Making Cultural Connections

He admits that managing change hasn’t been easy. Converting his business from singularly focusing on the African American market to multicultural consumers was not fully supported by various associates in each of the agencies his brand now represents. There was also an internal learning curve. “We work together,” Coleman explains, “and that interaction means you have to understand one another and our cultural nuances, and that’s not an easy thing. One acceptable cultural scenario is taboo in another. And it took years to get those understandings.”

He has also had to manage challenges with some clients. Last year Bermuda’s then Auditor General Larry Dennis accused GlobalHue of overbilling the account by $1.8 million. Coleman says the accusations are unsubstantiated, “politically motivated, and racially charged.” He still maintains the Bermuda business, which he acquired in 2004.

Straight, No Chaser
Anyone who does business with Coleman will tell you he’s a workaholic. When asked how he enjoys his spare time, he shares with you an old Robin Harris joke about spare change: “There is none.” He does enjoy golfing, boating, and Dan Brown mysteries when he’s able to escape to homes in Florida and the Caribbean that offer “water and heat,” his favorite elements. “Water calms me and heat soothes my old football injuries.”

At the office, he is completely focused on driving the bottom line. “I’ll take five minutes to explain something that he can explain in three words,” says Hall. “And I’ll go, ‘Yeah, that’s exactly what I meant.’ That ability to be simple is at the heart of the creative process.”

Simplicity is also at the core of how he directs his business. “He is deliberate,” says the Rev. Al Sharpton. Coleman is vice chairman of the board of Sharpton’s advocacy organization, the National Action Network. “He likes to get all the information and once he makes up his mind, he executes with abandon … he takes no prisoners.” Hall confirms that no one who works for Coleman is ever confused about his expectations.

GlobalHue is often described as an eclectic, entrepreneurial environment where employees have the freedom to creatively execute company goals, but Coleman, who by the time he was sidelined from professional sports in 1977 had already received a bachelor’s of arts from the University of Michigan and an M.B.A. in marketing from Hofstra University, admits his leadership style is strongly influenced by his years of playing for the NFL. “You don’t play the game on Sunday; you play in preparation to play the game. So you have to be very disciplined–how you eat, how you get yourself in peak physical and mental condition. Then you go out and perform under pressure and you have an end goal.

“One of my senior people sent out an e-mail about some things that were going on with certain clients. He said we had some wins and we made a good showing. I e-mailed him back, ‘What’s a good showing? How does that relate to a win?’ If you have a good presentation, you’ve done your job. If the job is done well enough, then you might have a win. It’s kind of cut and dry.” But there’s another side to his management style, says daughter, Kelli. “He nurtures as a leader also, and really looks to develop people. The amazing thing about him is how much you actually learn in the process by being held to a standard of excellence.”