Ep. 211: Dr. Douglas Clayton - Documenting Great Leadership with the FilmDoc

December 12, 2022 | 37 Minutes

The award-winning documentarian behind the short films Dovere for Camden and The Heart of Camden and former human resources executive joins us to discuss his unique journey from making crowd-pleasing HR videos for a satellite company, to researching leadership at Wharton for his Ph.D., to advising C-suite executives through the lens of filmmaking.

Connect with Douglas: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dr-douglas-clayton-414a785/
Learn more about FilmDoc: https://thefilmdoc.com/
Heart of Camden Trailer: https://vimeo.com/439742490
Dovere of Camden Trailer: https://vimeo.com/327729693

Full Episode Transcript:
[00:00:00]       < Intro >
Adam:            Welcome to Count Me In, the podcast for accounting and finance pros working in business. I'm Adam Larson, and today we examine leadership from a different angle, with Douglas Clayton, affectionately known as the FilmDoc. 
Neha Ratnakar caught up with him to discuss his journey from making crowd-pleasing HR videos for a satellite company, to researching leadership at Wharton for his PhD. To advising C-suite executives through the lens of filmmaking. There's links to the trailers for the award-winning documentaries in the show notes. So be sure to check them out if you're interested. Now sit back and enjoy this great conversation with Douglas Clayton.
[00:00:43]       < Music >
Neha:              I was going through your profile and it fascinated me, among many other things, by the way, that you had a very long and interesting career in SES satellites. Tell us how was it working with actual rocket scientists and what lessons did your time in SES teach you?
Douglas:         That's a great question. There are a couple of really fun elements of working with rocket scientists. One of them is when I go to family dinners, or parties, or functions, and people say, "What do you do?" I get to say that I work with rocket scientists, and that's an instant attention grabber. 
But certainly much more substantial than that is just working with folks who are so smart. And most of the engineers and scientists who I've had the pleasure of working with are modest folks. They don't have big egos, they work really hard, they love to figure out problems. They actually love to have problems so they can have something to figure out. So I've always enjoyed it. Always considered it a great privilege to work with people who are so smart and, in many ways, so very kind as well.
In terms of, "What was it like to work at SES?" It was a lovely experience, life-changing experience, I'll say, actually. The way I ended up working at SES is I worked for GE Capital for many years. Then I ended up transferring to their satellite business, which was headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. And three months later, we were sold to a tiny company called SES, in the tiny country of Luxembourg. 
Now, you can maybe imagine going from working for this giant company being acquired by a small company. We all had choices to stay, or to maybe move on with our careers, or to stay with SES. And the best decision that I made, career decision, was to stay with SES, and the reason is because, at that point, I was an HR manager, or also known as a generalist.
And what we discovered is that as an HR person, and then eventually as a leader, our decisions really mattered when you worked for a small company. Where when we worked for GE we were often in execution mode. 
So then to move from a big company where the big decisions were being made in Connecticut. To a small company where they were relying on us in Princeton to help guide the corporate office in Luxembourg, which, again, it was a very small company. 
It really mattered and it helped to develop our confidence. And then as I evolved in terms of leadership and the company moving up in the organization, that happened more rapidly because of the size of the company than it would have happened with GE. 
Working for a company that's headquartered in Europe was a real game changer, as well. Because I needed to put on a different hat and look at work and look at the world through a different lens, not just an American lens, which was fine. But, now, I really needed to understand, "Hey, how do we do leadership? 
How do our accountants and finance people, how do they need to work together from Europe, between Europe and the U.S.? 
How do our rocket scientists work together? 
How do we merge these two cultures? Very different country cultures and company cultures?" So it was quite a learning experience, for me, something that I could have never gained at GE, in the position that I was in, and it's something that I would've never gained just through university.
Neha:              That's so fascinating, and I'm glad you made the switch and stayed on. All right, I loved what you said about having problems to solve, actually loving the fact that you have problems to solve. Now, tell me when Covid-19 hit, it must have been very difficult for SES. Because satellite making or maintaining them is not something that you can take back home with your laptop and do it from your dining table. So how did the leaders, and the people teams, in SES make this new reality work?
