Anyone who is familiar with Jellyvision Lab’s work knows that the company has been an innovator in human-machine interface since 1995, plugging out such interactive hits as “You Don’t Know Jack” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”
But there is another way that Jellyvision has been an innovator, largely thanks to company president Amanda Lannert’s efforts: its culture.
Lannert was named one of 2010 Smart Leader honorees by Smart Business and U.S. Bank. We asked her how she overcomes challenges, innovates and gives back to the community.
Give us an example of a business challenge you and/or your organization faced, as well as how you overcame it.
In 2000, a few months after I joined the company as director of marketing, the company was headed toward a steep cliff. The company’s core business was in CD-ROM games and despite a very successful run with interactive hits like You Don’t Know Jack” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” the CD-ROM market itself was dying.
Even though I was the most junior executive in the company, I prevailed on the rest of the team to be clear-eyed about the gravity of the situation and begin the process of laying off employees in order to keep the company alive — employees including myself.
As painful as this was, it allowed Harry Gottlieb, the CEO, to raise a little money and reconstitute the company, taking it in a new direction. In less than a year, I was rehired to the post of president. Nine years later, the company is thriving.
In what ways are you an innovative leader, and how does your organization employ innovation to be on the leading edge?
Jellyvision has always been fortunate to be staffed with extraordinarily creative, talented and decent people who’ve had the opportunity to work on interesting projects. But I’ve tried to take those ingredients and, like adding pectin to pie, bound them with daily delight. Institutionalized delight. It is fun to work at Jellyvision.
Of course, the work can be hard and frustrating at times, but even then, employees bask in the humor and fellowship of each other’s company. This inclination flows from the top, because I practice it and live it every single day. I make a point of praising in public.
When we lose our electricity every summer (thank you ComEd), I gather the entire company in a giant game of ‘Murder.’ No birthday passes without an e-mail to the company letting everyone know who to celebrate that day. On my birthday every year, I insist that all the men in the company ‘honor’ me by growing out their facial hair the month before and come to work that day in a mustache.
And I try to make sure Jellyvision’s clients ‘feel the love.’ My goal is for everyone at Jellyvision to understand that being fun and easy to work with, being empathic and grateful, is a fundamental reason why our clients keep coming back for more.
How do you make a significant impact on the community and regional economy?
For the legions of Chicago improv artists and comedians who are waiting tables and filling temp jobs to make ends meet, Jellyvision provides hope: There is a place on the shore of Lake Michigan where they can ply their talents, actually get a real salary, medical insurance and a 401(k) plan and, as a bonus, be treated with endless respect. Do you have any idea how much creative ability is given birth in this city? Go to Los Angeles, more than half the people there with real talent come from Chicago. Jellyvision contributes to the second city, by hiring some of our best and brightest and keeping them away from ‘the great sucking sounds’ of the East and West Coasts. Moreover, I have served on the board of directors of the Chicago Improv Festival and was a mentor to startups in Chicago’s accelerator program, Excelerate.
How to reach: The Jellyvision Lab, www.jellyvision.com