20 for 20: A Q&A with Daniel Tisch

Argyle CEO Daniel Tisch joined the firm 20 years ago this month, initially serving as our Executive Vice President before taking over as CEO in 2003, and majority owner a few years later. He has led the firm from a 10-person boutique with $1 million in revenue to more than 120 people in seven offices, consulting fee revenue of more than $21 million and total revenue of $32.5 million.

Inspired by the famous Proust questionnaire, we asked Dan 20 questions to mark his 20th anniversary at Argyle.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness at work?

The Argyle team is on an extraordinary adventure, and I am profoundly grateful that in 20 years I’ve never had one day when I did not look forward to walking through the office door – in any city.

The moments of greatest professional happiness have surely been at our Argyle retreats. It’s always special because we are all in one place, at one time – a rare common stop in our shared journey. We dream a bit, and celebrate a lot.

2. What is your greatest fear at work?

It sounds so basic, but it’s not being able to be there when someone needs me. I worry that people will think I’m too busy – and don’t realize that I will always make time for a colleague or client who needs help with a challenge.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

When I don’t think something (or someone) has been fair, I have trouble getting past it – even when logic suggests it’s worth letting it go!

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Selfishness. I have no time for prima donnas.

5. Which living person do you most admire?

I admire my parents. When I was very young, they arrived in Canada with very little and accomplished a lot – without fame or fanfare. My father quietly became one of the country’s leading architects. My mother was a public health activist and volunteer for many good causes. I learned a lot from their example.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

I love travelling and spend almost every vacation abroad. I’m up to 65 countries visited so far, about 30 on business, and many more for pleasure.

7. What is your current state of mind?

The first word that jumps to mind is grateful. It is a rare privilege to do something you love, with people you love.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Tough question. I would say virtues need to be balanced and integrated with one another, particularly when communication is involved: for example, loyalty can be awful without honesty – such as, counselling a colleague, client, friend or loved one that they are about to make a serious mistake. Similarly, empathy without compassion can make you wiser, but not necessarily lead to make a difference in anyone else’s life.

9. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My wife, Kerri Sakamoto, for her unique combination of intellect, curiosity, compassion, humility and goofy humor. And the joys of my life are my two boys, Eric and Mateo.

10. When and where were you happiest?

Personally, probably playing tennis or at a sporting event with my boys, or in a foreign city with Kerri. Professionally, I’m never happier than when I’m involved in a passionate presentation, thoughtful conversation or creative strategy session.

11. Which talent would you most like to have?

I am an atrocious singer and bumbling guitarist. I’d love to be competent enough to play and sing Born to Run without making anyone want to run away.

12. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’d sweat the small stuff a little less, and play the guitar a little more. And get more sleep.

13. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Personally, my greatest achievement is raising two boys into people I admire. Professionally, I’m incredibly proud of the Argyle team’s impact on the way organizations engage their stakeholders and communities, communicating truth and earning trust, leading to better decisions, more reputable businesses and brands, and a healthier, more sustainable society.

14. What is your favorite occupation?

That’s easy: public relations – defined the way it should be as the strategic management function of building mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics. Communication is both a business imperative and a social good – and never more so than at a time when disinformation and distrust threaten social cohesion. Change depends on communicators leading the way.

15. What is your most marked characteristic?

People usually tell me it’s my energy.

16. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

An uber-talented coach who could lead Toronto FC, the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jays and the Raptors to championships – and Uruguay to the World Cup!

17. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

I believe the two greatest leaders of the last century were Winston Churchill and Nelson Mandela. Each represents something I admire deeply. Churchill risked his reputation to sound the alarm about Nazism, and when given the chance, used the power of communication and persuasion to turn the tide against a monstrous evil. Mandela was willing to die for his beliefs, and even after 26 years in prison had the wisdom and courage to renounce violence to give his people a chance for peace, truth and reconciliation.

18. Who are your heroes in real life?

Perhaps because two of my great-grandparents were killed in the Holocaust, I admire people who have stood up for justice even when it was hard or dangerous – such as dissidents living under repressive regimes. I also admire people who have overcome long odds and succeeded. And finally, some of my heroes are those who have used their fame, fortune or talent to make the world better – artists, musicians, philanthropists and leaders.

19. What is your greatest regret?

I try to avoid thinking about regrets because success does not come without failure. I’ve taken some wrong turns – educational and career decisions, business investments, even relationships – but I’m stronger because I’ve always found something to learn from them.

20. What is your motto/mantra?

Think critically but not cynically. The world needs more critical thinkers, and fewer cynics.

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