Douglas:         It was extraordinary, what happened. I had a front-row seat because I was part of a task force, the Covid task force, and we would meet weekly, and I was on that team for several months and until I retired. But watching the team, which was led by our human resources leader, Evie Roos, at the time. 
It was extraordinary, the decisions that they were making and the stakes were so high. Part of our satellite business is, certainly, working with space engineers, and satellite engineers, and rocket scientists. But we also have, just as important, dynamite teams of people who actually operate. And I'll say quote-unquote, "Fly our satellites." They work 24/7.
And, so, what were we going to do with them? So certainly we allowed, I'll say 95% of the organization to work from home, or the vast majority, and that was a whole another challenge and project.
But then we have this other group of people where we can't allow them to work from home. We really needed them to come into the office. To sit at the monitors and to take care of that part of our very important, essential, part of our business. And, so, it was really around listening, and listening to what people recommended. Listening to the experts in the field. Listening to the supervisors and the employees, and just making decisions based on what was best for them. 
So, for instance, the folks who were our satellite operators, who had to come into the office every day, we had meals delivered to them. It was an extremely sterile environment. 
If there was anyone who was near someone who had Covid, then, that person needed to quarantine. It was very strict because you can imagine potential disaster of having a team of people, who can no longer come into the office to fly satellites because Covid has spread through there. It was executed exceptionally, so that was just one area of our business. 
And, then, of course, there's the challenge of allowing the vast majority of our employees to work from home. And, so, how do you do that? What's needed? What's required in terms of laptops, and equipment, and chairs, and everything else that goes along with that. And, then, as a lot of companies discovered we also discovered that it was working quite well. 
Our platform for communications is Microsoft teams, and people discovered that they were working, in many cases, actually harder than when they were coming into the office because they were getting up early and they were just burning through the day, nonstop, into the evening. 
And, so, in terms of burnout, people feeling stressed, we had to be really careful about that. That people weren't working so incredibly hard that there would be mistakes, and that there would be illnesses and things along those lines. At the end of the day, the employees appreciated the great work done by this cross-functional task force. 
Which was led by our human resources leader and, certainly our CEO, Steve Collar, talked about it many times. How incredibly impressed he was with our leadership. But more so with our employees for stepping up and for keeping the business moving forward.
Neha:              Wow, thanks for sharing that with me. And that definitely has a potential to be a case study and maybe possibly a film one day. And talking about films I have to ask you this, about the documentary that you made, The Heart of Camden. What inspired you to make a documentary, while working as an HR professional at such a huge company?
Douglas:         Well, it began with my first documentary, which is called Dovere of Camden. And Dovere is an Italian word for duty or responsibility, and that was a 26-minute documentary that I made, well, for kicks, I just wanted to see if I could. What's the process, understand the process to make a film, to make a documentary, I should say. 
I'd made a few films before that for the corporate world, but which were parodies of mainstream films. And it was more for edutainment, I'll say. Educating people with an entertaining way. But then I wanted to make a film, a documentary, and there was this particular topic of an abandoned bar in one of the country's most impoverished cities, Camden, New Jersey. And there were two fellas who were involved with others, who raised this bar basically from the ashes and turned it into this city's only live theater, great.
And we were accepted into film festivals, we won a few awards. Which was quite a shock to me because when you make a film, what happens is you get so close to it that you tend to lose perspective if it's any good or not. But this apparently was appreciated by people. And the feedback we got from folks was that it was quite inspiring. 
People said, "It makes me think, 'How can I make a difference in my neighborhood if these two guys did this in Camden, New Jersey?'" So that really made me think, "Okay, maybe, I'll make another documentary." And sure enough, what happened is at the New Jersey Film Festival, where the film played. 
There were people in the audience from Camden, from an organization called The Heart of Camden. And about a year later, they reached out and they said, "We watched this film and we were wondering, 'Would you be interested in making another documentary?' This one on a Catholic priest named Father Michael Doyle. 
He's getting ready to retire, and his health is not great, and it's an incredible man who's done some amazing things. And, so, we'd like to document his story or the stories that he tells because he's a wonderful storyteller. He was born and raised in Ireland."
