Tom Shugart

Interview with the Marketer: Tom Shugart

Shortly after one of the first interviews I received the following comment from Tom Shugart:

“Geez, Frank, you’re becoming the Mike Wallace of Bloggerdom. I’m impressed!”

Can I add you to my personality parade Tom?

I’m flattered that you’re asking, and I’m pitifully susceptible to flattery. So I guess the answer would have to be…well, yes, why not?

Thanks for agreeing to do this. I feel like you’re my token male. All my previous interviews have been with women, and I hardly know where to start with a guy… How ’bout them Giants, hey?

Okay,that’s lame. Let’s sketch in some background… you are HOW old? (And is it legal in California to be that old?)

Well, Frank, don’t take this personally, but I have a stick up my ass about asking people’s ages. I don’t feel that it’s anybody’s damned business except the government, my insurance agent, and my family. I guess it’s just a silly idiosyncrasy. because there’s certainly no problem in pegging my bracket. I’ve already blogged several times about being over 60. I graduated from college (Indiana) exactly forty years ago, and I had already done my military service before that. You can do the math.

Is it legal in California to be that old? You bet. The gray hairs abound. Folks tend to stay here, after all. And if you want to act thirty years younger, not only does nobody give a damn, you’ll have plenty of company. You wouldn’t believe the number of silver-heads I see at rock concerts. Same deal at quality movies.

I tell you, brother, we leading-edge early seniors rule! We rock! And we’re going to shake up the whole fucking scene just like we did thirty-five years ago. (I know. I’m getting carried away here. Guess I better sit back down in my rocking chair).

I’m with you on the age thing. At least I think I am. I’m 57 and challenged by a whole lot of what I see as age-ist discriminatory bullshit at best. But Time-on-Planet is one of those critical distinguishing characteristics, so I hope you’ll forgive me for putting it right up front. My uncle is a graphic artist and years ago he told me that a person does his best creative work before he’s thirty, and after that it’s all a matter of refinement and polishing your stuff. How do you feel about that?

For creative types, including techies and scientists, he may be right. However, for human interaction types of professions–if I can call them that–teaching, counseling, lawyering, sales, marketing, managing,and so on, the premium is on wisdom–the one thing, presumably, we geezers have going for us.

Where did you grow up? As a teenager, how did you deal with the hormonal imbalance and the onset of “relationships?”

I grew up in Michigan and northern Indiana. I dealt with the teen hormonal imbalance in the time-honored way in those parts. I drowned them in a running sea of alcohol. I dealt with the onset of relationships ( I assume you mean the opposite sex?) by finding and latching on to the kind of female I’ve been involved with ever since–smart as hell; completely independent, unconventional, disdainful of the establishment, bullshit-hating and fun-loving.

You ask me what I’m proud of? It’s having had relationships with women like that–most especially Jill, whom I met thirty years ago, married a year later, and have raised two sons with.

Tell me more about your family please. I know you have a son with the good sense to be here at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

My wife Jill you can find out more about from my bio at my blog. (I’ll have more to say about her later in this interview too). I have two sons. Jonathan is a senior at UW, as you also know. He’s currently in Europe, having spent the spring semester in an exchange program at Charles Univ.in Prague. He hooked up there (pardon the metaphor) with a splendid and gorgeous lass, also a UW senior, but previously unknown to each other. They spent a week together in Paris where they then bid good-bye for the summer. Sounds like a movie, no?

Can you imagine a week in Paris in late May in the throes of hot romance? It’s beyond my reality. As I blogged at the time, when I first set foot in Paris, it was as a lonely GI in the middle of a freezing winter, unbalanced and boorish, ricocheting about with an overdose of Beaujolais, Cognac, and Pernod, thoroughly repelling the supposedly friendly mademoiselles (a real mythology, that one).

Anyway, Jon graduates on Dec. 22, and we’ll all be there. He’s got a gig at one of those monster research projects that the academic hustlers in Madison seem to be so adept at finagling. (I can’t remember the name of it. It’s in the School of Med., but run by the Social Psych. Dept.) If his romance holds, he’ll probably keep the job and hang around M until his sweetie finishes in June. He couldn’t get a closet here in the Bay Area for what he pays for nice digs in Madison. I’m encouraging him to stay.

My older son, Aaron, is 26 and lives in Oakland. He’s in the Broadcast Communications program at SF State and is taking the slow route through college–two or three courses at a time while working full time. It’s the perfect way for him. He’s a hip, savvy, cantankerous but very loving guy. I’m so proud of him. He, too, has a dynamite girlfriend. She’s a teacher, and this relationship seems to be going somewhere. I hope so. We adore her.

