Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment Group runs on its own time schedule. When I was setting up the shoot with Sean Combs, (who was referred to as Mr. Combs, Sean, Diddy, Puffy, and P Diddy by various people at various times) I received emails from his staff sent at 2:15 AM. The round-the-clock work schedule appeared pretty low-key though. It seems like a level of commitment that's understood, if you want to work at Bad Boy. The interview was scheduled for 8 PM, which seemed to be early in Sean Combs' working day. The Bad Boy offices in midtown have a constant low-level buzz of activity. But when Diddy is there everything moves faster. First the bright clothes in the background of the shot had to be swapped for more subdued shades. Then his jacket had to be changed to match the new clothes. Diddy made the call both times. The changes happened instantly. And he was right. The shot looked better. He doesn't miss a thing, and he clearly has his hand in every decision. He was about to leave the next day to fly his friends down to Miami to celebrate his 38th birthday. But he checked the shot, asked for a lighting adjustment and then settled in to deliver his message.
The "I Am" Q&A
What kind of car do you drive?
I don’t drive.
What’s your favorite place to go?
What website do you like to visit?
What was your worst moment in business?
I would say my worst moment in business, was, I started a sub-brand, and I didn’t plan it out. I didn’t do the proper strategic planning. And, you know, it didn’t work out.
What’s your favorite drink?
My favorite drink is a Ciroc martini.
What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food? Italian food.
What’s your idea of fun?
Can’t say that on TV.
And at work? What’s your idea of fun at work?
Making some money! Making some history, you know, when I break a record at work. When I’m the first at something, like, the first African American male to win the CFDA award, have a number one fragrance, or, you know, all of the things that, where it’s number one. When I was in the Guinness World Book of Records for the most successful hip hop producer. I like things like that.
What personal weaknesses do you forgive in someone?
Love, you know, somebody’s in love, and so they’re making decisions out of being in love.
What movie star do you like?
Who’s a business hero of yours?
What personal qualities do you admire in business?
My number one personal quality I admire is following through.
And in life, what personal qualities do you admire in life?
I love loyalty.
What was your greatest moment in business?
I think my greatest moment in business was the day I had a company state of the union address. And I looked up from the podium and I had over six hundred employees, and I didn’t realize I had that many employees, and it was a big moment for me, to know that I could help empower other people, and give other people an opportunity.
What’s your dream?
I’m living my dream, you know? I think we’re watching’ my dream happen.
Do you have a motto?
Yeah. My motto is: Believe.
And what is your present state of mind?
My present state of mind is evolution. You know, I think I’m evolving as a person, as an artist, as a businessman, as a father.
What is a celebrity brand? What makes it work?
I think what makes a brand successful is not the celebrity that’s behind it, or the marketing that’s behind it. I think what makes a brand successful is the product. I’ve built my success by aligning myself with great products that I believe in. And on top of that, putting my brand power behind it. I represent success, aspiration, lifestyle, and the entrepreneurial spirit. I am that American dream. I come from Harlem, New York, humble beginnings. I always wanted something more. I talk directly to the young consumer, not just the young American consumer, but the young worldwide consumer. The youth culture’s what I specialize in.
How do you pick a brand?
For me, there has to be an emotional connection to anything that I’m involved in. I have to truly believe in it. I can’t just work with a brand or associate myself with a product that I don’t truly believe in. When you believe in something, you’re emotionally attached to it. And the consumers, they can feel that, and people believe in it, if you believe in it.
Who was the consumer you were going after?
When I started Sean John, there was a young male consumer that was under-serviced, a consumer that nobody was speaking to. He wanted more fashion, more style, more swagger, more flavor, and I was able to bring him that. And just a hip hop clothing line that everybody thought, but a true lifestyle brand that went for this new renaissance man that wanted to be more. That was like me. I come from, you know, Harlem. I wanted to travel the world. I wanted to be a leader, and I wanted the clothes to kind of fit that. And we were able to start with apparel and clothes, and now we have suits and dress shirts and ties, outerwear. We also have the number one fragrance, Sean John Unforgivable for men. And we’ve been able to really come into the world of fashion and revolutionize the game.