And, so, of course, I was thrilled and honored to be asked to do it, so I jumped at it. And, so, I said, "Look, there's more to this than just simply documenting Father Doyle's stories. Let's tell his story and let's tell the story of the Heart of Camden organization." And this all came from a wonderful couple named Ann and Mark Baiada and they own BAYADA. 
In fact, they're the founders of BAYADA Nursing, in the United States. And they were so inspired by Father Doyle that they're the folks who funded the film, and the idea of creating a film was their idea. So you could say they were the executive producers, if you will, wonderful people. 
And, so, we needed a budget and they paid for the film. I agreed to do it pro bono because both films I completed pro bono because it was just my desire to give back a little bit, if I could. But I used the money to hire a professional production organization, a film production company, called ArtC, out of South Jersey, which is founded by a fellow named Bill Horin. 
And they were able to really give the film a very clean, professional, lovely look, sound, everything. And then they relied on me maybe to help shape and craft the story behind it. So I was the producer/director of it, if you will. 
And, so, we created this film and it's a 44-minute documentary. That documents the journey of a fairly regular man, who did some extraordinary things to help improve a neighborhood, within a very impoverished city, again, Camden, New Jersey. We reached out to Martin Sheen, the famous actor, who narrated another film, that had to do with Father Doyle's poetry, called The Poet of Poverty
And he called me and he said, "I'm in." Which I was shocked, you can imagine my reaction to that. To hear from him, first of all, the fact that he responded to my letter, and he's such a wonderful guy to work with. He also did it pro bono and that was his contribution to give back. He's a wonderful human being. 
So we created this film and we were accepted into 16 film festivals. We won a number of awards, and just as, importantly, as the film festivals is, Ann Baiada had a vision of taking it to universities, which we did, and we would show the movie to faculty and to students.
And every single time, probably, a half a dozen colleges, folks, would volunteer to get involved to help The Heart of Camden organization, so the movies really had an impact. We were picked up by a distribution company, and that distribution company told us, recently, that there's a firm who would like to distribute it or, certainly, show it throughout the Middle East, of all places. It'll be translated into Arabic, and it's being picked up by other, I'll say, relatively, smaller companies that are niche-related, not like Netflix or the big ones, but smaller companies. 
But the movie is out there and people are watching it, and every time folks watch it, I'm always so pleased with their feedback about how inspired they are by Father Doyle. And his statement to just simply, “Do your bit.” So that's a little bit about the documentary.
Neha:              Well, that's such a huge feat and done entirely pro bono. On this podcast, we usually talk about finance-related topics, and I can only thank you for bringing another aspect through your story, today, because that's important too, the social aspect of doing great work.
Douglas:         Oh, sure thing. Yes, again, I worked for GE and it was GE Capital and everything was about finance. I mean, everything was about finance. And, so, I learned, at a very young age in the corporate world, that finance is absolutely essential. And there's the accounting function, which is critical. 
I mean, if those areas are not working, then companies can come to a screeching halt, and the integrity behind the Chief Financial Officer and the decisions that they have to make. Being a part of the leadership team for SES. Sitting, basically, at the table right next to our various CFOs, I saw, up close and personal, the pressure that they're under to make the right decisions. To tell the right story and accurate story, it's serious business.
Neha:              Thanks for acknowledging that, Doug. Now, my listeners will not forgive me if I don't ask you this, because you mentioned making parodies of films for entertainment purposes. Can you tell us more about that? And I remember you telling me about this huge experiment that you did, tell us more, please.
Douglas:         Oh, sure thing, yes, we had great fun. It really started when I was in the fourth grade, there was a sixth grade teacher named Mr. Mena, who was a new teacher. And he, instead of doing the annual class play, which was fun but kind of corny. He decided to make a movie and it was a parody on Robinhood, and it featured the children. 
And, so, they wrote the story, the kids in the class were playing Robinhood, et cetera, and we just went completely crazy. And I was probably about 10 years old when I watched that, and I never forgot it. So you fast-forward to my time in human resources after we were acquired by SES, and I decided to make a parody on The Godfather, The Godfather of Values. It was the company's pretty boring, stale company values, and we needed to promote them and to educate people.