What did you want to be when you grew up? How do you feel about that today? The branching path of the maturity maze contains many one way passages. Have you encountered any of these? Any pride or regrets you care to share?

I wrote for the high school paper and for “The Indiana Daily Student” at college. I wanted to be a journalist. I worked my way through high school as a copy boy for the local newspaper.(This was back in the Stone Age before computers. They needed gofers to run copy to and fro, and to keep everybody’s paste pots freshened up. “Cut and paste” was truly cut and paste.

Those beer-swilling, foul-mouthed, cigar-smoking androids were amazingly similar to the stereotype, and I idolized them. They were such a refreshing refuge from the prevailing God-fearing sanctimony of the communities they covered. Of course, it was strictly a male group, except for the society columnist.

God, a newsroom of that configuration is just inconceivable now! I almost never feel old, but when these kinds of recollections come to the surface, it brings me up short. It makes me realize what a long time I’ve been on this whirling ball of dust.

Halfway through college, I dropped J-school. It seemed to me that the career path of most of the grads merely led to podunk town papers in the Midwest. I concluded that if you weren’t from the elite J-school axis of Harvard-Columbia-Northwestern, you were likely to spend your career covering county commissions, fairs, petty crimes, and the like.

Was it a mistake? Something to regret? Who knows? I certainly regret having so little confidence in myself. On the other hand, I have no regrets not having been in the media. Its not an industry for which I have much admiration. Fortunately, the rise of the Internet seems to be poking some holes in it.

You ask about the one-way passages that “the branching path of the maturity maze (nice phrase, Frank) forces one to encounter. I was terrified of these. And it fucked me up. Not that I want to get into my career pathology. I don’t. But the J-school decision is an example. It was based on fear, not on experience or sound reasoning.

I would have preferred that my exit from journalism had been the result of a failed experiment. Then I wouldn’t have to live with any ambivalence about it. By contrast, I went into teaching for a couple of years and discovered it wasn’t for me. There’s no residue of confusion or regret. I tried it and moved on. No psychic energy drain to cope with.

I see you blogged a visit to Freight and Salvage. Where do you live these days? How long have you been in the Bay Area and where have you resided over the years?

I live in the foothills of North Berkeley (near the Thousand Oaks shopping district for anyone familiar with the area). We bought a house here in 1978. We haven’t budged. It’s been a great place to live. There’s no way we could afford this place today. Property values are truly insane around here. An ideal neighborhood. Residential yet lively. Multi-cultural. Bay views. Tree-lined streets. Convenient to the city. We are plain-ass lucky to have gotten in here when we did.

As for other residential history, I’ll quote from my blog on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of my graduation from college:

“forty years ago this month I picked up my degree, bid a fond farewell to my beloved Indiana U, packed up my ’55 two-tone green-and-cream Chevy Bel Air, and headed west to the city by the Bay.”

What was left unsaid in that post was that I wasn’t alone. I was accompanied by my first wife– a child-bride, all of 20 years old at the time, 19 when we married). By the time I was a senior in college, I was tired of no sex except for uncomfortable quickies in the back seat of said Chevy. There was no such thing in those days as moving in with your heartthrob. Undergraduate females weren’t even allowed to live in apartments unless they were married. And even if they would have been allowed, the mores of the time simply wouldn’t permit it. The disgrace to your families would have been too much for anyone to bear. It was unthinkable. It was all so pre-sexual revolution. Actually, there was a handful of graduate students, mostly from New York–Beatniks–who lived openly in sin. But that was it, period.

So, having uncotrollable hots, wanting to end the back-seat boogie, and there being nothing unusual about a 19 year-old girl getting married, we tied the knot, much to the approval of our elders. Her Dad, an uptight son of a country preacher, was vastly relieved that the stain of sin would be lifted from his little girl. As for my Dad, he took me aside after the wedding and observed, approvingly, “Well, it should be a lot easier to complete your studies now that you can have regular sex.”

Man, when I think of all the painful, too-soon hot-pants marriages that people endured in those days. Fortunately, our contraception worked well (I should say, “her contraception.” The burden’s always on the woman, isn’t it?). No children ensued.

When the hot-pants stage wore off, it just got plain ugly. We went to Europe for six months in a last-ditch, ill-advised effort to see if things could be salvaged. Traveling in close quarters through foreign countries with almost no money isn’t exactly a prescription for rescuing a relationship.

After a couple of months, she said, “Fuck it,” and went back to the States. When I got back to California some three months later, the divorce papers were waiting for me to sign. And that was that. She was a great gal, but we were kids. I’m so glad that my kids don’t have to go through those kinds of societal hoops. Would anyone even think of getting married now without having lived together?

