I came to Berklee initially to study music. I came here from my home country of Cyprus to be a guitar player. I ended up going into the music business after I had the same realization as probably a lot of Berklee students have, that "Wow, I'm not as good as I thought I was." Twenty-five years later I see students who are experiencing the same emotions that I had back in 1991.
I got an internship at a local talent agency here in Boston that books a lot of big, primarily jazz artists—people like Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, folks like Leonard Cohen, Patti LaBelle and a number of others. Through that internship I ended up getting offered a full-time job to initially be an assistant to the owner of the agency. I was a foreign student with basically a one year practical training visa, so I kind of had a year to prove my worth. Otherwise I might be sent back to to the very teeny country where I came from.
I remember my boss at the time saying, “By the end of the year, we'll both know if this is working.” For me as a young kid, that was such an insightful comment. You always think that you being employed is just something that depends on the other person, but that comment made me realize that if something is working, both people feel it.
It just kind of changed my attitude and enabled me as I was going through that first year to always examine how I was feeling. After that year I ended up applying for an H1B visa—that's a skilled worker visa where you're able to live and work in America. That really focused me, because if it didn't work out I was going back!
This was 1994 and back then, the concept of the employer-employee relationship being a bilateral thing was still in its infancy. After the year 2000, with the dot-com explosion and all that stuff, I think there's a much more implicit understanding out there that when you're employing somebody, it's a two-way relationship. You know it's not just about your employer. They also need to want to work with you.
So anyway, I became a talent agent about a year later. It was a crazy experience booking people that I I grew up idolizing. I was in charge of all the European touring. [And I was] booking artists in an era where there was no internet, no ability to listen to music online. I had to basically make call after call after call and interact with people for whom English was their second language. The whole experience helped me look at things and say, "How do I boil something down that's fairly abstract and make it easy for somebody to understand?"
That experience informed me starting my own company. The basis for my business was, "Why can't you do this all online?" Seventeen years later, it's still the main way that emerging artists connect with all these different venues around the globe.
From a personal standpoint, this concept of ... how do you use language as a weapon of simplicity rather than as something that tends to complicate things [is still important in my life.] The whole process of teaching is about that.
Today at the institute we're leading an industry-wide initiative that's using new technologies like blockchain and rolling it out across the music industry. Leadership, at the end of the day, is the ability to take complex messaging and make it simple for people, and that was a lifelong lesson.