Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 85

Tom Hughes, Actor, Consultant and Coach 

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Show notes

Tom Hughes initially planned to pursue an MD, PhD, and work on multiple sclerosis, but decided against it due to his poor chemistry skills. Instead, he focused on being an English professor, inspired by his father, who had been an English professor. During his senior year, his brother joined him and encouraged him to pursue his passion for acting. Tom auditioned for two of his favorite plays, The Lion in Winter and The Foreigner, and was cast in both of them. This was a rare moment in life where everything fell in his direction, and he was cast in all of the shows he auditioned for. He then decided to focus on his English major and thesis work. Tom recounts his journey from being a singer in The Pudding to auditioning for a production of Dangerous Liaisons. He was inspired by his love for theater and the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which he had attended every year with his family. After graduation, he moved to New York and started working off Broadway. He auditioned for Harvard’s ART Institute and  moved back to Cambridge. In between these years, he met a woman, got engaged and married. They moved back to New York, and Tom continued auditioning and getting small film gigs. He went back to Columbia for a master’s degree in organizational organizational psychology, which eventually led to a position at Booz Allen consulting firm. Tom moved on and worked for Duke corporate education for seven years before moving to the Carlsbad California office. They stayed there for another three years before being laid off during a downsizing. This led to establishing his own business, he partnered with another friend and colleague to form a small consulting firm, and this is their 11th year working for themselves. 

 

A Conversation about a Theatrical Background

Tom discusses his avocation in the theater, mentioning his father’s audiobook recording as a fun outlet. He directed one show and a radio show version of It’s a Wonderful Life, but he found this was not for him and decided to stay with acting. Tom’s wife is actively involved with the theater, and Tom talks about how she worked on a show during COVID-19 restrictions; this led to a part for Tom which led to directing a radio show. Tom finds the theater experience enjoyable and has worked with amazing people and talented people in the community. He believes that the experience should be about the show rather than the social aspect. 

 

Community Theater vs. Professional Theater

Tom talks about the difference between community theater and professional theater which are two distinct aspects of the arts. Community theater is about the community, where friends perform for the benefit of the community, rather than aiming to become Hollywood stars. Professional theaters are more prepared, have worked before, and have more rehearsal time. They come with a different tool set, such as singers, actors, and professionals who know their craft. In community theaters, people often don’t even write down their blocking notes, which can be frustrating for those who don’t have the time to practice. Professional theaters have a dedicated team, preparing and working on their craft, and have more time for rehearsal. They also have a better tool set, such as experts in their craft.

 

Mental Models and Acting

Tom discusses his mental models and how his way of thinking changed from a junior in college to pursuing theater professionally. He shares two key lessons: the importance of listening and being present for others, which is crucial for success in the industry. He shares a conversation with a colleague about a famous breakup in Hollywood and how it can be difficult to stay faithful without falling in love when playing an intensely romantic role with an attractive actor. He also shares a lesson from a classmate, Glenn Kessler, who taught him that no way of working is always right. There is no style, approach, or version of oneself that will be right everywhere. Being a professional means doing what the job calls for, and it is freeing to feel like an asset and get rewarded for it.

 

Acting Coach and Consultant

Tom talks about his work as an acting coach and developing listening skills. In group settings, such as meetings, online learning, and virtual meetings, listening is crucial for effective communication. However, many people are not paying attention to others, leading to unsatisfying experiences and hindering learning. In coaching, listening and reflecting are essential for helping individuals think through their thoughts. Practicing listening and turning off the “I’m planning my response mechanism” can help create a more authentic and engaging interaction with the audience. By practicing and hearing people, one can create a more authentic and memorable experience for both the actor and the audience. Tom started his consulting practice with a partner, Jared Blake, a Harvard EDD. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he and Blake started working independently, but later reconnected and decided to work together. They formed an entity and started marketing together, serving well-known brands like Nike. They both teach for various schools, including corporate education and the Texas A&M Executive Education program. They also provide individual coaching and advisory work on leadership development and coaching for clients.

 

Influential Courses and Professors at Harvard

Tom shares his experiences with courses and professors that have shaped his life. He mentions his experience in an organic chemistry course, where he was told that it probably wasn’t for him.  He also took a class from Joe Harris on Norse mythology. He was also accepted into a graduate seminar with Barbara Lewalski, who was a brilliant and challenging professor. Tom also talks about his experience working in law as an undergraduate, and why he decided this path was not for him after working on a murder case. 