I came to San Francisco in 1964 with delusions of Jimmy Olson. Unfortunately there was a printers strike in progress. After my funds were exhausted and I had learned more about living in piss-in-the-sink hotel rooms and working for fly by night telemarketing scams than the average kid needs know, I bunked in with a friendly family in Concord and soon found a factory job at Dow Chemical in Pittsburg, about 10 miles away as the crow flies across the nuclear weapons storage facility.

My memory of that period is bound up with life in my new apartment, the Republican Convention that summer, North Beach coffee houses and book stores, the bridges and the Berkeley campus.

What were you doing for fun in San Francisco in those days while I was ogling Bill Scranton’s daughters on their way from the Mark Hopkins to the Cow Palace?

Bill Scranton? Anybody that remembers Bill Scranton is a freakin’ geezer.

I was in Europe then, going through the marital death throes. I missed that whole GOP convention thing, but followed it avidly in the papers. Remember how frightened we all were of Goldwater? It’s just so depressing when you think that in today’s climate, Goldwater probably couldn’t even get into a Republican convention. Bush’s treatment of McCain would be kid gloves compared to what he would have done to Goldwater. And Bill Scranton? Can you even imagine a Bill Scranton in today’s GOP? Yessir, thinking of that ’64 Convention really brings home what a terrible lurch rightrward has occured in our political life.

Anyway, back to the residential history. After becoming divorced, I bounced around for a few years, LA, NY, SF, selling research and marketing services to ad agencies, and also repping a color lab on the side. The traveling got extremely old after awhile, and the people I worked for were complete assholes, so I settled back in the Bay Area, taught school for a couple of years, didn’t like it, went back into marketing, met Jill in 1972, got married in ’73, lived in a Berkeley flat until ’78 when we bought the house.

If you could live anywhere between Carmel and Mendocino, between the ocean beach and Mount Diablo, where would it be?

I hate the Northern California summer coastal fog, so I wouldn’t live in any of the beach towns. And I would absolutely not live in the City (SF). I guess my choice would be Marin County. Warm climate, spectacular scenery; strong no-growth, pro-environmental protection (which is why it’s so expensive to live there); a half-hour from the City, Berkeley, the beaches, Sonoma. Of course, it’s not urban-hip like SF or Berkeley/Oakland, but it’s way, way more hip than the other suburban areas. So I guess it would be my first choice.

You’ve done sales and you’ve done marketing. Which do you prefer? The general public has a tendency to lump the two together.

Marketing for sure. I enjoy the personal contact of selling, but that’s about it. I’m not competitive, aggressive or money-motivated. That’s a piss-poor combo for a salesman. As you know, the job of marketing is to create a climate in which successful selling can occur. The job of selling is to sell. Very different endeavors. Marketing is about thinking. Selling is about acting. Marketing comes from the head, selling from the gut. I’m a head type way more than I am a gut type, so my preference between the two is hardly surprising.

The news has been full of corporations over-reaching themselves to inflate profits on their financial statements. Anybody who has dealt with Enron or WorldCom was probably not too surprised to see them caught with their pants down, but does the recent Xerox revelation surprise you?

No. Par for the course, I’m afraid.

How many financial scandals in these big, blue chip companies do you think it would take before we found ourselves headed into a 1930’s style downturn?

1930’s style downturn? No way. Forget it. There are so many safeguards in place today that didn’t exist then. Plus you’ve got the fine-tuning of the Fed. The art of monetary control is just so much more advanced than it used to be–even compared to the 70’s.

Look, the inventories that are clogging everybody’s warehouses at the moment will eventually get depleted. It may take a few years, but it will happen. Then demand follows like day and night. Production ramps up. Investors invest.

In the meantime, enterprising brokerages like Schwab will play their no-commission cards to the hilt and inspire imitation. Reforms will become good business, and confidence will gradually creep back.

The bigger danger, as I see it, is those god-awful huge tax cuts for the wealthy. If they’re not scaled back, we’re going headlong into gargantuan deficits. That means the Feds will have to borrow like a son-of-a-bitch. And you know what that means. Rising interest rates. If that happens before demand and productivity come back, watch out. But it still won’t be as bad as the 30’s.

Then there’s the joker in the deck–terrorism. Cripes, Frank! You sure know how to introduce a downer in an interview. You’re next question too, is a downer–at least for me.

Barbara Lee is your congresswoman. How did you feel about her stand as the lone congressional representative to vote against giving George W. Bush war powers?

She’s a total fucking embarrassment! I will happily contribute to any effort to unseat her. Probably ain’t going to happen in a knee-jerk liberal district like this one.