So we did a parody on The Godfather, featuring employees and people loved it. They went crazy over it, and that was, literally, a zero-budget movie. And then we did another parody on Star Trek, Execution. And it was a story of our CEO, as a child, and how he became inspired to really embrace execution as a very important leadership competency featuring Captain Kirk and all of this other stuff. And then we stepped our game up. 
I was transferred to Luxembourg, in 2007, for a six-month assignment. And folks who saw The Godfather said, "Hey, can you make a movie over here?"
I said, "Absolutely." And then they gave us a budget. We had a 20,000-Euro budget, which was crazy. I felt like, "This is, probably, what Steven Spielberg is experiencing." It was major money to us, so we hired a production company, same thing. The employees wrote the story. It featured employees, it featured leaders and for our staff only, it was a James Bond parody. And it was to educate people, employees, on our job competencies that were being introduced to the company. 
And as I mentioned earlier, when you make a film, you're not sure if it's any good, you're just so close to it. You think, "Oh, it's probably not very good." They went completely crazy with this movie; I was shocked it was a blast. When we showed it, we had the executive staff, in Luxembourg, hand out popcorn and candy before the movies, and it just exploded, we handed out that. We had gifts for them, a DVD set in a professionally [Inaudible 00:19:20] box, and a little pen, which was an atomic pen that James Bond used in the movie, blah, blah, blah.
So, make a long story short, this is the first time that I saw a movie not just simply educate and entertain people, but people told me that that film began to change the culture in the Luxembourg office. It went from a place that was very structured, very hierarchical, to something that became more fun. And that's the first time that I thought, "Wow, the film can perhaps begin to change the culture and influence people at a little bit deeper level." And then we made a couple of more parodies after that. We did one on, and each time from an education standpoint, the film would evolve. 
We would experiment with different thing, like the most recent one that we made was a Mission Impossible parody, where Ethan Hunt is trying to find the person who stole the company's knowledge. Because it was about introducing knowledge management to the company.
What a boring topic? So we made this parody of a Mission Impossible
But what we did is there were three pivotal scenes, and we filmed, we wrote in three different outcomes of the scene, and then the audience would get to choose which outcome they think it would be. 
So that was our attempt to make it more interactive and to, maybe, immerse the audience in the film and the story a bit more. Which based on my Total Recall experiment, which you mentioned, what we find is that this was a five-month experiment that was conducted, it was really for my dissertation. I went to Penn for my doctoral degree, much later in my career, while I was working for SES. And part of a doctoral degree, as you know, is you have to conduct an experiment and then document it in a dissertation.
So my dissertation topic was, The Impact that Film has on Learning. Does it have any impact at all? Maybe you learn less if you show a film, maybe, you learn more, maybe there's no. So I was in a unique position to conduct a five-month experiment, in a Change Management class where we would teach, they were basically six main principles that we wanted people to understand and to learn. And in some classes, we would augment our teaching PowerPoint and lecture with film. 
In some classes there would be no film. And then we would have a quiz afterwards and take a look at the results. And five months later, when we ran the numbers, what we found is there was empirical evidence, that there was this statistically significant increase in every single instance of using film versus no film. 
Even when we controlled for various things such as managers versus no managers. Something called the language effect, which is English is your mother tongue or not. So there were several things that we controlled for. Again, the film had a major impact on learning, on retention, and that's where we came up with the total recall model. 
Neha:              Wow, thanks for sharing that, Doug. And I wish all PhDs were this much fun, right?
Douglas:         Yes, well, our program director at Penn, a fellow named Doug Lynch, who at the time said, "You can choose pretty much any topic you want, but we have to approve it." So we had lunch and I said, "I want to do either; The impact that humor has on learning or the impact that film has.
And he said, "What are you more passionate about?"
I said, "Film."
And he said, "Film is more concrete. Humor is hard to hold, and see, and all of that, so do it on film." So I really owe it to him for giving me the thumbs up and the encouragement to move forward. 
But you're right, I remember a professor said, "If you can pick a topic that's fun and that's interesting to you, the dissertation process will be significantly easier." And that person was right.
Neha:              Now you can tell it to the rest of the world, I guess. And I hope leaders are taking notes on how they can add some spice to drab topics like company values, ethics, knowledge management, et cetera, in their own companies.