 

Timestamps:

02:31 Acting career and personal life

09:49 Career transitions and theater involvement

15:29 Professional vs. community theater experiences

21:04 Acting techniques and personal growth

26:32 Active listening and its importance in professional settings

31:45 Career transition and leadership development with a Harvard MBA

35:45 Academic experiences and career choices

41:28 Legal system, theater, and personal experiences

 

Links:

Website: www.appianleadership.com

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tom-hughes-5955a7/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/appian_leadership/

Utah Shakespeare Festival: https://www.bard.org/

 

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Transcript

 

92-85 Tom Hughes

SPEAKERS

Tom Hughes, Will Bachman

 

Will Bachman  00:01

Hello, and welcome to the 92 report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman. And I’m excited to be joined today by Tom Hughes. Tom, welcome to the show.

 

Tom Hughes  00:14

Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s it’s fun to be on with your list of illustrious interviews, I guess. Well,

 

Will Bachman  00:23

Tom, you’ve listened to a couple episodes. You know, my, you know, my question I start off with, tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard.

 

Tom Hughes  00:32

Yeah, so I guess I’m gonna have to start a little bit before and during Harvard to make any sense of the nonsense of what’s happened since I came to Harvard, thinking I was going to do an MD PhD, and working on multiple sclerosis. And it became pretty apparent early on, but that was not going to be what I was going to do. Because I’m just terrible at chemistry. So I, at that point, I had already been an English major that the plan had always been concentrate in English, do the pre med stuff, go on to grad school? When I decided not to do that, I thought, well, I’ll just, I’m going to be an English professor. My dad had been an English professor. I’m going to be kind of hardcore on that. And my dad, who had been an English professor said, you don’t want to be an English professor, you want to do something else. When you go to law school, if you’re not going to go to med school, and I said, Dad, I’m not going to law school. He said, take the test, I tested to the problem. I don’t want to be an attorney. I’ve worked for an attorney, I don’t want to do that job. And, and so he consigned himself from my mom was happy with me being an English professor. And I know you’re probably going to ask later about professors and classes and stuff. So I’ll save that. But my last year, my senior year, my brother joined me, he was in the class of 95. And he got to campus and he said, Wow, how do you decide what to do? There’s so many opportunities, there’s so many options, things you could spend your time on. And I thought, Wow, he’s really right, I’m blowing it if I, if I don’t get some stuff done my last year of college, I’ll never do it again. And so I, I had done a little bit of acting in high school and a little bit of HRDC stuff, my first couple of years. I thought, Well, I’m just gonna go see what plays are being cast to common casting and, and if there’s something I’m interested in all all audition. So I went in, and they had two of my very, very favorite plays, were being auditioned for one was The Lion in Winter, and the other one was the forerunner. I thought, well, what the heck, you know, I’m out of practice. Nobody here really knows me or remembers anything I did earlier on, but what the heck can’t, can’t hurt. And so I auditioned for a bunch of plays, knowing that some of them I would probably turn down even if I got cast in them, just because I didn’t really want to do it. But I thought it’d be good practice as long as I’m at it, get a bunch of auditions in. And, I mean, it was one of those crazy rare moments in life where everything, just all the dominoes fall in your direction. I got cast in everything I auditioned for. And it was, in fact, it was funny, I walked into the room where all the cast lists were posted in the first thing I heard was my name. Now, it was, it was who’s this Tom guy? Because nobody knew who I was. But as I was walking around, and someone actually turned to me and said, Do you know who this guy is? And I said, Well, yeah. And, and so kind of a couple of people who were better known in the theatre world in those days, who were also casting, some of the shows came kind of rushing over to me, like we got to decide what to do. A lot of us had been casting multiple shows, and we decided collectively, you know, these are the shows we’re going to do so that we can, you know, have the best possible experience with it. So I ended up getting to play, you know, Henry, and I got to play the forester, and it was just a ball and worked with great, great people, tons of our classmates. And I had, you know, just a wonderful fall. And I sort of thought at that point, well, maybe I’ll just now I got it out of my system. I’ll go do my serious English majoring stuff, finished my thesis and all that, all that sort of stuff. And then a couple of the guys I was in shows with were in the pudding. And they said, Hey, you should come to the at least audition for the pudding. And I you know, I had seen it my freshman year and I thought it was delightful and hilarious and, you know, really loved what they were doing and and so I said, Well, you know, I’m not Great singer, but I’ll I’ll come to the audition. And so I got, I got cast in them, which was a ton of fun and got to go on the big tour and everything. And then some another group of people I had done work with in the fall asked me if I would