Abernathy Man is a series that spotlights remarkable black men and the work they’re doing.
You are one of the few people of color leading a large, mainstream global publication. Where did you get the name Ozy?
Carlos Watson: There was a wonderful 200-year-old poem called “Ozymandias.” I often interpreted to mean “think big, but be humble.” There’s so much going on, but generally, the poem tells the story of a long-ago ruler that thought that he would rule forever. Not only did his reign come to an end, but people forgot about him. I think it’s possible in this world we live in to think big, but you can easily be forgotten about, like MySpace or Friendster.
Why should people read Ozy instead of, say, The Guardian or The New York Times?
Carlos Watson: I wouldn’t say instead of because the wonderful thing in this world is that no one watches one channel or reads one magazine anymore. The most well-read people want a sampling of the best of the best. My wish is that Ozy would become people’s first and favorite because we’re uniquely good at finding the new and the next: Trevor Noah before he hosts The Daily Show, profiling Misty Copeland a year before she became a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Part of Ozy’s magic is to bring you this interesting world six-nine-twelve months before everyone else. But I also think it’s important for everyone to really get the fullness of the world, and I think we bring that to our audience.
What was the biggest failure in your career so far, and what did you learn from it?
Carlos Watson: At my first company, I didn’t take an investment from a prominent investor because I was scared. I was young and black and sacred that we wouldn’t be valued and get the same opportunities. In the end, it was a mistake. Even though we did well, we would have done so much better if I had partnered up with him and let some of my fear go and just gone for it. I just wasn’t able to. A lot of us have trouble trusting people, and so I always encourage people to be open, not foolish or naive, but open. You might be surprised at who might be your best mentor or champion. You might miss opportunities by being too sceptical. There are real people with bad intentions, but there are also people who will surprise you.
I also think it’s important for everyone to really get the fullness of the world, and I think we bring that to our audience.
For me, it’s important to surround yourself with angels, people who aren’t only mentors, but who proactively look out for you. Angels come to you when you’re not expecting them to. Cultivating those in your life is important, as is having a good sense of history and self so you can put things in context. No matter how hard you try, you know we’ll be put into difficult situations, and to handle them as gracefully as possible requires confidence in yourself and in right and wrong. It’s about being grounded, being centered.
Be proactive. Make sure people know you in a multidimensional way. Always try to do social things with people in those situations. Rather than wait for people to invite me, I invite them to dinner to coffee. You also have to have a business plan for yourself. Spend time thinking about where you want to go and how you want to get there, so you show up with a plan. It will help you figure out what is important.
I also think it’s important, if you’re able to, to interview for other jobs every year, in a discrete, careful way, obviously. The minute you stop thinking you have other options, you lose power. Even if you don’t plan to leave, if you know you have other options, you will make bolder decisions.
With the constant stream of negativity in the media, how do we, as professional black men, maintain focus remain effective without being distracted?
Carlos Watson: Despite all the sadness about Sandra, Trayvon, Eric, Freddie, and so many others, I do see this as the most interesting, dynamic time in history. I think that this moment is right for us not to despair and to be creative in figuring out a way forward. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” I hope it won’t only be anger and frustration, but that we’ll refuse to succumb to what easily could be a sense that we can’t make things better. I hope we’ll continue to be resilient and creative in everything we do.