Douglas:         You know, it's interesting, I've had the good opportunity to speak on this topic in New York, and Princeton, Atlanta, California. Every time I do talk about Total Recall, and I show clips, it's interactive, it's really fun. People afterwards will ask me, "Hey, can I see a copy of your film? I'd like to do something like this." Or what have you. So it really does get the attention when we talk about it, it does get the attention of various learning leaders. 
Neha:              Thanks for giving such great ideas and inspiration from there. Now, you've also extensively worked with executive development and developing potential leaders. Can you give our listeners, who are team leaders, some tips on how they can support and develop leaders in their own organizations?
Douglas:         Certainly, at SES for instance, and what I'm doing now as part of my consulting is leadership development. And that was always my favorite thing, at SES, was employee development and certainly leadership development. 
It was great fun, there were great opportunities, and one of the things that works quite well is mentoring. So if leaders just simply take the time to listen, and to mentor. What we tell leaders is communication is key. 
And as Father Doyle said in the film, "It's the key to everything." It's the key to families, it's the key to companies, et cetera. But communication is key, and we talk about bi-directional communication is something that I learned from a fellow named Mark Steinberg. And the listening part we say is more important than the speaking part. 
So mentor, listen to folks, have a conversation, have a cup of coffee with them. Tap into what's important to them. What do they want? And then help them on their journey, give them tips, put them in touch with things that may have helped you, may have inspired you. Whether it's a book by a popular author, what have you, but it is basically tapping into what's important for them, and then helping them get there. Showing them that you care, and, really, listening is very important. 
Storytelling is important. As a leader, if you can develop your storytelling skills, it goes a long way with getting the attention of folks. Now, what we tell leaders also is one of the unsung heroes, I'll say, of leadership competencies, is influencing skills. So the more you can influence people the better. And one way to develop your influencing skills is by developing your storytelling skills, if you can lay a story out. The reason why something has to be done or should be done, and how to get it done, it's very helpful to folks.
Neha:              So true, bringing it back to the basics; listening, mentoring, and storytelling.
Douglas:         Mm-hmm, exactly.
Neha:              I love how you connected it to mentoring because the traditional model of mentor/mentee is now a little outdated. It's more about co-mentoring, where both parties are learning from each other and helping each other grow.
Douglas:         The first time that I ever heard about that, it was when I was at GE, and Jack Welsh, and when IT and computers were coming in, and internet. And these brilliant corporate leaders, they were really far along in their careers, and they just had no idea. 
So they would do what they called reverse mentoring. Where they would have younger people in the organization come and teach them about how to turn a computer on, I'm being kind of funny, I guess. But, basically, to learn the basics and then the next step up. And they felt the best way that they could learn that is from younger folks. So there was this reverse mentoring taking place. 
But what we find from our executives, we have an executive mentoring program in place, at SES, and it's part of what I do with my consulting now as well. And what we hear, consistently, is the executives say, "It's not just them learning from me, I'm learning from them as well." Which is not a surprise to me at all because I've learned from people a lot more during my career, who worked for me and who I worked with than what they've learned from me. 
But it's pretty cool to see it as an eye-opener for executives that, "Oh, I thought they would be learning just from me, but I'm learning from them as well."
Neha:              That's so true, and I learn from my daughter every day. So there's no [Inaudible 00:28:45] of knowledge if you let yourself stay open and just listen, like you said.
Douglas:         What's that saying, parents? We teach our children about life and our children teach us what life is about."
Neha:              Ah, that's so beautiful, thank you for sharing that. All right, pivoting back to what you said a little while ago about James Bond, and how you used that as an inspiration for making movies. I heard you go by FilmDoc, yourself, a code name. Tell us more about what you do as a FilmDoc.
Douglas:         Thanks, yes, it's a play on words. I'm passionate about film and when I was going to Penn, it became clear to me, and some of my classmates and a couple of professors said, "You're so passionate about film and learning, you should do more with this."
And, so, film, I'm passionate about it. Doc is a play on words for my doctoral degree and for documentaries, so FilmDoc. And, so, thank you, I'm glad that you're cool with the name. What I do is leadership development, and the focus is on developing leaders at all levels, including individual contributors. Because, after all, we as individual contributors have a leadership role to play also. 