audition for a production of Dangerous Liaisons, it was going up. I think it was the last spot last slot of the semester. So are the term so I went did that. And over the course of that year, you know, even though I was like trying to write my senior thesis in the dressing room of the pudding, I was just having so much fun, and I love the people. And I read, I remembered what I loved about the theater. And, and I, you know, I had grown up in a family where we went to the Utah Shakespeare Festival every year, year after year. And it was, I was just reminded, oh, yeah, I love. And I thought, Well, I think I’m hanging with the people with my peers. I think I’m as good as at least some of them. So let’s go give it a shot. So after graduation, I moved to New York. And, you know, did a few small things way off Broadway. And at that point, I thought, Well, I’m really going to do this. I just don’t have the background and the training that a lot of my peers have because they put more into it in college than I did. And so I auditioned for Harvard’s AR T Institute’s. And that, you know, is done right there at the RT building on Brattle Street. And I went back to Cambridge and did that for two years. In between those two years of school, I met someone who got married right away, like we got, we got engaged after about two weeks and got married, like, three months later. She was not someone at the theater program. But I was home visiting my parents for a few weeks, and my high school director asked me to come do a show and, and yeah, the leading lady and I were in Barefoot in the Park. And we ended up moving not too long later into sixth floor walk up in New York. But at any rate. So I went into I got married about halfway through the second year drop school. We moved back to New York, got, again, was out auditioning and so forth. And you know, things were better. Now I had an agent’s I was going out on better auditions. I was getting small film gigs, you know, nothing anybody’s ever seen. But enough to sort of pay the bills, I would oftentimes get a summer acting job, so that we would often sublet our apartment in New York for the summer, go back and stay with parents, I’d do a film job, we’d save money for the for the coming year. And so, you know, it was a hard way to live. And I was not, nobody was busting down my door to get me to come work for them. And so our first son was born there in New York. I don’t know nature, nurture, whatever. But I came home one day, and my wife was saying, I really want to get back to work. And I said, Wow, thank goodness, because I really want to start providing for this family. And three checks a year is not going to do it. I went back to school, I went to Columbia for a master’s degree in organizational organizational psychology, which landed me on the road I’m on now. So that was an interesting inflection point for us. Because when it when we got to the time that I was starting to interview for jobs. I had some people tell me later, I got shut out. I got, I got no, I didn’t even get a second interview anywhere. And I was auditioning with all the time, it was still the big eight firms and blah, blah, blah. And I knew somebody who had been in one of those interview committees. And he said, Well, the problem is we all we agreed is a great interview, and you got this great educational background, but you have zero relevant work experience. And we just don’t know what to do with you. So do we offer this guy an entry level job? Do we offer him a master’s degree job? Let’s put his resume over here on the side, and we’ll come back to him. And by the time they got to the bottom of the list, they didn’t need anybody. And so I went back to one of the people who wrote me a letter of recommendation for Columbia, who had been a TF of mine at Harvard. And he said, Well, you know, I’m running. He said, I know it’s not really what you’re looking for. But you’ve got training and teaching all over your resume. Why don’t you come and meet my team? I run the Training Department at Booz Allen consulting firm. And I said, All right, I mean I got no nothing else to do with my day. So I’ll come and meet your team. And through a long, long series of events, that’s where I ended up. So I was at the corporate university in New Zealand for for five years. And then I hung out my own shingle for a little while. And then I ended up working for a company owned by Duke University called Duke corporate education. I was there for seven years. For the first four years, I was in the kind of the mothership in Durham, North Carolina, and then got transferred out to the Carlsbad California Office, which was kind of a dumb place to put an office but a great place to live. And we were there, I stayed on for another three years, I actually laid off by them during a downsizing. So I hung my shingle back out again for a while. And so that was 2013. So this is my 11th year working for myself. And in the past couple of years, I got together with a another of my good friends and colleagues. And we put together a small consulting firm. So we’re working together now. In the meantime, and along the way. We had a total of three kids, we have a son now who’s 20, almost 27. We are now almost 28. Well, daughter who who will turn 24 this fall and a son who’s turned 20 recently. So that’s the nutshell, I guess,

 

Will Bachman  11:32

proof proving the saying that all roads lead to consulting. Exactly. So, so many things to explore here. Tell me a bit about in terms of the theater, have you continued to do that as a avocation at all any kind of community things or any sorts of acting? Or does teaching give you a sufficient sort of theatrical release to?

