What we can learn from 10 audacious talent factories

From Procter & Gamble to the just-launched Daisie, the impact of fostering great talent spreads far and wide.

What we can learn from 10 audacious talent factories
[Illustration: Peter Oumanski]

1. Procter & Gamble, 1931

Neil McElroy, then a junior exec, recommended to his bosses that each of P&G’s brands be run as its own business, a decentralized approach that inspired modern brand management. The impact: Running Crisco or Tide proved to be great CEO training; alums include Steve Case, Meg Whitman, and Steve Ballmer.


2. William Morris Agency, 1937

The talent agency required new employees to start in the mail room, schooling them in the inner workings of the entertainment business. The impact: The program was widely adopted, producing several generations of moguls, including Ari Emanuel, who later merged his upstart agency, Endeavor, with William Morris.

3. Doyle Dane Bernbach, 1949

Ad agency head Bill Bernbach had the then novel idea to pair copywriters with art directors; the team-based approach led to seminal, widely admired work, particularly for Volkswagen. The impact: Young creatives flocked to DDB and rival agencies poached them to mimic its wry style, inspiring the ad world’s Mad Men heyday.

4. Second City, 1959

The improv comedy theater trained performers to be present and play to the top of their intelligence, sharpening the skills of future stars Joan Rivers, Tina Fey, and Keegan-Michael Key. The impact: Second City inspired several rival theaters-slash-schools, including Upright Citizens Brigade, a current feeder for comedic talent.

5. Chez Panisse, 1971

Alice Waters opened a restaurant to explore local, organic, and seasonal cuisine, attracting chefs interested in this revolutionarily simple style. The impact: By focusing on ingredients, Panisse’s chefs created New American cooking, and alums such as Deborah Madison and Dan Barber have elevated vegetables in fine dining.

6. MIT Media Lab, 1985

Former MIT president Jerome Wiesner and architecture professor Nicholas Negroponte wanted to reinvent university research around projects. The impact: More than 150 companies have been founded by alumni and MIT Media Lab staff, including Jonah Peretti’s BuzzFeed and startups later acquired by Dropbox, Spotify, and Twitter.


7. Disney Channel, 1989

As the network expanded into original programming, it sought out young performers who could act, sing, dance, and hit specific “moments”–comedic and dramatic–to capture viewers. The impact: Disney has created several generations of young stars, among them Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Miley Cyrus, and Zendaya.

8. General Magic, 1990

Before most people even had email, this Apple-backed startup envisioned smartphones and apps. Its audacity made it a magnet for young engineers. The impact: General Magic employees went on to develop today’s internet-connected device and app ecosystem at Apple, Google, Instagram, Nest, and Pinterest.

9. Google, 1998

Cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin reduced managers’ power so as not to inhibit the creativity of Google engineers. The impact: This teamlike approach counterintuitively produced waves of talented leaders, such as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. Scores of “Xooglers” have also founded their own startups.

10. Daisie, 2018

In January, Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams announced Daisie, an app to discover new talent in art, fashion, film, and music–and pair them with each other and 100 established mentors. The impact: Daisie attracted more than 20,000 Instagram followers before it launched in the summer of 2018.