Former Bleacher Report CEO Brian Grey is no stranger when it comes to game plans. But lesson plans? That’s a new field he’s now tackling as CEO of Remind, a San Francisco-based education company whose mission is to improve education by better connecting teachers, students and parents.
As part of EdSurge’s new Q & A series “New Gig Hotseat,” where we look at who’s working where in the never-ending career shuffle at companies, schools and other education organizations, we asked Brian to tell us a bit about his past and present leadership roles, his plans for Remind, and how he would change the education landscape if given the chance. Here’s what he said:
EdSurge: Let’s talk about your “ed-cred.” What’s been your involvement in education in the past? (Sorry, simply having been a student doesn’t count!)
Grey: My connection to education goes back pretty far, actually. Both of my parents were public school teachers, my dad teaching and coaching at the high school level for more than 30 years, and my mom teaching Kindergarten for 25 years. My younger sister is currently a 7th grade teacher outside of Portland, Ore. and has been teaching for more than 20 years. On a more personal level, I have two teenage daughters and I served for 6 years on the board of their K8 school, San Francisco Friends School. And finally, I've taught graduate school courses related to media and business, and am currently a lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
What did you love about your last job? What did you hate?
I've always loved working in environments where the team is striving to help advance an industry by building something new or different. In my previous role as CEO of Bleacher Report, we created a new content publishing brand that sports fans loved, and we did it in a competitive space dominated by major media companies like ESPN, FOX Sports and Comcast/NBC Universal. I really loved leading the B/R team and working with all of our team members to take on the daily challenges that inspired us to achieve something truly transformational in the sports media world.
I honestly can't think of anything I hated about my last job. For me, when you are creating an experience that so many people truly love to consume as customers, and that so many team members love to create as employees, you can't ask for more than that professionally.
If people at your last gig gave you a nickname, what would it be and why?
Wow, that's a tough question. I find that I have a propensity to give out nicknames. Maybe it's the former baseball player in me—that's a common dynamic among baseball players. I guess the closest to a nickname would be the fact that most people tend to refer to me as "bgrey," but that's likely a remnant of the fact that as long as email has been around, my email address has always started as bgrey@. I wish I had something more exciting to share with you here!
What got you interested in Remind? Why did you decide to take on this role?
After my last CEO role, I very quickly decided that if I were to take on the responsibility that this role entails, I would only do it in the two industries that I feel can have the most direct impact on people's lives: health and education. When the folks at Remind contacted me about the opportunity to lead the company on its future path, a couple things drew me to the opportunity.
First, given the personal connection I have to education through my family, I really connected with Brett [Kopf, co-founder of Remind]'s childhood story growing up as a student who struggled with learning differences, but who was able to overcome those challenges largely because he had a teacher who made a huge impact in his learning path. The vision that we have at Remind to give every student an opportunity to succeed embodies the fact that we want Remind to help connect every teacher, student and parent to create a similar experience for every student in the United States.
Second, I was also drawn to Remind by the potential we have to really help transform education from the bottom up. The notion of connecting the entire learning graph of teachers, students, parents and administrators via a communications-led network mirrors much of what we are seeing transform my old world of media. The opportunity to then be the trusted brand that every stakeholder turns to in education to facilitate the collaboration and delivery of learning services that will ultimately give every student an opportunity to succeed was like no other opportunity I had seen.
What’s the most important thing for a new CEO to do in the first 100 days?
First, making sure I spend time listening and learning as much as I can about Remind and the broader education industry. On the former, that means meeting with every team member at Remind and hearing what's on their mind and how they see the future for the company. For the latter, that means visiting schools and teachers, and meeting with leaders from other education companies to better understand how Remind can continue to create an impactful presence for teachers, students, parents and administrators.
Next, it's important to bring the company together around a "plan" of who we are, what we see as our goals and how we plan to go forward to create the impactful brand and business. That starts with clearly defining our vision, mission and values, and then taking advantage of every team member to help define our goals, strategies and detailed roadmaps. This will enable Remind to become the communication-led learning platform where people collaborate around a student's learning and where vital educational services are delivered to teachers, students, parents and schools when, where and how they need them.
If you could wave a wand and change one thing about the U.S. education system, what would it be?
I would hope that every student could have that one educator who makes a difference in their personal learning journey. Brett was fortunate to have Ms. Whitefield in Skokie, Ill., but I'd like to see how Remind can be a part of helping connect every student to their "Ms. Whitefield" as they travel along their personal learning journey. I guess the change here would be to see the broader education ecosystem supporting tools that foster deeper communication and collaboration amongst teachers, students and parents.
Since we're talking Remind, what daily or weekly reminders do you live your life by?
You mean the ones that don't come directly from my wife and two daughters, right? Well, I have become quite adept at using Remind as part of my daily communication experiences with team members as a way to emulate the experiences that teachers have with their classes. As a CEO, I rely on the important weekly one-on-one’s I have with my team and the twice weekly sessions that we have as an executive team to discuss the most critical aspects of our strategic plan, how we are delivering against our business goals, and, most importantly, how we are delivering on our vision to give every student an opportunity to succeed. In terms of daily reminders, for me, it's always about the team and I always go back to what John Wooden said: "It's amazing what a team can achieve when nobody cares who gets the credit.”