How do you decide what brands to develop?
I think I’m always looking for that void in the marketplace. I think there’s a huge void, when it comes to youth lifestyle, youth culture. I think that a lot of the Madison Avenue advertising agencies or marketing firms. They don’t speak the language of young adults, like I speak the language. They don’t know how to really tie that emotional connection. And that’s what I specialize in. You know to give it to them in an authentic way. And I think they respect it, coming from me, because I’m one of them. So when they see me they see their selves.
How do you translate a hip-hop sensibility to marketing your brands?
I think where I’ve been able to have the most amount of success is when people look at me as just hip hop. I think people try to pigeon hole people into a box so they can understand it. I don't think that you could just put me or any other entrepreneur into a box. We’re dreamers. The sky’s the limit. You know, with the new deal that I’ve done with, I’m interested in the spirits industry, with Ciroc vodka. We’re really selling a lifestyle to young adults, twenty-one and over, to drink responsibly. And giving them a luxury brand, giving them an ultra premium vodka. And you’re going to see me build this luxury brand from beginning to end.
What was your interest in, in, uh, going after the luxury market?
My whole portfolio of brands represents aspiration. It’s about wanting the better things in life, whether it’s the better music, or whether you’re watching my television shows, and you want to watch the best. You want to wear the best. You want to drink the best. I pride myself on being the king of celebration, and all of my brands kind of have a synergy in celebration. Ciroc vodka is about celebration, and it's also about luxury and aspiration. And there are a lot of different brands out there, a lot of different spirits on the marketplace. But Ciroc vodka is a step above the rest. It’s something that’s special and different than what’s out there in the marketplace, and, you know, those are the brands that I gravitate towards. Those are the brands that I have an emotional connection with, and those are the brands that I know how to sell the best.
Do you think your music made this possible? Did it all come from the music?
Music was my foundation. It was the place that I started. The beauty about hip hop is that hip hop is not just a music. Hip hop is a culture, and through that culture, I was able to expand and diversify, and really use it as a stepping board, and you know, really take my talent from an entertainment aspect, and take it into television, take it into films, with my restaurants. And now with Ciroc vodka and fashion. The huge amount of success I’ve had in fashion. And a lot of people see that as so many different categories of different areas. And for me, I see it as entertainment and lifestyle.
How wide is your audience?
People would truly be surprised of who my fans are and who my community is. There are a lot of people that watch CNBC, a lot of people that are professionals. People of all ages and colors. I represent the American dream, and a lot of people can connect with that. Not just in American, worldwide. I represent that hard work pays off and I do that through entertainment, through my music, through fashion, through television, and also the other brands I associate myself with.
To some extent, it’s your identity that’s creating the image for the product.
I take pride in my identity, representing success and aspiration. When people see me, I want them to see hard work, resilience. I want them to see self-made, you know? Nobody gave me anything. I represent that entrepreneurial spirit that is only here in America. And hopefully when people see me, that’s what they see. I know they probably see some parties, too. But, you know, I take pride in that, too. I’m the king of celebration, and that’s what my whole movement is about.
How do you pick whom you want to partner with, or whom you want to work with?
I take pride in picking my partnerships carefully. Aligning myself with brands and partners that I could truly believe in. I feel that there’s no amount of money that you can be offered to sell a brand if you don’t truly believe in it. I think that the consumer can see straight through that. I think I’ve been successful with the brands that I’ve been behind because I truly believe in them.
Is it a mission for you to take hip-hop mainstream? What does that mean to you personally?