 

Tom Hughes  12:05

Yeah, so mostly know, for a little while as I was transitioning into a consulting firm, I was still, my dad’s a writer. And so I for a while I was recording audiobooks of his books. For him, that was kind of a fun outlet. Back in the days, when you could actually kind of still make a pretty good living doing audiobooks, like a lot of things, the the rise of technology has made that a less lucrative career than it used to be, but so I did some of that for a while. And then I just got so busy that I couldn’t I was traveling, I mean, you know, those I spent so many years flying a quarter of a million miles a year. You know, it was just finding four days to go off to a studio someplace to record a book just didn’t happen anymore. And then. And then I just didn’t do anything for a long, long time. And during COVID, my wife has remained pretty active in the theater. Turns out like, I’ve direct I directed one show once, and I was not good at it. And I didn’t even really enjoy it that much. It was like, you know, you talk to a lot of actors who are like, oh, I want to be a director. And I don’t, I’m interested in that. I’m an actor. You know, I was an actor, and that’s what I liked. I like that job. My wife is a real theatre person. And so she still runs an acting studio. She directs a lot of stuff. She costumes, like she’s a real theater person. And so she had been slated to direct a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at one of our local community theaters. Show got shut down for COVID, she works relentlessly with the theatre and the health department so forth, to to get permission to do an outdoor production of the same show. And it you know, there are all kinds of rules attached. But she mostly felt bad that there were all these teenagers who were, who had no outlet for anything social. And so, you know, we were holding all the rehearsals outdoors and spaced, and it’s, it’s very strange to block a show when people can’t get closer than six feet. So it was somewhere between a standard production like, you know, a blocked production and a concert. But you know, they had a ball. And the reason I brought it up is the gentleman who was going to play Jacob, the father of Joseph in the show, it’s a very small part. The health department said he’s too old, he was over 60. And they said, you just can’t have anyone over 60 in the show. And so she came to me and said, Well, you’re not traveling. And would you be willing to play this part? And so I did that and it was, it was fun. I like the music. And it’s it was sort of it was good to be on a stage with my son, who was sort of our, our youngest is our theatre person. And so that all was fun. And then by the time we were able to go back indoors, my wife was directing sort of a radio show version of It’s a Wonderful Life during the Christmas season. And she asked me if I would do that with her, which I did. And then the next year, I directed it, so she wouldn’t have to. And honestly, that was enough for me. And while I’m gonna say, I think a lot of people will relate to although I feel super, super super snooty, saying it is I just don’t get that much pleasure out of doing. If it’s not at the, at the level I used to be able to work at, it’s just not as much fun. And, you know, I got to do shows with amazing people and great talents. And, and if nothing else, people who understand how its show supposed to be rehearsed, and how it’s supposed to function, like just the process of building something. And you know, the people we work with here in the community are great, great, people love them to death, and some of them are really talented. And then there used to have a bunch of people who are there more for the sociality than for the show more than the theater. And I just find that like, I’ve got, again, this is gonna sound terrible isn’t like such a misanthrope. I don’t go there for the people, I go there for the show. And so when when, when the experience isn’t something that feels great, then I just sort of lose a little bit of interest. So how would you

 

Will Bachman  16:49

do do a comparison of getting more specific in terms of what’s the process for rehearsing a truly professionally run show, you know, something off Broadway in New York, or a film that you’re working on? You know, professional, you’re getting paid for it, versus a more community type theater? What were some dimensions of the process and compare and contrast?

 

Tom Hughes  17:15

Sure. Again, you know, forgive me if some of this comes off sounding studio, it’s not meant that way. But first of all, they’re just two completely different things. Right? The community theater, I mean, part of the difference is just in the name, it’s about the community. It’s a place where you go, and you get to see your friends, using their talents, or even not talents. But you get to see your friend, doing something for the benefit of the community. Nobody thinks they’re gonna go do a production of Annie Get Your Gun or The Music Man or any other show in a community theater and suddenly find themselves in Hollywood. You know, they don’t do it for that they do it because they enjoy the community, they enjoy the experience of being together with friends, and like minded folks. They do it just because it’s fun, and they get to know and, you know, one of the common threads, is there a certain percentage of just people who like to show off. That’s fine. I mean, I really admire the whole notion of communities here. And I’m thrilled that my wife and my son have had so much fun doing it, and I’ve had so much success with it. It’s just not my cup of tea. In contrast, I think one of the first things, the another part of it is, or the distinction now is, if you’re doing a show professionally. First of all, everybody there is a professional, they’ve committed to it, they, they there is the possibility in the back of their minds that what I’m doing now might lead to something bigger and better later. Most professionals certainly not true of all their divas in every industry. But you know, most of them come prepared, most of them have worked before, most of you have so much more rehearsal time you’re doing a community theater, you might get three or four hours or five or six hours of rehearsal a week. And you got six weeks, and it sort of feels like wow, we just threw this thing up. And if people aren’t bothering to work at home and learn their lines, and so forth. I can’t believe how often, for instance, in community theaters, people don’t even write down their blocking notes, meaning, you know, for the uninitiated, blocking just means where are you on the stage? And so, you know, different points, you’re moving around. And it was shocking to me to come to a rehearsal, and people hadn’t bothered to write down in your script. They’re blocking notes. And so you’d have to start over say, no, no, you’re supposed to be moving over here. Now. You just don’t see that in the professional theater. I mean, people know the job that come in with an adage You’d have, well, this is my job. And so they tend to prepare, they tend to work at it, you have vastly more time, usually, to do the rehearsal. And then people come with an entirely different tool set. You know, they, if it’s a musical, you’ve got singers, and you’ve got the answers, and you got people who really know what they’re doing. And, and yeah, and to me, that was some of the most gratifying part of it is just one of my sort of passions in life. I guess one of the things I love is to just watch people who are great at what they do execute their craft. And you can say the same thing. I mean, it’s true for theater. And it’s true for consulting. And it’s true. There’s a great movie, I can’t remember what it’s called. But essentially, it’s the making of a Steinway piano. And you follow this piece of hardware through the process and you interview and it’s, it’s fascinating to watch these people who are so good at what they do, do their thing. Jiro Dreams of Sushi another thing? Like, it’s I don’t know, the first thing about sushi, but watching him mixes, he was proud. And so being in the company of people who know what they’re doing, and are really executing on their craft is a beautiful thing to watch.

