Know the Rules Before You Break Them
Professor Jamyn Edis on storytelling, kinetic forward motion and disrupting the television industry
Published: Monday, December 5, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 17:12
"Let's give it a whirl," Jamyn Edis says. It's near dusk on a November afternoon in New York. I'm sitting across from Stern's digital media guru on a high floor in the Time Warner Center, overlooking the vibrant reds and oranges of autumn leaves dotting Central Park. Our vantage point from the lower left corner of the park looking uptown is spectacular and Edis takes a moment to gaze into the distance. "I grew up over there," he says, pointing to the Upper East Side where his diplomat father was based in the late 70s. Now a happily married father of two himself and Vice President of Consumer Technology at HBO, Edis teaches the popular New Media in Marketing elective and isn't shy about sharing his love of the classroom.
"It's a rapidly evolving space, the material is dynamic and pertinent to what students are interested in and I can't tell you how happy I am to be teaching it," he says. "Part of it is giving back, having experience and knowledge in the field and being able to give that to students to help them get a head start in media. That's a huge motivator for me."
But that's not all. "Teaching also helps me develop my own hypotheses," Edis says. "There's no better petri dish for my ideas than having to justify them in front of 70 people. Also, the energy in the room is incredible. At work, I hear the same 20 voices, but in class, I'm in a room with people who've worked at Facebook or Google or NBC and they all have their own point of view. I feed off that energy and am learning as much from them as they are from me. Don't tell the faculty, but I'd do it for free."
The course has been a smash hit, catapulting Edis, with his distinctive British flair and viral enthusiasm for the subject matter, into a rare grouping of classes that EMT majors vie for. Originally scheduled yearly with 50 students, it's now being offered every semester for 70, after repeated oversubscription and stellar student reviews. Currently he's teaching it for the fourth time, with more to come, given that NYU Stern recently added digital marketing as an MBA specialization. And students don't just sign up for Edis' industry insights, but also the career advice that he dishes out to thankful ears.
Today is no exception. "In media, you have to make your own destiny," Edis explains. "Try to enter the industry in the highest role possible, because once you do, your trajectory can slow down like molasses. After HBS, I did two more years of consulting and that allowed me to join HBO in a higher position than I could have otherwise. The tricky thing is that the way to get ahead in media for many people is to jump from company to company, because there's a lot of compression at the top. There's no set path and very little infrastructure to manage your career, as you might find in banking or consulting organizations. That's why many people try and find a mentor, although I think you've got to make it on your own."
How did Edis make it? Like Gossip Girl, the story starts on the Upper East Side. "I was born in the UK, youngest of three brothers, but we lived in New York until I was six," he says. "That's probably why I've always loved this city, have come back throughout my life and convinced my wife, who is also European, to stay here after we finished business school even though she wanted to go back. I have vivid Americana images in my head from growing up here – pumpkins at Halloween, lumberjack shirts, candied apples, Charlie Brown, Rock Center ice skaters, downtown graffiti – and wanted my kids to experience that."
After the Big Apple, Edis' family moved to Northern Ireland, his father's next diplomatic posting. "It was a difficult period politically and my dad was still working for the British government," he says. "I got used to bullet-proof windows and checking our car for bombs before school every day with little hand mirrors. My dad pretended it was a game so it wouldn't frighten me."
Games like these likely spawned Edis' early fascination with working for the FBI and growing interest in psychology, a career path he ultimately changed course towards media – although you never know what this prolific Brit might decide to do next. Once his parents "bounced to Geneva" after Ireland, the youngster enrolled at the Dragon School outside of Oxford and eventually wrote his A-levels at Winchester College.
We dive into his memories about these Harry Potter-esque schools, where Edis and his brothers had "all sorts of adventures," running around chapels, cloisters and catacombs that were hundreds of years old, a time that deeply fused itself into his psyche, so much so that he still gets goose bumps every fall, because the season reminds him of those storied study halls. It also taught Edis a lesson that would impact his life decisions.
"It was a curious situation," Edis says. "Because my father was a diplomat – which, in the UK, is still a rank and file civil servant, even upon attaining ambassadorship – the government paid for my education at top-class, private schools and I was surrounded by kids flying in from Hong Kong on private jets while wearing my brothers' threadbare, third-generation hand-me down clothes. It made me realize how important education is and that it is the only thing you have to elevate your position. Education is, quite simply, the most important gift I ever received. After that, everything I hoped to achieve was down to me – one controls one's own destiny, be that failure or success."