How a CEO’s inspirational e-mails got a worldwide following
He started with a simple Friday morning e-mail to some employees. Robert Glazer, CEO of Acceleration Partners, now has 45,000 subscribers.
As 2016 began, Robert Glazer sat down in his Needham home office and dashed off an e-mail titled “Friday inspiration” to the 30 employees of Acceleration Partners. The CEO shared some tips on how to set goals for the year and a story about how his 6-year-old son had resolved to stop sucking his thumb.
A week later, he wrote a missive about learning from failures. The following Friday, Glazer’s staff got a note about how to organize priorities using a “vision board” made from magazine clippings. Glazer wasn’t sure about the endeavor, but he was looking for ways to help his employees, all of whom also work remotely, feel connected. Remote staffing limits real estate costs and solves commuting headaches, but Glazer says it works only if employees feel they are part of a team.
His team seemed to like the e-mails, often sending him notes in response. And as he moved from productivity tips to more personal stories of victory and defeat, some forwarded them to friends and family. After he mentioned the project at a conference, several people started sharing the messages within their own companies. Turns out, people like a little bit of positivity on a Friday morning: Less than three years later, 45,000 people around the world subscribe to what Glazer now calls the Friday Forward newsletter.
The newsletter isn’t directly related to Acceleration Partners, which helps clients such as Target and Adidas build affiliate marketing programs, through which companies pay websites for customer referrals. For a marketing executive, Glazer is remarkably serene about his metrics. He doesn’t pay a ton of attention to how many people open the newsletter, and he doesn’t worry about whether it brings in clients. He says his best measure of how a message has performed is the number of responses he gets. He says he reads them all and finds it satisfying to learn that he has helped somebody with a personal or professional problem. “I think this has formed a little life of its own and it has its own mission,” he says.
Glazer has written about how John McCain was able to disagree with his adversaries respectfully. (Good leaders “want to get it right, not always be right.”) He has described his family’s practice of leaving a thank-you note with a tip for a hotel housekeeper. (“Practicing gratitude has numerous benefits for our health and state of mind.”) He has urged readers to rethink the concept of work-life balance. (“What I believe we really want is the ability to be truly present in our work and in our lives outside work.”) In one post, he described taking his son on a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl in 2017 — a lesson on seizing the opportunities that life offers.
Glazer’s drive for personal growth comes through in his management style, says Lenox Powell, a manager at Acceleration Partners who proofreads Friday Forward. “He’s constantly working on improving himself, finding a better way. . . . He’s one of the most personally accountable people I’ve ever met in my life,” she says.
Of course, Friday Forward is not without its business purpose. It’s given Glazer a platform to build his personal brand — one strongly associated with the company he founded. He’s writing a book about the newsletter, it has its own website, and he’s been profiled by publications including Inc. Earlier this year, Glazer was named one of job site Glassdoor’s top five CEOs of small and medium-sized companies, ranked by employee approval ratings. And he says the company benefits from a positive association when, for instance, a person who reads his story about a vacation with his kid is inspired to do likewise.
Though the newsletter has taken on a life of its own, Glazer said it remains a meaningful way to connect the employees of Acceleration Partners, who now number 120. “If I can help everyone perform a little better, there’s some karmic value of doing that,” he says. “I know it’s helping people. I know I like doing it. Those should be the intersection of things that you should do.”