 

Will Bachman  21:21

Talk to me a bit about how your mental models or how your way of thinking changed from we It sounds like you started getting serious about theater, your senior year of college, and then you had a year or two in New York and you went back to the AR T for a couple years. And then you were pursuing it professionally in New York for a few years. Yeah, how did? How does that experienced professional actor? What did that person know about the world? That the Tom, who was a junior in college did not know about your world? Or how your thinking changed?

 

Tom Hughes  22:04

Yeah. So two things come to mind. The first one is, and this is this is one that I think has surprised a lot of people I’ve talked to over the years, that just the huge the vast importance of listening. The importance of I had to illustrate I had a conversation with a colleague of mine, we were at a training program. And there had been some famous, some some breakup in Hollywood between some big famous couple I forget who and this woman said to me, what is it with actors? Like why can’t they stay faithful? I said, well, first of all, I don’t think that’s exclusive to actors. But second of all, I said you’re married, right? She said yes. And I said, when’s the last time your husband looked you in the eyes and just held your gaze and listened to everything you said deeply and intently for, say, five minutes? And she said, Oh, maybe never. I said, when you have those experiences, how does it feel? She’s like, Oh, it’s completely absorbing. I said, yeah. So now imagine you’re in a room or a set with somebody 810 12 hours a day. And he’s incredibly handsome, and he’s talented. And he he can’t wait to hear every word that comes out of your mouth. He’s totally focused on you. He thinks you’re the coolest thing in the world. And he’s utterly present for you. How long do you think you could do that with this incredibly handsome guy without falling in love with him? And she said, Oh, yeah, I get it. So and I think people who don’t do theater or you know, sometimes people who are doing theater but aren’t very experienced or in it for themselves, just don’t understand how, how much listening is part of the business, and really being present for the person across for you that that was one thing that I had to learn. I think all actors have to learn at some point, or they have a hard time succeeding. The other thing, and this one, I’ll give this one absolutely. I give total credit to this one. As a lesson I was taught explicitly by one of our classmates, Glenn Kessler, who was directing the forerunner. And he said, Look, I was, if you’ve ever seen the show, there’s this scene where this guy who’s playing this very quiet, reserved British fellow, and all of a sudden he’s got to completely come out of his shell and be huge and gregarious, and, you know, a wreck on tour and it’s just this explosive seen and there are a couple of those in the show. And I was really struggling to go there. And and he said to me, Look I know Know that you are tentative about this, and you don’t want to look stupid. The only way for you to look stupid in these scenes is not to go crazy. You have got to just blow the roof off this room, and you can’t, there’s nothing you can do that’s too much for this scene. And I said, okay, and he said, listen, honestly, tomorrow we’re rehearsing the scene again, I have to see it. And if and if I don’t, I mean, the way I felt about I don’t remember if he said this, but basically, the way I heard it was, if you can’t bring it tomorrow, we might need to recast. And I mean, he was definitely not threatening me. But he was just trying to think give me like, this is this show is about you about a really quiet, timid guy losing it. Okay, and so I came in the next day, and I thought, it’s time to look like an ass, and just went totally berserk. And when the when we finished the scene, like my cast members clapped for me. And they all were way better than I was like, they were just so much better, so much more experienced. And I realized, like, Oh, I was letting them down. They were worried about this show, because I couldn’t do my job. And they had put faith in me as the title character to do this job. And so I think that taught me a lot of things. One is, you know, no way of working is always right. There’s no style, there’s no approach, there’s no version of yourself, that will be right everywhere. And part of being a professional and doing your job is doing what the job calls for. And, and plus, it was so freeing to do to feel like you were to do something that made you feel like an asset and get rewarded for it. So that was those were two big lessons as

 

Will Bachman  27:07

well, how has that training? Translated to your work? As a trainer? organizational psychologist?

