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How Chili Cru, EVP for Mark Burnett, Got in the Door to Hollywood and Stayed There

As I exited the plane in Dallas, Texas to connect to a flight to London there was a woman standing on the jet way right outside the plane door holding an iPad with my name on it. Feeling confident she wasn't with Homeland Security, I looked at her and said “I'm Chili Cru." She said, “Right this way, Sir," and we exited the jetway without going into the terminal. Down on the tarmac there was a Mercedes sedan to take me to my connecting gate, a cool towel to refresh me and a chilled bottle of water. Driving on the runway next to departing 777s I laughed and thought to myself how the hell did a kid from the suburbs of Portland, Oregon end up here?

Pretty much the minute I was done with school in Portland I headed to Southern California to live with my bestie from high school, Jeff Day (who reminded me later that he never actually invited me to move in). I was working at the local travel agency, Sundance Travel, in Irvine, California for $1900 a month, and I had to fight for that. That led me to move to CNN in Atlanta where I worked the travel desk. That was the job that would change my life forever. I started booking travel for then CNN President Jon Petrovich. Petro, as I called him, was amazing. He was an old school news guy who wore thousand dollar suits and never said anything he didn't mean. A class act. Petro eventually asked me to be his assistant, an opportunity I jumped at. “Cru-man," as he called me, “Come work for me a year and I'll get you anywhere you want to go in this company." I worked for Jon for 3 years before joining the team at Turner International selling cable rights to operators in the Caribbean. Nice gig.

After working with Turner International for several years, Jon came back to me and said he was moving to Los Angles to work for Sony Television and did I want to come with him. He didn't know what the actual job would be, but it didn't matter, I trusted him. I started at Sony as the “head of special projects," kind of a glorified assistant but that lead to a meeting with Lisa Hennessy and Mark Burnett that would change my course once again.

Sony had purchased the international rights to Mark and Lisa's show, The Eco Challenge, and I would head up Sony's customized coverage for its AXN channels around the world. After our first meeting at the Eco Challenge offices to plan logistics Lisa pulled me aside and said, “I just want you to know, we're going to be best friends and there is nothing you can do about it." Lisa is in fact my best friend, defacto wife and the true secret behind the success of The Chili Cru Show podcast.

From that relationship I eventually started working for Mark Burnett. He wasn't sure he needed a head of international but took a chance on me and we started building his international business. That was 12 years ago.

One day Lisa and I were sitting on her rooftop in Santa Monica looking at the ocean enjoying a bottle of the Widow (Veuve Clicquot) and she said, “What have you not done that you want to do?" I said, “Host a radio show." She replied simply, “Then do it," and ChiliCru92262 was born.

We started our podcast at my house in Palm Springs, hanging out over the summer recording the shows on Saturdays for 10 weeks. It was a BLAST. The ten-week experiment ended and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. One weekend Lisa and I randomly decided to jump in the convertible and drive to Santa Barbara for breakfast. On the ride I spoke for 40 minutes telling her how I thought we should move the show to the Sunset Strip (where I live during the week), and record right on Sunset from the Sun Bee Liquor store. After I was done with my pitch, Lisa took a minute and said, “Brilliant."

I'm lucky enough to be doing a couple things that I really enjoy. I love the international television industry, travel around 300K miles a year and get to do business with some of the coolest people on the planet. Then, once a week or so I get to sit on the Strip with some of those people and record a show that the audience is thankfully responding to.

Jon Petrovich back at CNN taught me the gift of lifting people up. He did it for me and I have spent a lot of time trying to do it for others. I've had six assistants since I've worked for Mark Burnett. Four of them left me and became Directors, Vice Presidents and Senior Vice Presidents at big production companies. I fired two. My last assistant got a great new job that I only knew about. I could have just deleted the email from a friend looking for a sales guy, but I didn't because it was time to pay it forward.

The only way to move forward is to create the momentum yourself. From the travel agency, to CNN, to Sony, my work and my success has always been about the energy that I brought to the table.

With that said, here are my top ten tips for getting out there, getting noticed, and getting ahead in your career:

  1. If you're not sure if it's your job, it is.
  2. Unless your boss is a dick, answer your phone after hours.
  3. Know what you don't know. You're not expected to know everything.
  4. Speak Up. Chime In. I love it when my assistant has something smart to say.
  5. Find a mentor.
  6. If you fuck up, admit it. We expect you to. I respect someone who took a shot and missed more than someone who doesn't shoot.
  7. Spend at least 24 hours a week alone. Trust me. This will save your soul.
  8. Trust your gut.
  9. Over deliver.
  10. Remember, unless you're a doctor, you're probably not curing cancer so have fun!

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