Podcast

Episode: 64 |
Sunny Bates:
Master Connector:
Episode
64

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Sunny Bates

Master Connector

Show Notes

Sunny Bates is a legend and one of the master connectors of the 21st century. She is one of my heroes and it was really a privilege to have the chance to meet with her at her offices in Midtown Manhattan.

Sunny is on the Board of Directors of Kickstarter, an Advisory Board Member at the MIT Media Lab, a Brain Trust Member for the TED Conferences, and an Advisory Board Member for the American Theatre Wing, which means she gets to vote for the winners of the Tony Awards.

Sunny operates wherever executives, thinkers, artists, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, philanthropists connect and collide around the globe. Her genius is developing networks of extraordinary people and connecting their ideas in surprising ways toward concrete outcomes.

In our discussion, Sunny shared insights on what makes a great connection and how to nourish relationships.  We also discussed her idea of an ideal day, routines, habits, books, and theater.

You can learn more about her work on her firm’s website, which is sunnybates.com

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Will Bachman: Sunny, it is great to have you on the show.
Sunny Bates: My pleasure.
Will Bachman: So, Sunny, I wanted to start with just a couple words to get your reaction to. Curiosity. Tell me, tell me what that word means to you.
Sunny Bates: Well, I think for me it’s one of the driving forces of my life and actually for so many of the people who are nearest and dearest and closest to me, it’s probably also a real driving force in your life. It’s something that can’t be stifled. It’s something that, the results of being curious are different from curiosity. I think curiosity is something that can be cultivated in anyone and I think it can be squelched in people, but not for very long if you are innately curious and if you need to know and need to understand. For me, curiosity is a drive like thirst and hunger.
Will Bachman: Sunny, you’re known as one of the master connectors of the 21st century.
Sunny Bates: I love that. I’m not going to deny it. Thank you. How about thank you?
Will Bachman: Well, it’s true. It’s true, right? And there’s two pieces to that. One is the connection that you personally make between you and other people, but then probably the other piece is connections that you are making between two other people, between person A and person B. There’s a real art to that. Could you tell us in your view, what is it that differentiates a truly distinctive best in class connection when you’re connecting person A to person B versus an ordinary kind of okay one. Is it figuring out who you’re going to connect and also the way that you do it.
Sunny Bates: Well, I think the underlying, the forces around connecting and around what makes a good connection starts with generosity and with trust. What makes someone a good connector is somebody who you trust. If you trust me to take care of you and not waste your time, then you’ll be open to people that I want to connect you with. You build that you over time. If it is, at its heart, coming from a place of generosity, which I think that all networks are based on generosity, you work from a place of generosity rather than from transaction, then that’s what makes a good connection.
I think that what makes a good versus what makes a truly great connection is not necessarily something you can control. So providing you are going forth with the best of intention and you have built up trust and you’re doing it from a generous place, I think that is the best you can hope for. When something, if you would describe a truly great connection or inspired connection, I think they’re different. The way you were talking about a best in class, that might be that it has a particular outcome that’s out sized the connection, is that what you mean?
Will Bachman: I suppose so.
Sunny Bates: So, one would be, I don’t have any control over how a connection is received. I can do a prep. I can say, “I want to introduce you. Here’s someone, are you open to that?” I usually do that, particularly with people whose time is very valuable and I know that, but I don’t know how it’s going to land. It might land one day differently than it lands the next. And, timing is everything, so I would say a truly inspired connection has to do with timing.
I’ll give you an example, there’s a wonderful woman who I met when she was just launching her nonprofit in 2008 and I loved the idea, but it was an extraordinary concept and what the world needed at the moment. She said to me, “Who should I reach out to?” And I said, “There’s one person who will fund this and there’s other people who might be interested, but there’s one person and you must do that. I know it involves going from San Francisco to Vermont, but there’s one person who this totally aligns with everything.”
I would see her once a year or a couple times a year and i would say how are you doing? She’d say, “Any ideas?” And I’d say, “Yeah, this one person.” So I just ran into her last week and she said, “It took me six years to get there, and of course they’re not my biggest donor and they were from the moment that we met.”.
So, that’s one of those things where she wasn’t ready to go. Now, could she have had all that money beforehand? I don’t know, but I think that one of the things that happens, and I actually learned this from recruiting, because I was a recruiter for many, many years, is that people don’t always necessarily trust. Like if you give something really inspired and really great the first time, they’re like oh you must have a few more like that. And you’re like, no. One of the challenges about that is that people think, oh, well who else do you know and it’s like well, I don’t really know anybody else like that, that’s really your best shot.
I think that people are accustomed to having more choice, at least certainly we are in the west and in the US and sort of among a rarefied group of high functioning people. But I think when we lived in smaller kinds of community, if someone said you have to know this person or you have to work with this person or you have to marry this person, the tribal elders would come together or the community members would come together and all agree and you would do that. Now, with the proliferation of information and different ways in which people can connect and can discover others, we don’t necessarily trust that when someone says this is it, this is what you have to do that you’d pay attention to that.