 

Tom Hughes  27:17

Yeah. Well, the listening thing is immediate, right? I mean, when I tend to interact with people, either in kind of group, programmatic settings, or classroom Mesh Settings, or one on one coaching, and in both of those scenarios, listening is just paramount, you know, you could if the reason people get together in a room to have a conversation, as opposed to doing online learning, or even, honestly, even most virtual, simultaneous stuff, you know, we’ve all had been to a million zoom meetings now. And you know, that the one thing most people aren’t doing is listening. They’re off doing their emails while they’re pretending to be in a meeting. And, and so people get together in a room because they want the experience of actually being in a conversation being in a dialogue. And if the person who’s running that session, can’t pay attention to them, and can’t listen and hear what is really on their mind. First of all, it’s an unsatisfying experience. Second of all, how can I possibly hope to help them learn what they came to learn? If I’m not tuned into what they’re looking for? And then in coaching, of course, it’s like, just that that’s the whole job, just listening, reflecting. Trying to help them think their stuff through

 

Will Bachman  28:45

How did you learn to develop that listening skill? As an actor? What was the exercise or the advice? Or how does one develop that sense of presence?

 

Tom Hughes  29:04

I’m sitting here trying to come up with a really deep and insightful answer, and I don’t have anything other than you just gotta practice doing it. You know, you’ve got to just listen to them. It’s, it’s something we all know how to do. The one thing you do have to learn is to sort of turn off. Turn off that I’m getting ready to respond, switch. Theaters, a weird place because you’ve got these competing tensions going on. On the one hand, you’ve got a script, you know exactly what words you’re supposed to say. And your job is to say those words. But it’s also to be present so that when you save them as you save them, it all makes sense. And so you know, if you’re working I think if you’re working with really fun and talented actors Every whether it’s on a, you know, on camera, every take could be different and is usually different in some respects, you know, the person you’re interacting with is gives you the line in a slightly different way than they did last time. And if you respond to it in the same way you did the previous version, it often sounds wonky and inappropriate, and it feels very artificial. And audiences pick up on it right away. And the same thing can happen on a stage if you’re, if you’re accustomed to them delivering the line in a certain way. And you respond in the predictable in the way that you’ve been responding the last three nights. But it’s not an appropriate way of responding to what happened tonight, here. And now, the audience gets that right away. And so, you’ve got to, you got to know your lines well enough that you stop thinking about what am I going to say that that part that work needs to be done way earlier. So that in that moment, it says, if you’re hearing you, it has to be as if you’re hearing your cue, you’re hearing what your partner is saying to you for the first time in your life. So that then when the words come out of your own mouth, it hopefully feels like the first time you’ve ever said them, and most importantly, that the audience feels like it’s the first time these words have ever been spoken. So I don’t know what advice to give other than you just got to practice, you just got to hear people and turn off the I’m planning my response mechanism.

 

Will Bachman  31:43

Tell us about your current consulting practice. It sounds like you started with a partner. I think I heard what what types of types of clients you serve, and what kind of services do you provide? Yeah,

 

Tom Hughes  31:54

yeah. So you know, I’ve worked for myself for a number of years until COVID. COVID was a kind of turnaround point for a lot of people. And it’s funny, it’s been funny listening to the podcast, how many of the people you’ve spoken with have talked about that year as an inflection year, make a big change here make a lot of big changes here. It was for me too. So I’ve been working on my own. And like, a lot of us maybe started reaching out to people, and had people reaching out to me just to reconnect, just to fill the days in a lot of sense, in a lot of respects. And so I got reconnected with this partner, migrant guy named Jared Blake, who was actually a got an EDD at Harvard and, and just remember, like, Oh, I love love this guy, like, this is just a nice guy to be around and to work with. And over the first few months and locked down, we just started saying, well, maybe we could do this better together, maybe we could, you know, you know this as an independent consultant, you have no leverage. And so you’re just trading days for dollars. And, and that’s a hard way to retire. And so we’re, you know, we’re getting old enough for it. So it would be nice to at least see a glide path to retirement. And so we thought, well, if we could do this together, we could bid on bigger projects, we could maybe take on more stuff, we could build out a network and so forth. And so that’s what we started doing. And I think it was about a year into COVID, that we actually formalized it created an entity and started going to market together. So we serve a lot of, you know, we eat still because we’re in this transition phase still, each of us is still working somewhat independently, but we also then try to go to market as much as possible together. And but you know, between us, we work with a lot of well known brands, excuse me, probably the best known. Sorry. Probably the best known client that we serve together is Nike. We’ll be going up to Beaverton here in just a couple of weeks again, and that’s that’s fun. We, between us, you know, we’ve got a lot of well known brands and and then we both do some teaching for a couple of different schools. So we both still do some teaching for our mutual former employer do corporate education. We both do some teaching at the Texas a&m executive ed program. So stay pretty busy. And like I said, a lot of what we get used for teaching but there’s a certain amount of individual coaching and we both do a little bit of, I would say more advisory style work or around issues of leadership development, coaching, and advising clients on how to structure their internal approaches to that stuff.

