Bill Kutik calls himself an impresario on occasion. That’s five syllables for ‘loves to be at the center of things’. Known for his exacting approach to human relations, Bill sets a very high bar. Woe unto the person who fails to get over the hurdle with grace.
That heavy emphasis on excellence and over the top performance characterized his many years at the helm of the annual HRTech Conference. Bill alternatively encouraged and terrorized a generation of vendors and presenters as he built the HRTech conference into a sturdy institution. When he left a couple of years ago, the pool betting against his personal reinvention was significant.
Like many great value producers, you either loved or hated him. It’s simply not possible to have a neutral and balanced view unless you had no interaction with him. Fans and detractors are the ecosystem in which celebrities swim. While our tiny little HRTech universe is not the world’s largest celebrity aquarium, the inside players recognize a kind of pecking order. For many years, Bill was the top of the pile.
He had large and equal numbers of fans and detractors.
The sideline quarterbacks all speculated intensely about the future of the post-Kutik industry. Would the HRTech conference be able to retain its grasp on the center of everything? Would the new conference chair be able to fill the old man’s shoes? Would the old pecking order maintain its control of the market and the dialog?
It’s clear now that what Bill built was built to last. His successor, Steve Boese, is reshaping the conference and successfully navigating the industry’s political rapids. The newer more fully envisioned show takes what Kutik started and updates it very, very effectively. A new guard is filing in.
Bill himself has had to navigate the identity questions associated with leaving the power, control, and limelight. Fans rooted for a re imagining and a comeback. Detractors prayed for a George W. Bush retreat into painting.
As you might guess, he thought hard and returned with an answer. No landscapes, no portraits and no new conferences. Bill is returning to his roots in journalism.
Firing Line with Bill Kutik is an experiment in very high quality video communications. Apparently, William F. Buckley did not bother to protect the name Firing Line (It remains the longest running public affairs show in television history with a single host.). Kutik, in typical form, stepped into the ready made branding for his post career career.
The show itself is a sound complement to the high impact low quality video that dominates our public conversation. It’s a pointed response to the idea that just because you can take video with your smartphone doesn’t mean that it’s worth watching. Kutik delivers four to six minute segments that appear to be the result of grueling rehearsal and re rehearsal.
The idea is to synthesize video that means something. The goal seems to be to create video that stands out against the crowd of mediocrity.
The Charlie Rose like setting (all black background, dark suits, pink heads and waving hands) confers an aura of respectability on conversations about key issues in HR and HRTech. Guests so far include several SAP executives and Josh Bersin. You get the sense that if you don’t watch, you just might miss something.
There is a broad spectrum of high quality video moving into what used to be the trade magazine space. At one end, Chris LaVoie is re imagining the reality TV/infomercial space. With Firing Line, Bill Kutik is handling the PBS end of things.