One of the many consequences of the pandemic has been that with its enforced pause, many of us have had a moment to evaluate if what we are doing, how we are doing it, and where we do it, is really what is best for us. For some, it has flattened the world, with proximity to an office less relevant than time zone convenience. News organizations endlessly broadcast epoch-changing hyperbolic predictions, however, in this case, we see evidence that work life really will not be the same.
Grant and his husband Michael are global creatives, having lived in Japan and Australia and working extensively in China and Europe. Grant has a background of years at Nike, then Levi’s, now working in his own company ThenWhat with a range of companies all of which require his acute ability to discern where culture, and thus customers, are headed. This is virtually the definition of a confirmed global urbanite. Is rural Utah the new Berlin? Or is Berlin now everywhere?
Our cohort of readers truly are pioneers of a better age, the first of a tribe that is pushing forward into the unknown of living healthier and longer than any generation before them. Grant personifies that pioneering spirit, as he took the leap to build a house along with a new life in a relatively remote location while still staying fully connected and embracing popular youth culture.
Why did you move to Utah? You come from a very stylish career history, and it is not exactly known as a global style center.
Utah, and Park City specifically, provides a unique perspective on life and culture. We have lived across the world and in the largest of US major cities. Our most inspired time was living in Asia with the highlight being three years in Tokyo. The constant source of inspiration came from creativity in art, music, fashion and the energy of the city. Nature, however, provides a quiet and expanse that is equally powerful. When we considered the move, we looked at what drove us to our happiest times, and the answer was opportunity as well as a connection to nature. Cities and locations with potential — to grow, develop, build — are the ones that drive our creative minds. We have family in Utah and we found it a good time to get some space from our prior home in Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
“Those major hubs are still great inspiration points; however, the cost and complexity of major metropolitan areas can drain creative energy”
Creative people used to all congregate in the big centers: LA, NY, London. Are you seeing more creative people leave those cities?
Our friends come from New York, Los Angeles, London and other big cities. Those major hubs are still great inspiration points; however, the cost and complexity of major metropolitan areas can drain creative energy. What we are finding is that a new pioneer spirit is taking place. 2020 was a time of reflection, and many creative artists and designers are simply deciding to simplify and expand into new horizons.
Community is so important to all of us; how are you creating community in your new home?
It’s early days; however, I have been attracted to the academic and teaching community in Utah. I’m teaching a course on experiential design this fall at the University of Utah. This is a chance to nurture my own mind while also giving back knowledge of years spent working and living across a variety of cultures and global brands. Focusing on bridging generations through education and thought leadership is my anchor point for bringing people together.
Utah LGBTQ Community
Gay in Utah may be different than being in California. What has surprised you here around that?
The LGBTQ community is so full of life stories, and we are so fortunate to have friends from all walks of life. California is a melting pot of diversity and each person seems to be chasing a dream. The outward confidence and energy of chasing one’s dream is something that California really stands for. The Utah LGBTQ community has other stories. The conversations are very family-focused and much more inward-facing. I’m surprised at how grounded and focused the community is to drive change and establish a voice of the future in a conservative state.
How have you adjusted to work-life here? Was most of your work in the past done remotely?
I founded ThenWhat as a laboratory of ideas where enterprise leaders could come to solve brand problems. We work with global brands on developing and implementing new ideas from all corners of the world. Because we are international in our focus, we are accustomed to working remotely during any hour of the day. As a creative business leader where we workshop and communicate visually, I do miss meeting with people in person. However, we have built new hybrid solutions that provide a balance. I’m very happy that we are starting to establish a creative talent pool in Utah that will eventually become our primary headquarters in the future.
You and your husband built a house, have a new adorable puppy Ozzy, and seem to have an altogether different lifestyle. How has the adjustment been?
The adjustment has been easier than expected. I attribute that to the accessibility to nature and the outdoors. We are in the mountains and outdoors more than ever before. The access to great snow and remote silence has been one of the biggest surprises. We have also chosen to build in a new development where everyone seems to have a pioneer spirit. That energy is so refreshing, and everyone is into creating something new. Ozzy, our new Doberman pup, has only added to the joy of exploring nature. Our lifestyle change has been so different that everything is a new experience.