I probably sound like a war-happy throwback. No way, brother. I’m an unreconstructed 60’s peace-monger. But this is not Vietnam. As far as I’m concerned, when you think Al Queda, think Nazi. I think it’s as clear-cut as the 40’s, and, no, I don’t support this insane notion of invading Iraq, or other countries, for that matter. But fight the terrorists? You bet.

And speaking of betting, I’ll betcha that Barbara Lee’s predecessor and mentor, the great Ron Dellums (I’m sure you remember him, Frank), who took a back seat to no one in social radicalism, but who also understood the hard realities of the world, would have supported our worthy effort in Afghanistan.

Have you followed some of the feminist discussion on Blog Sisters? Care to reflect on differences between how men and women walk the earth?

I’ve followed your <gender>ism discussion and some of the Blogsisters. There’s been some great stuff. I particularly liked what Halley Suitt and Heather Snow had to say. Beyond that, I don’t really have anything to add. It’s not my area of expertise. My opinions in the matter, I’m afraid, would be pretty inconsequential. To quote Gary Turner, “I dig chicks,” and to quote Elaine, “I hate patriarchy.”

I guess I could say a few words, though, about my experience. Some of the discussion seems to me to imply that the struggle of women to throw off the shackles and embrace their sexuality is a relatively new undertaking. It isn’t. It’s an ongoing one–obviously a slow one. The struggle was really getting underway in earnest back when I met Jill thirty years ago.

From my experience, it was almost as liberating for men as it was for women. I was never uncomfortable with women or with my masculinity, but I was surely uncomfortable with sex. How could you be an adolescent of the fifties and not be?

Women, thank God–at least the ones struggling to free themselves–helped lead us out of the swamp of shame, fear, and inadequacy disguised as braggadacio. They made it possible for us to open up. It sure as hell wouldn’t have happened on our own initiative. If I hadn’t been able to open myself up, I wouldn’t have lasted two minutes with a woman like Jill.

This is an area, I feel, where women have to take the lead. Fortunately, they are and have been. Clearly, though, there’s a long way to go. But when you can remember the bad old days, as I can, there’s a lot to be heartened by.

One case in point: Jill, before she began head-shrinking full time, was an administrator of early-chilhood education programs for twenty years. Around ten years ago, she started noticing a sea-change in the involvement of men as partners with their wives in the upbringing of the children.

You can see evidence of this in the phenomenon of diaper-changing tables showing up in more and more men’s public bathrooms. A small thing, perhaps, but surely reflective of a welcome trend. Again, it wouldn’t have happened without the women.

Baby-changing tables in the men’s shitter? Can you imagine the astonishmnent of our fathers if they could see such a thing?

As far as exploring the deeper levels of the gender issue, I’m not going to go there. Your respondents have already done a fabulous job.

Over the last thirty years I have “reinvented myself” a few times. Andrea James, 24, hasn’t faced that concept yet. You have. I have. How do you feel about it? What was the most notable transformation you have had to accomplish in order to “freshen your authenticity?” I made that up… you can pick your own reason for reinvention… Or, have you seen this as more of a continuum? I infer from your blog motto, “Writing ourselves into existence,” that self actualized personal evolution is part of your make-up. Your bio material at Insiteview http://tomsbio.blogspot.com/ shows that you’re a flexible, adaptable guy.

You’ve hit my core, Frank, with your poke into “reinventing myself.” I don’t think of it in terms of “freshening my authenticity.” Authenticity’s nice, but I’m talking survival here. Actually, it’s more than surviving. The issue here is thriving. If it weren’t for discovering the availability of reinventing the self, I either wouldn’t be on this planet any longer, or I would be here in vastly diminished form.

Prior to the onset of my mid-thirties, I coped with the vicissitudes of the world by way of the usual trio: booze, pot, and sex (which reminds me of an old joke, if you’ll indulge me. A man is asked what his son is majoring in college. “the 3 P’s,” replies the man. “What the hell are the 3 P’s?” the other fellow asks. The answer: “Pot, pussy, and procrastination.”)

Sorry. I felt compelled to insert some levity here. This part of the discussion is feeling a little heavy. Anyway, as my mid-thirties approached, I began to get a very clear sense that I had reached a juncture in life where it could go straight into the abyss, because that’s where the old, familiar coping mechanisms would begin to lead. Or it could change. It couldn’t stay where it was. I could see the slide happening to some of my unfortunate buddies from the old days who either didn’t see the fork in the road, or didn’t appreciate its implications, or just plain didn’t give a shit.

