The PRSA Foundation announced in March that Lenovo’s Chief Communications Officer Torod Neptune would be the 2019 Paladin Award Honoree. The honor goes to one communication professional every year who has made a “significant and measurable impact on the advancement of Diversity and Inclusion in the public relations sector”.
During the evening, Torod gave a speech emphasizing how nobody truly accomplishes anything “on their own”, which is why he felt so reluctant to accept the spotlight. However, he appreciates the opportunity to motivate further change in the industry, and emphasized the importance of not just talking about D&I, but making real decisions and changes to advance the industry in the right direction.
Joe Cohen: Just to speak to Tarod’s humility, he was reluctant to accept this reward. Barbie Siegel from Zeno Group, Judith Harrison from Weber, they could tell you we almost had to stage an intervention to get him to accept this award. But he did, and he’s here tonight, and I just want to tell Torod: there’s no one more deserving than you to have this honor. We’re so thrilled to have you here speaking to us tonight. And we’re privileged to recognize you as our 2019 Paladin honoree.
Torod Neptune: OK. All right thank you. So I’m going to say a few brief things, and so the last point from Joe is true, for those of you who know me I really don’t like these kinds of things and I don’t often like to be the center of attention. But I thought about that out of the last couple of days. The pressure started with Judith Harrison and then to Joe and he mentioned Barbie was a part of that as well. But as I thought about what really I’m—and I’m only going to make two very very quick points because I want you from this unbelievable panel that has great things to share tonight—It I think has been from my upbringing most of you who know me knew I grew up in the south a very economically depressed area.
My family grew up without a lot. And so I was very conscious very very early on in my life that I was different and that life may not give me the hand that I was entitled to or should have been entitled to but I was taught by my mother, who’s probably had the most significant impact on my life, that you work hard and you prove yourself worthy even if you’re not given the opportunity. So when you grow up being familiar with injustice, treating people fairly becomes more important to you but you also become aware that your success is never your own, and where you have gotten is never a reflection of what you have done by yourself. And so for me I think you know these are great, these kinds of things. But I know the map of my life has been driven more by other people who have influenced me, my faith God has done that—for me for some reason I’ve been chosen. I’ve been blessed, but it’s not anything that I’ve done, the people who have enriched my life are just as much responsible for me being here tonight and so that really was what I became to be much more clear about that was behind this reluctance for it to be me because it’s not me. You meet many of these, again my family, some of my former co-workers who were here on my team today are people who I think are much smarter than me, they work better than me, they do greater things than me. I benefit, though I benefit from being experienced and being exposed to them, and that I think is something that’s very critical.
And then the other thing I think that’s really important back from my childhood and one of the things my mother also believed and she went on from our state in life to do unbelievable things. My siblings and I went from there to Duke to Harvard Medical School to Harvard Business School to Princeton. And I’ve done unbelievable things but it wore that core view that she taught us that it is always a community. You have done nothing in and of yourself to deserve where you are. It has been done for you. And so I want to say thank you to all of you tonight. Whether you know me or whatever part you played in my life, you mean something, and you are just as much deserving of this award as I am. And so thank you, for what you mean for me.
The last thing, which is really just as important, the other problem I have sometimes, particularly as it relates to this topic (D&I)— I do believe we talk about it too much. And I am really one of those people again, I am passionate about the cause, I am passionate about what we need to do. But I get concerned when we talk so much about things as opposed to doing something and that really is my challenge for all of us tonight because I think the downside of talking about things too much as you can lull yourself into believing that you’re making progress, that activity that discussion that headlines that people who deliver the words actually reflect something that is happening and that to be quite honest and I can say this with authority from even where I sit today, more so as a global CEO who travels around the world and sees the real power of diverse teams and diverse perspectives and diverse people: that action matters more.
And this is what I think we’ve got to bring back to this debate. There’s some unbelievable progress that’s been made but I think most of it has been made by quiet leadership decisions that have been made in courage and it’s been made by people who’ve decided “for what I control and what I influence I will do it myself. I’m not going to wait for the system. I’m not going wait for the organization I’m not gonna wait for my boss if I’ve got the power I will take it.” And I think that for me is what I believe in my role.
The roles I’ve had back to this view that I’ve been placed where I am for a reason to do something much greater than myself. If you’ve got the power I believe you’ve got to use it. And that was really the decision that was referenced about the decision we made at Lenovo about 18 months ago as a brand to decide okay. There’s a lot of talk going on but we want to join the group of organizations that are saying we’re going to put our rubber and put our mettle where it matters. And that was this decision to say “if you want to work with us, worked for us, if you want part of that 60 some odd million dollars you’ve got to prove to us that D&I matters. Mot that you can talk a good game but that the stats and the data reflect real progress, real momentum.”
And so that’s why you heard we work with Zeno today and Barbie, who I think also shares the same view. But it’s about doing something. And so my challenge for all of us in leaving tonight is to think about, regardless of where you’re at in an organization hierarchy what it regards of the role that you play to make the decision about what you can do and share with me what I like to refer to as this fierce urgency of now. There is only a few moments that we have, I think if we’re going to establish real relevancy for our function and our discipline, if we’re going to continue to see the roles we play be valued highly valued in organizations. We’ve got to decide to do something collectively, but more importantly, individually and realize that as a community we have to do this together.
The last example I’ll make I had a former boss who was a CEO of a very successful company and he was unbelievably beneficial to me in terms of my growth and development. But he used to always say the one thing in terms of you know assignments roles challenges he’d say “Torod fix it.” And what he meant by fix it was: you’re at around this table, you’re on this team this is a problem. You own the accountability for it fixed it. And you know he also meant: if you can’t fix it you don’t belong around this table. And I can think of very few things that my team today are that I in terms of my personal expectation would share accountability for if I’m not able to fix it in a year or two then I would probably say I’m not the right person for the job. And I think that’s back to this leadership and courage that some of us have got to have who are in leadership roles.
There’s progress being made but I think the last mile of this is going to boil down to those of us who have the power and the authority deciding I will show you. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to be on a panel. I don’t want to have a discussion. I will show you look at what I do not what I say.
And so I’m very happy about the panel again and so many of them I’ve known from interns who work with me when they were much younger, and I was much younger as well. But I shared the same view. I have a list of 15 to 25 diverse talent that I want to recruit. I’ve had it for over two years and they are people who in my mind if I have the job in the role I want them and outreach networking contact visibility that kind of what can you control that says nothing about my organization where I was working and what my boss allowed me to do that’s me saying for what I control I will do it and I will make the hard decisions and that’s my challenge for all of you all
So again thank thank you. Thank you all for what you have been for me to help me get to where I am. Thank you for your commitment to this and more importantly let’s decide to do something tonight when we leave whether it’s one thing insignificant or not to do something. To own it because it boils down to leadership and courage. Thank you all very much.