Personally, I want to deliver a great product to people. I want to entertain people, I want to give people a good time, whether it’s through my clothes, or whether it’s a time when they’re out celebrating, and they’re having some Ciroc vodka, or they’re at home watching one of my television shows. I just like people to have a good time, and I do that through my brands.
How do you stay true to yourself and still reach the mass market that you are reaching?
I think you have to, in business, pick and choose your battles. There are so many opportunities that have come my way. I think that I’ve taken my time to pick the opportunities that I could have the most success with, and the most penetration to the marketplace. I want to make history all the time. I want to have an impact. I don’t like to just do things for money. I like to do things in a way that I have an impact on that industry. And so now, you know, the world of spirits and liquor, they need to watch out, ‘cause I’m coming with a whole new swagger, a whole new way to market in a responsible way, and a way to bring luxury and aspiration to the marketplace.
One of the things you’re really good at is making your products sexy. What’s the power of sex in marketing the brand?
I think I’ve had the most fun with making my products sexy. Sexy is a word that, over the last two years, has been beat up a lot. But, you know, at the end of the day, it’s a word that’s timeless. And I think sexy is in the details, it’s in being effortless, and it’s in the confidence. And that’s what I represent. I think in marketing, being authentic and not being pushy and being able to have an emotional connection is an art form. I don't think everybody knows how to do that. I think it’s about knowing your consumer, being able to speak their language, and understanding what’s going on with them, socially.
If you’re not making music anymore, how will you maintain your image in popular culture?
Well, right now, I have big plans. I think I’m going to become a big Hollywood movie star. You know, I think I will go tackle the big screen. I have my movie coming out in February; A Raisin in the Sun, and this is a true American classic. And I think that it was designed by God this way, for me to play that role. Especially, what my real position is in life. And I think that, as an actor, you have to be able to play the role well. And I think that when people see the movie, they won’t see me in the movie. But at the end of the movie, they will be, they will get a message that there’s an irony there that God works in mysterious ways. That may be a little too deep for CNBC. Go see the movie!
Where do you get your tremendous drive to succeed?
You know, I think my upbringing gave me the relentless pursuit of all my goals and dreams. My mother and my family, they always made me believe that any dream I had, I could achieve it, but I would have to be the one that would have to go out there and make it happen. I tell people all the time, when they ask me about me being relentless, that if you tie me up and drop me in the middle of the desert with no water, no clothes, I’m going to come out that desert with a Sean John three piece suit on, sipping a Ciroc martini. I’m not going to stop.
What message do you have for the young people that want to be successful like you?
A lot of people think it’s corny, but I feel that you get out of life what you put into it. When young people look at me, I want them to not just look at me as an American dream. I want them to look at me as an American reality. This is what you get through hard work and perseverance. I feel like the true champions, they work the hardest. Whether it’s Michael Jordan staying in the gym to do a hundred thousand free throws, or Tiger Woods starting at the age of six, and getting up early or staying later than everybody, I feel in business, you know, I want to be the best in business that way. I want to stay in my office later. I want to stay in my studio and my design studio. When you look at the great ones, whether it’s the Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or Quincy Jones, Stephen Spielberg, they all have that in common, that they work hard. I’ve seen that, those times when you want to stop, or you want to quit, and you keep pushing your mind and you push your body to work harder, to stay up late, or to keep the passion up, you see the results of your hard work.
Tell us about passion.
I think sometimes people may think that I have too much passion, you know? I think that you have to believe. That’s one of my biggest mantras, is believe. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t believe in myself. I see these high mountains and they’re going up in the sky, and it kind of doesn’t scare me. I can’t wait to climb it, and go over the top and see what’s on the other side. And, you know, I have a quote, “Don’t be afraid to close your eyes and dream, but then open your eyes and see.” We’re all dreamers, but there’s a reality to achieve our dreams. And I think that’s what separates the successful dreamers from the people that lay in bed and dream, that when we open up our eyes, we see clearly what we have to do to achieve our dreams. I came up with that myself.