Fortunately, for me, I saw the fork bright and clear, and the timing was fortuitous. The chaos and tumult of the sixties had begun to die down and people were beginning to turn inward. We had challenged society. Now it was time to challenge the self. (Feminism, of course, was part and parcel of this shift). The notion of self was being redefined from many quarters. The very fact that it COULD be redefined meant that the self was an invention, malleable, even an illusion, perhaps.

The point was that if you would just seize the reins of your existential responsibility, you could expand the quality of your experience of living. In doing that, the circumstances of your life would begin to shape themselves around these new realities that you were creating for yourself.

Out of these shifts–these reinventions of self–my emotional and physical health took a dramatic turn upward, my substance abuse just melted away, and my outlook improved to the point where I could allow myself to start a family and live a fulfilling life.

You ask if it’s a continuum? Absolutely. The challenges facing me now may be quite different from the ones of thirty years ago, but the need for reinvention doesn’t go anywhere. Knowing that the possibility of reinvention is always waiting on the doorstep keeps me going when things get dicey.

I’m probably begging the question here of just what the hell is “reinventing the self?” Here’s what I wrote in my very first blog entry (it may not adequately answer the question, but it’s the best I can do. This is not easy stuff to articulate):

“Inventing the self” sounds at first blush like an act of vanity and deception–the antithesis of authenticity. I would assert that inventing the self is a supreme act of personal responsibility. You’re either creating it and putting it out there or you’re operating at default self–i.e., without authenticity. Default self is the sum of all that one has been. We tend to see this as what the self is, and it leaves us locked in to what we were. But true self, in my view, is created as a conscious act of existential will.”

That last sentence got me into trouble with AKMA and David Weinberger, both of whom took me to task for it in their blogs. From a professional philosopher’s point of view, they’re technically correct. I have no problem deferring to their greater intellect and knowledge. But I need this outlook to stay healthy. I don’t apologize for it. I value my health over philosophical and intellectual correctness.

So, hell yes, I’m an adaptable guy. If you’re in marketing, adaptability is all that separates you from the abyss.

You’ve been involved with marketing in the infotech world for a while. When did you catch on to PCs?

I didn’t catch on to PC’s until the Macs came out in the mid-80’s,. But let me preface that with an interesting personal experience. In the early 80’s, we were trying to make some inroads into Apple for some consulting work. Since the guy I worked for at the time, Ed Yourdon, was a well-known software guru in those days, we were usually able to at least get a foot in the door.

The guys at Apple gave us a tour around the Lisa project. The Lisa was the precursor of the Mac and was the first commercial machine to incorporate GUI (graphical user interface). It had recently been announced in the technical press, so it wasn’t a secret anymore, but it was yet to be widely known or appreciated. My group must have been one of the first from the general public–other than journalists–to see it.

Seeing GUI in live action for the first time was an unforgettable experience. Imagine my fascination as an Apple engineer was explaining what a mouse was, then putting one in my hand and letting me try it out! You did not have to be a savant to know that this changed everything.

But it didn’t happen overnight. Apple grossly miscalculated. They put the Lisa out at a price point of ten grand a pop. That’s probably around 25K in today’s money. They didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. It was a marketing fiasco. But Steve Jobs is one of the Michael Jordan’s of reinvention and adaptability. He cut his losses and scaled the whole concept into the Macintosh. The rest is history, as they say.

Do you see blogging as the great leap forward in virtual community, or are you more sanguine regarding the prospects for connectedness?

I’m not sure whether or not I see blogging as a great leap forward in virtual community. It’s tempting to think so because we happen to be enamored of it. Blogging is an incredible tool in the way that it seems to select out compatible groups which, through some natural, organic process, begin to coalesce around each other.

On the other hand, I think blogging may have some built-in limitations. Blogging–blogging, that is, that amounts to anything–requires commitment. I really think you have to enjoy writing or you’re just not going to get into it. And you have to make the time for it.

My attempts at touting the concept have fallen on deaf ears–even among people who I’m pretty sure enjoy writing. Which leads me to the second factor that limits the size of the blog universe: you have to be willing to expose yourself to a certain degree. Potential bloggers sense this, and even though they may enjoy writing, this scares some of them off.

So I just don’t know if blogging that’s of any consequence will ever reach the level of participation required for this phenomenon to be anything more than evolutionary. But I could be wrong. I really don’t know. I’m just conjecturing here.

Tom, thank you for opening up on all of this. You’ve been a great subject. I was blown away by all we have in common, from the cream and green Chevy Bel Air to the Thousand Oaks residence. Beth and I will look forward to seeing you and meeting Jill when you’re here in Madison for Jonathan’s graduation.

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