Will Bachman: Talk to me about how you nourish relationships over time. Particularly when you’ve built up as many powerful connections as someone like you have. Is it hand written notes, phone calls, emails? Do you do it in a systematic way or as it occurs to you to reach out to someone? Meeting in person versus the phone? Talk to me about some of the ways that you nourish the relationships that you already have.
Sunny Bates: I wish I could say. One of things we talked about just before we started this was, are there any habits that you would like to improve upon. I guess I would like to say I’d like to be more of a planner and to say that I had very specific systems and certainly I have a great database that I’ve worked on over the years. I had to from a professional perspective, with the headhunter with 40,000 names. You have to have a good database. I do different systems over the years and have always spent time and resources on that.
I think in terms or, at various and [inaudible 00:06:32] times I’ve tried to be more intentional about the ongoing caring and feeding of the relationships. I think one of the things that I had a real insight, I don’t know how many years ago this was now, but it was a really important insight to me because I had done a mapping of the most important relationships and kind of a metabolic mapping where I was like okay, how often should I be in touch with these people? And it was mostly client professionally related. I think I probably had about 150 people on it and I had, you know call them once a month, or reach out to them in email. When you travel, make sure and try to see them, have a meal with them, that kind of thing.
And I remember I looked at it and I thought oh, I can’t believe this. Because I was doing this sort of false dichotomy between my professional network and my personal network. When I looked at this and I had carefully mapped out my blueprint for contact metabolism if you will. Three of my closest friends that I count on for the most were not on the list. One of the questions I asked myself is I’m arrested, I’m in jail, I’ve got one phone call. Who do I make that phone call to? Or I’m in the hospital, I have one phone, you know there’s different people you call for different things, but if you know that you’ve got one phone call that you’re going to make for jail because you know they’ll make the bail money and they’ll get a great lawyer and they’ll take care of you, they should be on your master list of networks in the same way that if you’re in the hospital and you need something bad fast, those people.
So at that point, I realized I have to throw away this whole concept of who do I have to nurture, because all relationships need nurturing. And again, the metabolism can be different. I’m just thinking now, one of my very closest friends who I have not seen in a year. That’s kind of unconscionable, and yet I have to do it. So I think you … Don’t do this false dichotomy of this is my professional network and this is my personal network, and these are my professional relationships and these are my personal relationships, because I think at this point in time, the best professional relationships are when we develop a closeness that feels much more like a personal relationship and vice versa. There’s many people who work with you who you know know personally and you’re like, how can find a way to do business together. I think when you keep them separate in your own mind, you miss those opportunities, you miss that additional richness.
Will Bachman: Describe for me your ideal day.
Sunny Bates: Oh, my. There was a joke about that, wasn’t there and it sort of went different ways if you’re a woman or a man. I guess that I always could use more sleep. I could always use more time, either stretching or being in the physical world. So my ideal day probably involves being out in nature, in some kind of beautiful nature and then being really stimulated. I guess last week I would have said I had a pretty ideal day. I connected with somebody that I hadn’t seen in some time and every year we talk a walk. I was at the Ted conference in Vancouver and we met at 7:30 and on the way, we ran into one of my closest friends who was taking a run. She was running with somebody who this friend of mine had worked without, so it was this kind of love fest for a couple of minutes.
We went on and it was a beautiful day by the harbor. We walked and saw these magnificent cedar trees that were so gorgeous and beautiful and you couldn’t help but want to kiss them and throw your arms around them, which I did. Then we saw a beaver trapped in a pond and we spent the better part of half an hour trying to get the beaver without going in the water and lifting it out like a baby, which would have been a bad idea, even for me doing things like that. So we tried to find a board to ramp so the beaver could get out of this pond. Then we found a guy and got a ranger, and then we had to leave.
Then I went into a full day of very intensive ideas and people and celebration. So learning, a very intensive learning was great, surrounded by people I know or am looking forward to meeting. And having my brain immensely stimulated and taking notes and having ideas and then trying to think about what I would do with my newfound information, who I wanted to share it with. Then dancing, which I love to do. So there was late night dancing. And then, as I said, falling into bed probably way too late and having to get up too early the next day.
So if you had asked that, aside from a single anecdote, it would be some form of being out in nature and in some way it would be being with close friends, it would be meeting new people, it would be being stimulated, whether it was intellectually, we knew something artistic or culturally and then physically moving again.
Will Bachman: I’d love to hear about your current firm.
Sunny Bates: I’ve got two companies that I’m very deeply involved in. One is my own company, Sunny Bates Associates. What we do is work with organizations using my 40,000 person network to leverage that to help organizations change, grow, amplify their work. So we’re working in variety of different and very interesting kinds of projects. Sometimes they’re organizations that have a person or two people very much at the center, then sometimes they’re very, very large organizations.
