He loves meeting intelligent, cutting-edge people and has an extensive, eclectic collection of long-term relationships. He also collects experiences, saying,
"If there's an opportunity for an experience, I'm there. That's why I love television. Every shoot, every location, every place is a new experience."
He's forever "jumping in" (with both feet) and taking action — fixing, painting, imagining, organizing. One day, he was bored, started "yakking," heard there was a community grant available that no one was taking, and put a successful project together, amazed no one had picked up the idea and made it happen. He enjoys imagining and implementing — acting on inspiration.
"Action is inspiration. If you walk forward, you start seeing the path."
Ted is extremely visually aware, which has been helpful in video production, home décor (one of his homes sold with everything in it — nothing was to be moved), and his recent role as museum curator. When he enters a room, he sees the colors that don't match, the items that have been moved or misaligned, and more. After he's been through the space, fixing and adjusting as he goes, patrons walk through and mention the positive feeling and "flow of energy in the space," not knowing exactly why it feels the way it does.
"You can't leave a speck on a container before Ted comes and sweeps it up. He's always taking in information in terms of color and shapes and emotional atmosphere in a room. He takes charge and wants things to be laid out appropriately. He came into my living room once and within minutes, said, ‘Najwa we have to move this around.'"
- Najwa Saad, cousin and Co-Producer
Ted is highly empathic — quick to pick up on people's emotions (including any "negative energy" in the room) and constantly considering things from multiple perspectives. The Palestinian film, for example, integrates and exposes a variety of truths from a variety of perspectives. It's been praised by some, but not every viewer is open to seeing from all perspectives. He's also actively compassionate, believing it is simply human to help and to make things better.
"Ted has the biggest and kindest heart of anyone I ever met."
- Ed Guski, partner
Aware of what (and who) is around him, open to new experiences and people, open to new ideas, inspiration, co-creation, rule-bending, boundary-crossing, and risk-taking, Ted sees opportunities, but at a price:
"I think being open and aware is probably my gift and my torture. A lot of opportunities just come to me, because I'm open to them. Things come to you that you're supposed to do, and everyone around pitches in and has great ideas. But that's just part of it. I can be wounded, as well, because I feel the negatives that come my way, too, and not everything works out the way I feel it should."
Despite the discomfort that's a natural part of openness, Ted keeps his eyes, ears, and heart open and finds ways to process (or let go of) whatever comes his way. He's open to the "colors" around him (including lime), joyfully co-creates, and shows his "true colors," as well.
"Don't be afraid to let them show — your true colors.
True colors are beautiful … like a rainbow."
- Cyndi Lauper, True Colors
Are you open to the "colors" around you?
New ideas, experiences, relationships? Emotions, perspectives, compassion?
What might you do what that openness?
What are your "true colors"?
1. one who innovates across domains of industry, field, country, social class, etc.
◦ s radical innovator, interdisciplinary creator, T-shaped person, borderless freethinker, boundary-crossing integrator, oddball;
Ted Saad is Executive Producer at Charter Communications and CEO of Ted Saad Media. A media master with more than 20 years' experience creating award-winning content, branding, and delivery platforms, he is "from" Israel, New Zealand, and the USA (lived 6 months+, countries listed in alphabetical order). For more information on his work, see: LinkedIn.
I thank the participants in this study (Fusioneers and Friends) for your insights, sharing, help, and patience. You inspire me, and I am honoured to know you. Special thanks go to Gladys Lee for her marketing excellence and video- and podcast-production brilliance, as well as the host of creative professionals involved in producing the videos and podcasts (you're all listed on YouTube, iTunes, etc.). I extend a warm thanks to Fusion Research Assistant Dr. Lee Poh Chin for her continually-wise and dedicated contribution to this research, as well as i2i Executive Shareff Uthuman for managing the rats-nest of global research travel and budgets. I thank Nitish Jain and the S P Jain School of Global Management for supporting this research — you're the foundation that enables the whole project. You are all God-sends. It takes a village to write a paper.
Photo/video cuts courtesy of Ted Saad, Depositphotos, and our own creative team.
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