 

Will Bachman  35:10

And if listeners want to find your firm online, where would they go?

 

Tom Hughes  35:15

www dot Appian leadership.com. So Appian as in the Appian. way a PP i A n leadership.com.

 

Will Bachman  35:25

I’d like to turn back to college and your Yeah. You already talked about an important aspects of that that shaped your post college life. Any courses or professors that you had at Harvard that have continued to resonate with you?

 

Tom Hughes  35:45

Yeah, so the first one was the biochar, the organic chemistry TF I worked with, who was honest enough to tell me this was not for me. I mean, I knew I was, I knew I wasn’t doing great in the class. And I just went to him one day, and I said, Look, here’s what I was hoping to do. Can I do it? And he said, Well, it all comes down to whether you want to run your own lab someday. If you want to lead a lab. No, you’re just not a good enough chemist. If you’re happy to work in somebody else’s lab, you’re fine. But you know, I gotta be honest with you. And I mean, I was I was doing not great. And so I appreciated his forthrightness on that one. And it just freed me up to say, Okay, well, good. What else could I do that I didn’t join might be good. I took a class from a guy named Joe Harris on Norse mythology who was into so one of the things that happened is I had a roommate, who was a folk and myth concentrator. And he was telling me about his classes. That sounds awesome. I mean, every class you’re describing sounds fantastic. And, and so I picked up a minor concentration and folk in myth, kind of late in the process, which made senior year really crazy because I had to, I actually had to write a junior paper my senior year in order to complete my Falcon Miss minor. But this guy, Joe Harris taught a great great class on Norse mythology. And there are two things, two or three things I loved about one was, this is where I met the TF I was mentioning earlier, a guy named Mark Nevins who’s just been a delightful person to have in my life. Joe was fascinating. He’s one of these professors who, you know, if you were coaching him on his presentation skills, you’d say, Joe, this is not good. Like, you got to look up from your notes once in a while. But he was so smart and so capable. And to me that the material was so fascinating. And I was getting old enough that I thought, I guess I was learning that you got to shape some things for yourself. So after class one day, I just walked up and I said, Do you need a research assistant? And he said, oh, oh, yeah, actually, I do. And he basically hired me on the spot. And so I got to see, you know, a little bit of the behind the curtain work of what it is to be a research academic. And some of it was interesting, and some of it wasn’t. But one of the big perks that came out of it, though, was I got a faculty library card, which I could take out books for an entire semester. And in fact, it might have been all year I came anyway, what and what that meant was because things were moving so slowly on my senior thesis, I didn’t have to go back to the library over and over again, I took up a mountain of books. I mean, I wished I had one of those little red wagons, I took a mountain of books, stuck them on my shelf, and nobody bothered me about keeping them all semester altered. So that was an iceberg. And Joe was a lovely guy. And it was it was it was the perfect job at the time. And I really loved that course. I also got to take I got really lucky and I got accepted into a graduate seminar with Barbara wall ski. So I was a I was just I guess I was a senior, and I was the only undergrad in the class. So these were all first and second year students in English in graduate studies for English. And it was interesting, too. I mean, again, I know I’m sure many of our classmates had similar experiences. But it was just an interesting opportunity to sit there and see like, Oh, this is what being an English grad student would be like. And Barbara walski was a genius. Brilliant. Very challenging, very rigorous, very no nonsense. And we all had to prepare something to present every week. Not you know, there were about eight of us maybe in the seminar. And everybody had to prepare something for every week. And then she would sort of randomly call on two or three people to present. So sometimes you felt like, you know, it was sort of like Russian roulette, I can, I can tempt fate and not prepare, but I might get called. And so that was interesting. But it was also one of those moments when you realize just how incredibly lucky you were. My dad, Dean was professor. I told him I was working with this woman, and he’s like, Wait, BB Lu V. Barbara wellsky, I think, I guess so. Doesn’t seem like a name. Everybody’s got and, and he. And he told me. A week later, I was speaking to him. And he said, I was telling one of my colleagues who you’re working with, and he almost fell on the floor. He’s like, I teach her stuff in my class every year, and your son is sitting in a room with her. He’s had more exposure to her in six weeks than I’ve had in my entire career. I would give anything for this opportunity. And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I think I lost track of what a rarefied and amazing experience we got. We got to have.

