Michael Dean (@_Michael_Dean) is an internationally published photographer, model, writer, producer, and entrepreneur. Currently located on the Upper West Side of New York, his work over the years has included an art gallery, floral shop, production companies, IT Director, institutional researcher, philanthropist, and many other projects, one of which earned him a Congressional Medal of Distinction for Small business owner of the year in 2006. Michael’s most recent post-covid focus is on equity in housing and workplaces for artists and service workers and has recently launched a foundation (Thetownshipfoundation.org) to address the housing issues in towns and cities where workers are unable to gain access to reasonably priced sustainable housing near where they live. The foundation is one of multiple projects and companies being launched over the next year that will lead to a global wave of change.
Michael Dean is also the President and founder of Dean Consulting, a Global Solutions consulting firm, as well as multiple production companies, and other media and production-related firms. Each company is tied to a charitable cause to help address social disparities in various communities, with a focus on immediate and long-term impacts. Change needs to occur now, and not just in 2-3 generations.
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Thank you so much for giving us your time! Before we begin, could you introduce yourself to our readers and take us through what exactly your company does and what your vision is for its future?
Michael Dean: The Township Foundation is a new 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Manhattan (New York, NY, USA) to support housing development projects for artists and service workers, which will build partnerships to create cross-sector, multi-faceted solutions to problems that require collective efforts and extend beyond the reach of any single agency or government office. These include challenges such as stable and local housing for artists and service industry workers, low-paying jobs, homelessness, housing affordability, and equity.
The foundation is currently in discussion with multiple towns and cities to launch developments over the next year to provide sustainable, eco-friendly housing developments. As a private foundation, opportunities abound where we can develop solutions that don’t require government intervention and help develop stronger communities.
NO child ever says I want to be a CEO/entrepreneur when I grow up. What did you want to be and how did you get where you are today?
Michael Dean: While I always said I wanted to be a dancer or an architect (and I was a dancer and studied architecture briefly) I started my first company at 14, my second at 16, and it’s been ongoing ever since. The Township Foundation is only the latest in a series of projects targeted and finding short and long-term solutions to societal problems that aren’t being addressed in many areas on a short-term basis, but more on a long-term basis. One example is there are multiple long-term projects in NYC to help address the housing issue, but so many are restricted in so many ways and won’t be completed for upwards of 5+ years.
My own family was very entrepreneurial during my childhood and faced many challenges, but it was always a source of pride knowing we started something that could change communities. As someone who faced homeless and financial insecurity as a child, it’s always been my focus to help foster community and a sense of family where people take care of each other, and one way of doing that is through business and charitable work.
Today, in my own “post-covid” (if that’s ever a thing), my focus has grown even more, and the reason I’ve turned to developing charitable organizations that help protect people and bring stability to communities where so many people were impacted.
Tell us something about yourself that others in your organization might be surprised to know.
Michael Dean: There isn’t much, as I’m a very open book with my team. I fully believe the best way to work with people is to be open, transparent, and honest. I trust my team and those around me because we all know we can share fully, and there is no judgment or negativity because we are all building amazing things for this world.
If I had to pick one thing, it’s probably that I love nature, kayaking, hiking, and dream of one day owning a camp for adults to go to “summer camp” similar to when many people were kids but focused on “spiritual” [not religious] retreat experience. Building communities of people who support each other, and share in common goals of making the world a better place.
Many readers may wonder how to become an entrepreneur but what is an entrepreneur? How would you define it?
Michael Dean: An entrepreneur to me is someone who sees a need, and figures out a solution. That may be for-profit or not, but either way, you see the problem and act to change it. Nothing is insurmountable if you have the tools and the team to do it, and you empower people to make the change happen. I may have the idea of how to fix something, but I can’t do it alone.
What is the importance of having a supportive and inclusive culture?
Michael Dean: Nothing else matters if you don’t have a supportive and inclusive culture. We’ve all worked a job (or 10) where people’s value is diminished, their role is boxed in and they aren’t allowed to thrive, or leadership is so controlling that nothing ever changes in the firm.
I strive to find the right role for people and the right people for the role. Allowing people to work towards their strengths, regardless of job title, allows them to bring their best ideas and work to the solution at hand. I don’t believe a title or a job defines people, and anyone who does and tries to limit people I work with, won’t work with us for long. I also believe in showing people their value in the organization and celebrating all of their wins publicly. If an intern finds a solution and brings it to the table, it’s no less valuable to the team than if I bring it or anyone else, and they deserve the credit for that.
How can a leader be disruptive in the post covid world?
Michael Dean: Get outside of your self-centered, media-obsessed (including social media) drive for wealth and start focusing on solutions that change and disrupt industries now. We, as a greater society, are destroying our planet and taking advantage of people for our own benefit and that is only causing a spiral of destruction for everyone.
One of my purposes with everything I do is to build community. Do you remember what that truly means?! It’s not just the people I socialize with regularly or my family, or place of worship…it’s the people I see every day who make my life better.
- It’s clear at the market who I see every week who reminds me when something is on sale and is always kind.
- It’s the entire staff at my favorite restaurants who create the experience that is dining out.
- It’s the artists who create the experience of a painting, or a song, or theater production or film.
- It’s the neighbor I see every day walking the 19th dog they are fostering and trying to find a home for.
- It’s performers and staff at my local pub who provide me countless nights of conversation and joy.
And most importantly, it’s about the fact you can treat them like “staff” or you can take the time to get to know them and their passions and struggles and seeing them for the truly valuable creator of life around you that they are. True disruption to me is showing people their actual value in your life and engaging in local communities to help the world be a better place.
If a 5-year-old asked you to describe your job, what would you tell them?
Michael Dean: I tell everyone the same thing when asked to describe my job. I don’t work a job, I live my passion and help change people’s lives and I’m grateful for every moment of my life.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Michael Dean: Firing my “best” clients during a pandemic.
It was difficult knowing I was dropping my most lucrative clients during the middle of the pandemic (which we now know was only the beginning) and realizing I was risking everything doing it. It was the best decision ever. Lucrative may pay the bills, but the social impact would have been devastating when I realized the true intentions and morals of the companies I was working with.
If you don’t social equality, diversity, supporting communities in need, and pushing the needle to make the change happen that we need…I don’t care how much money you have.
Leaders are usually asked about their most useful qualities but let’s change things up a bit. What is your most useless talent?
Michael Dean: My most “useless” quality is probably my crazy voices and characters. In moments of silliness (or even in meetings sometimes), I will often drop into accents, characters, and voices that are rather silly. Think Yoda, Glomer (Punky Brewster…yes, I’m old), or Elmo or one of the hundreds of others. Is it useful in real life? No. Is it comic relief in stressful moments? Yes. And levity brings stress relief and often leads to great solutions.
Thank you so much for your time but before we finish things off, we do have one more question. If you wrote a book about your life until today, what would the title be?
Michael Dean: “The Lessons of Life Can Teach You, or Destroy You. It’s Your Choice.”
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Michael Dean for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Michael Dean or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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