The curriculum that we've designed and we've rolled it out in Europe, it consists of a full day of, in the morning we look at the film, The Heart of Camden, the story of Father Michael Doyle. And we ask people, "What are your leadership challenges?" 
And then we look at the film, it's a 44-minute film. We look at it in two parts to dissect it, to look at examples of leadership that they see, or maybe there's a lack of leadership, what have you. And, then it's always internalizing and always putting it back on to the audience, on to the participants. 
And then in the afternoon, we talk a little bit about the leadership that's required to actually make a movie, to make a film. What did I experience making the film and what competencies were important? What mistakes did I make and what would I have done differently? Et cetera. And the reason is because what we have found is that when we talk about leadership and leadership competencies in the frame, or through the lens of art, whether it's Shakespeare or what have you, it seems to connect with people at a deeper level. 
We've done this before, and I've seen it done with Olivier Mythodrama and some other organizations and it's very effective. And, so, to talk about leadership through the lens of filmmaking, it is exciting to the audience. I wasn't sure how this would go over, but the feedback has been very positive. I've been invited back a few times, I'm very blessed to do it, so it must be working. 
And then what we do is, we then talk about who is your inspiring leader? Who's inspired you? And we talk about what it takes to actually make a film. 
So not just leadership, but here's how you make a film, it's about an hour worth of discussion. And then we break them into groups of three.  We tell them to go away, and then to come back in an hour, and then pitch their idea of their film, and that we pretend that we're a venture capitalist and we want to invest in the next brief film, and then they do that. And then we tell them, "Okay, now, indeed, you will make a film. You'll have a month, in groups of three, to make a film, a micro short." 
A micro short is a film that could last anywhere from two to five minutes, so it's not a daunting task. And they'll use their mobile devices, very basic free editing such as iMovie or something like that. And, then, they'll make their film, and then they'll get to show it to their organization at a leadership film festival, and there's going to be a director Q&A et cetera, so they're quite excited about it.
The other option is there are some firms, who may not want to do an afternoon of filmmaking. So, instead, what we offer is an afternoon of storytelling for leaders, or writing, creating your leadership manifesto. What kind of a leader do I want to be?
How do I want people to see me and how will I get there? 
And then the other offering, separate from that curriculum, is a high-potential program, which should be broken into three categories. The first module is Leading Self, about self-awareness. We need to be clear who we are, as leaders, before we can lead others. 
The next one is Leading Others, and the third one is more strategic in nature, Leading the Organization. And those three, there's mentoring involved with it. There is a dynamite skills assessment, leadership skills assessment, in the very beginning. Which includes a 360 and then also includes a personality assessment, and the feedback about that has been fantastic. That's something that I learned and that I helped to co-develop at SES as well.
Neha:              And that doesn't surprise me at all. It's definitely an innovative way to start a dialogue around leadership and, of course, learning from an award-winning director like you. All right, so, now, we have time for just one final question. I really enjoyed chatting with you today and I wish we could keep on talking. But one last thought I wanted to hear from you, was if you could give a mantra of success to people. Who dream of a global career, an exciting career like yours, what would be a mantra for success?
Douglas:         Find out, it's really simple, it's nothing terribly original. But someone told me, a really wise leader, who I had many years ago and I'm friends with today, Paul Fairley said, "If you do what you love doing, you'll be successful, success will follow." And that's what I've tried to follow, just simply, "What do I love doing?"
I started out working in mortgage banking, in approving loans for Fannie Mae and then for GE Capital and in risk management, I didn't love it. What I loved was working with people. So I was able to move into human resources and never looked back. And then from there, education was important to me. So I went to Villanova and then to Penn, I had these great opportunities, the company was super supportive. So I pursued education because I loved education. 
And then film, the more I discovered that film was very important to me, not just from entertainment, but for other reasons, more for inspiring then I pursued that. 
So it's, basically, just whatever you love doing, pursue that. I always tell folks, "Don't focus on making a lot of money." Again, if you're successful, if you'll do what you love doing and you're successful, then the financial rewards will most likely follow.
Neha:              Wow, I wish you continue to do what you love and what you're really good at, Doug. It was such a pleasure to talk to you today.
[00:36:13]       < Outro >
Announcer:    This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast, providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.