Business News

I Can See Clearly Now

By Glyn S. Williams, CEO, Skies Above Media

Sometimes a person’s life can change completely in 7-word increments.

Last week we launched the rebrand of Mahlmann Media (MMI) to Skies Above Media, which has been two and a half years in the making and was driven by two moments that were 7 words apiece.

It rained nearly every day in LA in January 2019. The gloomy vibe that comes with such rain can be comforting in limited doses, but after a few days most of us were over it. And it was early in that month of the new year that I heard the first set of 7 words that would change my life (and only add to the gloom in the air): “Glyn, we have to let you go.” I would be without a job for the first time in nearly 20 years, and I was terrified. For the next couple weeks, I cycled through all the stages of grief every day in about 30-minute increments while I finished out my service.

On my last day of work, I woke up to pouring rain—again. I dragged myself into the office and packed up what was left of my things, dreading having to navigate my way home through LA’s awful traffic when it rains. But something strange happened when I pulled out of my office building’s garage. The clouds had cleared, and I saw blue skies above me. I cracked a bit of a smile as I usually do when it’s sunny. But then I turned on my Spotify playlist, and the first song that came on was Jimmy Cliff telling me everything was going to be OK. “I can see clearly now; the rain is gone. I can see all the obstacles in my way…” I started laughing and said, “OK. That’s done. What’s next?”

I Can See Clearly Now

The next day I got on a plane with my girlfriend, Kathryn, to Puerto Vallarta for a long weekend (when you don’t have a job, aren’t all weekends long ones?). I plotted my course while sitting on a sunny beach. I meditated and asked myself, if I could look up and do anything, with no ceiling above me, what would I do next? Where would I go? What’s out there for me to go do?

A few months later, in April 2019, I joined MMI as chief revenue officer. When I came to MMI, I saw a company clouded in its own nots and knots. A storied company that had lost both the wind in its sails and its rudder after Richard Mahlmann passed away just a few months prior. The company culture had drifted into a spirit of saying cannot more than canWill not more than will. And it was tangled up in its own knots that needed to be unspooled and tied back together again. Not through lack of effort, talent, partnerships, or product. Those were there, I assure you. What was missing was a sense of purpose. A vision for Better. A renewed spirit of Can. If we removed the ceiling above MMI, what could we do? What company could we be? And how would we get there?

Untying the Knots

The next 7 words that would change my life came in February 2020, when Sue Mahlmann, then CEO of MMI, said to me, “I think you should buy my company.” In that moment, I did what many people instinctively do—I put the ceiling back above my head. I allowed those nots and knots to cloud my vision. “I can’t buy a billboard company!”

I came home and told Kathryn, now my fiancée, about the conversation while we walked on the beach near our home in Playa del Rey. She called me out on my ceiling. “Why not?  Kathryn said. “Sure, you can. Do you want to?” I stopped walking, looked up at the blue skies above me, and said, “Well, yeah, that’s true. I can. And if I feel that I can, then I should try.”

Trust the Process

I started the process that has always worked for me throughout my career. Minimize the nots, take deep breaths, and work through the knots that tangle all of us up. Stay present. Ask the right questions. The obstacle is the way. Surround myself with smart people. Keep faith in the ability to solve problems through collaboration and my deep sense of purpose. And keep a persevering focus on the blue skies above me.

At the end of March—nearly six months ago—about 50 feet from that same beach in Playa del Rey, I signed the paperwork to become the owner of Mahlmann Media. The next day I woke up and said, “OK. That’s done. Now let’s move this company forward.” What’s moving us forward is a reinvigorated sense of purpose. We’ve unraveled our knots and moved from a spirit of Cannot to Can, which is the same sense of aspiration that out-of-home (OOH) media itself carries.

Look Up with a Sense of Purpose

I’ve been a believer in OOH as a way for advertisers to tower above other media since the first time I was able to contribute to making a client say “Wow.” The media itself has changed greatly since I first joined the industry in 2002, but it’s become more aspirational than ever thanks to so many others taking on that spirit of wonder. We enable advertisers to connect with their consumers in the real world, across all their senses. Our work makes people look up to see and feel—it makes them think, smile, and respond with intention toward human interaction. We continue to carry that same sense of purpose, making people look up—to the Skies Above.

I’m excited for the next chapter. At Skies Above Media, we are all looking up … and we’re just getting started.

See article on Billboard Insider.

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