AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Matthew Emmens and Beth Kephart co-authors of “Zenobia”

Posted on : 03-04-2008 | By : Lynn | In : Uncategorized


I love this book, “Zenobia”.

The jacket of the book says, “This unusual book will move readers to take a fresh and fearless look at their own organizations and to remember that leadership is not determined by title or position. Rather, as the want ad Moira answers puts it, “Creative persistence a prerequisite. A desire for the extraordinary a must”.

 For this creative Coach swimming in the business world, I love this book because of its fresh approach to teaching us about the business world. It is indeed a tale of triumph over yes-men, cynics, hedgers, and other corporate killjoys.

Matthew Emmens is the CEO of Shire Pharmaceuticals, which under his leadership has become one of the top specialty pharmaceutical companies in the world. He is a frequent keynote speaker and was recently profiled in Forbes Magazine.

Beth Kephart is the award-winning author of eight books and the winner of the Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant as well as the 2005 Speakeasy Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Chicago Tribune and on She is a partner in Fusion Communications.

The following is our interview:

 Matthew Emmens

LK: What makes you excited to wake-up in the morning and hit your feet on the floor?  

ME: I like to think that each day something creative will happen that will change things for the better.  I often (not every day) have a feeling of anticipation since I know that there will be numerous interactions with people and problems to solve.  Out of this comes the thing we call business.  My observation is that it is most business operate on autopilot – process and procedure.  This often precludes creativity – the one thing from which all value is created.

LK: Is there something special about the pharmaceutical industry in particular as to the reason that you have flourished so splendidly? 

LK:ME: Pharmaceuticals can make a real difference in society and people’s lives.  While making and selling consumer products is all fine and good, not many companies can say that the extend life or make it much more bearable.  I get hundreds of letters each year from thankful patients.  Our employees put high value on what they do.  Their motivation goes beyond a job or income – they have real purpose.  They can picture the patient and the problems and they want to help.  It is energizing.

LK: What are three major changes that you’ve seen in the personality and complexion of the pharmaceutical world since you began in 1974?  and….What is it about the corporate structure that need to change to empower more creativity?

ME: Three major changes have been the vast improvement in the utility of pharmaceuticals, involvement in the decision making by patients (primarily due to consumer advertising) and the massive increase in expenses associated with bringing a new drug to market. 

LK: Do you think/feel the people you’ve worked with in various countries are more the same or different to each other and how does it impact the way businesses work and the way people interact?  

ME: Having worked extensively in the US , Germany and the UK , I find people more alike than different.  However there are notable differences in how risk taking is perceived and rewarded.  If your idea fails in the US , you are not likely to get ridiculed (or fired) to the extent you might in other parts of the world.  I think our pioneering history has made we in the US more tolerant of risk taking and failure.  (If at first you don’t succeed….)  I have to say that working with people from different cultures has been one of the most interesting things in my career.  Different views spice up conversation and often result in a much better approach.

LK: What is the message of “Zenobia?” 

ME: The primary message of Zenobia is simple – one person can make a difference.  The underlying messages are around structures that no longer work and the effect on people when they are forced to work in them.  I think what is different about Zenobia, and what Beth has brought out so brilliantly, is how it FEELS to be a person who brings change.  It is often not pleasant to be the one who swims upstream.

Beth Kephart

LK: How and why did you arrive at the name “Moira” for the lead character in Zenobia? 

BK: The real-life Moira came to me as a University of Pennsylvania student—a dark-haired senior debating next steps in life and hoping for a one-on-one semester with a working writer.  We did research together, took on mutual projects, carved out various paths, and I liked her spunk, the quiet way she went about knocking hurdles down.  I hadn’t met her in person when we began to write Zenobia, had only spoken with her by phone.  By the time we were deep into the first draft of the book, she was part of my life, and it seemed inevitable and essential that the book’s heroine borrow her name.
LK:  You run your own communications firm, Fusion Communications, and write.  As someone who uses both sides of their brain so well, how do you excell in the business world as a creative person?   Can you speak about how businesses could tell their stories more creatively?

BK: You run your own communications firm, Fusion Communications, and write.  As someone who uses both sides of their brain so well, how do you excell in the business world as a creative person?   Can you speak about how businesses could tell their stories more creatively?

To take the second question first:  The original task, of course, is to locate the story, and I think that this is where businesses often have the hardest time.  Teams or managers are looking at the hard-thing they just got done or will soon attempt to do, and often they are focused on process, org charts, budgets.  The real story often lies just right or left of all of that—in conjunctions or jumping-off points, in collisions of personalities and talents, in unexpected outcomes.  You have to ask original questions to get extra-ordinary responses.  You have to listen well.  Once you find the story there are so many ways to tell it.  I encourage businesses to be open to new forms of storytelling.  Through videos that avoid all talking heads, for example.  Through metaphors that illustrate the obvious in a new way. Through photo essays.  Through stories that dare to be somewhat literary.

And as for your question about excelling in business as a creative person?  I ask a lot of questions before I sit down to any project.  I look for the spark points, the possibilities that lie within projects, teams, and people.  Afterwards, it’s all about leveraging the possibilities that were already always there.

LK: Do you have a “hope” for this book and if so, what is your hope?  

BK: Hope.  Well, I hope for readers who enjoy the ride, who stay with Moira all the way through to the end, and then bring her lessons into their own lives.  I hope to make readers happy, if only for a little while.  I hope to change the way people think about business books, to set aside any fears one might have about books that don’t fit a precise category.  I hope for conversation.

For more information about Zenobia please go to

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