 

Will Bachman  41:18

You told me that when you were talking to your dad about many suggests you go to law school. He said, No, I don’t want to go to law school. I worked for a lawyer. How did that come about?

 

Tom Hughes  41:30

We had an attorney who lived across the street from us, and he hired me to work in his office. And, you know, will this was another crazy experience where he was his biggest contract was with the county we lived in as a public defender. And I got to see firsthand, the egregious under representation people get when they are being publicly defended. The state’s attorney had this massive amount of but I mean, the the big issue was the relative size of the war chest for the state’s attorney versus the public defenders. And I hear I’m a college undergraduate, and I’m writing briefs. What do I know? I haven’t gone to law school. I don’t know what the rules are. He gave me his accounts for getting into Westlaw, so that I could look up cases and I was writing briefs. I helped brief a capital murder case as an undergrad was an L. One. We were his big team. And and this is absolutely a travesty that we’ve got a whole team coming in to try to convict this guy of a crime that even one of the witnesses said, I don’t think he did. Like I mean, his own girlfriend like it was I won’t get into all the details. It was outrageous that this guy was up for capital murder. And even more outrageous that, that an undergrad was doing a good chunk of the of the brief writing to get this to get to just feel this guy a reasonable defense. Quite aside from whether he did it or not, I mean, like, it’s just it’s, it’s, it just violates the core presumption of fairness in the legal system. And so I found that super disenchanting, and and then I talked to other attorneys in the course of doing that job, some of whom were kind of corporate lawyers and people who did various things. And I thought, the idea of just sitting behind a desk and reading cases and reading briefs and writing briefs, it doesn’t sound fun to me. The only part that actually sounds fun is the litigating. And I don’t know that I can live with that. So that’s how that happened.

 

Will Bachman  44:07

Have you? You talked about your theater involvement, post your professional? Acting? Yeah. What about attending the theater? Has that been a big part of your life? You mentioned that you were used to go to Utah Shakespeare Festival as a, you know, as a kid. What about attending theater?

 

Tom Hughes  44:29

Yes, still a big theater fan. I heard you say you you went to Stratford a while ago. So, you know, my wife and I, we were just at the theater the other night and still love to go, you know? In fact, I think I heard you asking one of your other guests about this. Like, who was one of the show runners I think about do you watch TV differently when you’re in the business? I definitely watch theater differently having having had my toe in the business Um, and it’s you know, there. Once you know the inner workings you realize there are just so many ways to go wrong. And so you watch it with a much more critical eye. And it’s very hard not to because, at least for me, it’s hard not to. So I have to say, I’m not sure I’m a bigger theater fan than I used to be. On the other hand, I also appreciate a good play way more than I used to. Because when you recognize all the things that they’re doing, right, that are not obvious to the, to someone who hasn’t been on a stage. You recognize the craftsmanship in much more detail than before you’ve been there. So it’s good and bad. But yeah, we still definitely are theater goers. And I live in Utah again now. So we still go to Utah Shakespeare Festival and trying to find a fun trying to find some time to get to ask one in Toronto and other great places, obviously, want to go to Stratford.

 

Will Bachman  46:01

You’ve recreated Shakespeare Festival. I’ve looked at it and thought about flying out. Yeah, it’s,

 

Tom Hughes  46:07

it’s great. It’s really great. You know, it’s like every festival or every season, there are some great ones and every season there are a couple you wish you hadn’t gone to but it’s, it’s as a theatre festival where you’re gonna go and spend a few days and see six 810 shows. I think it’s as good as any festival I’ve ever seen. Okay, this beautiful setting Southern Utah Red Rocks. You’re just an hour from Zion Canyon. It’s like it’s beautiful.

 

Will Bachman  46:38

All right, got a word in there for that Utah Shakespeare Festival. I included a link to that in the show notes. Yeah, and it looks like they have a good series of productions. So that’s an encouragement to head out there for it. Tom. That’s right. It’s been so great speaking with you. Thank you for being on the show.

 

Tom Hughes  46:58

My pleasure. Well, I’ve really enjoyed what you’re doing. It’s so thank you for doing it.