“The teams I have developed and built over the years are my most treasured gift”
Do you feel that you coming here was a personal life stage decision, or part of a larger cultural shift happening?
The new creative renaissance is a topic that is always front of mind. I fully believe that creativity and innovation will lead the future like never before. Moving was a mix of a life stage decision and a larger cultural shift. I was at the point in my life and career — one that was built on staying on the leading edge of youth culture — where I felt a need for a fresh approach. Getting involved with a new energy of creative youth and learning from them was one motivator. Moving closer to family and spending more time with my husband to build a new life chapter was another. Overall, the decision was based on new possibilities — some that will reveal themselves.
You have written, “My purpose is to lead others to be their best, authentic selves in service to a larger vision, goal, and community.” How does that manifest?
The teams I have developed and built over the years are my most treasured gift. I feel like anyone who has worked for me or with me is family. Like any family, we continue to be devoted to helping each other with personal and professional goals. I’ve always supported being true to oneself in all aspects of life. If one can nurture talent to use all of their skills to their maximum potential, then we all benefit from that positive energy. Life, in my opinion, should be about serving something bigger than oneself. It’s so rewarding to see my advice or support be the catalyst for another person reaching their goals and beyond.
A Day in a Global Business
You have a global business. What is your day like?
I love working globally, despite the time commitment required to be successful across multiple time zones. The reward is that one is constantly learning from other cultures.
My day starts as early as possible. I get in a workout and some time to organize my mind. Usually, my first call is with my business partners in Japan as they work late into the eve. We discuss the state of business and culture in Asia — this alone is an inspiring way to start the day. London is next where I work with a few clients which tap me into Europe. Then it’s calls with my teams in LA and NY with client meetings throughout the day. Zoom makes for a packed day. A dinner break sets up for a few weekly workshops with China and Japan which ends the day at 10pm.
This isn’t every day but it is the rhythm for most of the week. My days require planning and precision. Thankfully, I have a supportive husband to keep me focused and Ozzy who requires me to take breaks for outdoor time.
How did you stay inspired during the pandemic?
In the past, meeting with friends for dinner and enjoying music and all aspects of the art world was our main source of inspiration. Live music has been the biggest miss from pandemic life. What’s shifted is a new focus on nature and simpler times at home. We have been inspired by the simple things around us and diving into all things digital to stay connected to friends and family. That said, I can’t wait for our first live music events now that some safe environments have been created.
Staying Connected to Popular Culture
How do you stay connected to popular culture?
Social media is the obvious answer; however, that world can be draining on the mind as much as it can be inspiring. I prefer to connect with my trusted leaders in culture to keep me up to date. At ThenWhat, we have created a monthly newsletter. We set a Friday meeting with a cross-section of our team — usually the new generation that is more directly tapped into new, underground creativity. It’s great to connect with cultural leaders and hear how they are preparing for the future.
It is insanely sporty here, as in Olympic-level sporty. How are you interacting with all that?
Nike was a huge part of my life and career. Colleagues from those years are now a big, global family of sport-minded fanatics. I love to stay fit and snowboarding is my sport of choice. What’s great about Park City is there are so many world-class athletes training year-round and thus the facilities and training experts are on another level. Now that we are settling down, we are looking forward to interacting in all things health and wellness.
“Casual living and dressing is a reality. However, I don’t want to get too comfortable”
How has your day-to-day personal style changed?
Casual living and dressing is a reality. However, I don’t want to get too comfortable. I’m honestly still trying to find my go-to day-to-day style that is both easy but well crafted. Outdoor brands have evolved so quickly and they offer so much functional style which has always been my starting point. I generally lean into classic, timeless American style, and moving to Utah has given this a western twist.
Favorite guilty pleasure streaming shows?
We have a practice of researching new shows before we dive into a new streaming series. Cooking shows are top of the list. For me personally, I am obsessed with new shows that capture youth culture. The current of my pleasures is “Gossip Girl” and I’m looking forward to “Euphoria” returning to HBO. However, we are also devoted to the “Young and the Restless” — the most guilty and comforting of all old-school soap operas.
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