We’re working with Black Rock, which is the largest financial institution in the world right now with their new purpose driven work and helping them to understand and to work on activations around this new purpose that they have now, which is unusual. We’re doing some very, I love bring arts and culture into them so we’re doing a very interesting project there. It’s multifaceted, we’re working with a group called human vaccines project, which are … They have put a stake in the to decode the human immune system, with the sense that no vaccines are able to be effective in the way in which they need to until we understand the human immune system. So in the same way that there was a decoding and a sequencing of the human genome, they’ve launched that with the human immune system. So we’re involved in a network project about that and a fundraising project looking to raise a billion dollars in the next ten years. So that’s a big network project.
We have a number of other projects that are deeply involved in … Part of what Sunny Bates Associates does is around the people and the threads that shape the future, and then how could the networks be activated. And making sure that you bring all the right people around the table. So it’s not necessarily about solutions, but it’s more fully understanding the problems [inaudible 00:12:53] solutions yourself and to move and amplify the work.
Then I am a partner in an organization called Sudden Compass that’s a data company, data strategy company. My two partners Matt LeMay and Trisha Wong are both extraordinary people. Trisha is an ethnographer and had done a great deal of work in China and in Latin America. Matt is a project manager and very deep interesting thinking and educator. So that work that we’ve been doing there has been deep work about understanding the customers and changing customers and how companies need to organize themselves and develop this kind of thinking that’s really customer centric thinking and networked mindset. We’ve got a number of big clients that we’ve been working with.
It’s very interesting to be on one side very deeply involved in networks, all things network as the how to make things happen, and the other side looking at all things that data and data strategy and the human side of data. So those are the two companies that I have.
Along with that I’m on the board of a number or organizations and then I advise about 20 other organizations so obviously the media lab is one, I’m on their advisory council, I’m also specifically an advisory board member for the space initiative there at the media lab. I’m working with a number of political campaigns. I’m on the board, I’m a founding board member of Kickstarter, which has been fantastic. I’m on the board of Creative Capital for almost 20 years now. Been an advisory to the Acumen Fund, have been involved as a global advisory board member for Endeavor, which is an organization I’m working with entrepreneurs around the world. A curated group of extraordinary thinkers and doers around the world called [inaudible 00:14:27] insights network, and that’s about 136 people, part of that around the globe.
So everything … it is networks of people and leaders and it is how can you best, and what periods of time, can you amplify. I’m also working with Ted X and have been building out their advisory council. I’m working close with a Ted X team, which have been fantastic and have been on the [inaudible 00:14:49] of Ted for almost 20 years.
So things that have to do with what’s shaping the world right now. In the arts and cultural field, I’m on the advisory board for pioneer works, which is really transforming Brooklyn and the city of New York through arts and culture as a place you can go to experience everything that art can bring into a neighborhood and change the face of a neighborhood and of a city. I like to say yes to lots and lots of things. I’m always interested in something that’s transformative in nature. I’m not interested in transactions as much, and I tend to be early. Like five years early. So I tend to see things that I’m playing with now that I know are going to be enormous going forward.
I’m also on the advisory board for AI Now, which is a group that [inaudible 00:15:36] ethics. That’s just formed this year. So pretty much anything that’s going to be shaping the future, I’m interested in and usually get pulled into some advisory capacity in some way.
Will Bachman: So, the last decade, social networks, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc have changed the way people connect and interact. You’re really at the forefront of seeing a lot of these things. What do you see as some of the trends or maybe some advice you have for people that are wanting to build their networks, build out relationships. What do you see happening over the next several years? Perhaps in a different direction from what’s happened so far.
Sunny Bates: Well, I think that’s an interesting question because I think that what’s missing in some of those very effective tools, and those very effective both discovering and sharing tools is a kind of depth. I think that we’re seeing a bit of the backlash now with the social network tools, which is to say I say that I have all these friends, but I don’t feel a closeness there. Or why do I feel alone or why do I feel … People do and people feel. I think that you can have a practice where you’re doing a lot, or in some cases it feels more like an addition than a practice. We’ve all had tastes of that. Some of us are very far down that rabbit hole already, not just tasting it, but living it.
What keeps us healthy and what keeps us sane are deep human connections. If the best way to be able to do those are through the different social network tools, wonderful. I think of the number of people who were outsiders in their world as they grew up, that was like them or understood them to be able to find these communities online is extraordinary. To be able to reconnect with people that you lost track of through Facebook is fantastic. To be able to understand and do your research on somebody before you meet with them and using LinkedIn is amazing. LinkedIn is amazing for recruiting. There’s so much value in these tools and they can’t make up for deep human connection. At some point, you want something more. That said, they’re fantastic tools.
WhatsApp is an amazing tool. I keep in touch with so many people. My sweetheart lives in Spain and our entire life lives in WhatsApp, so I’m living a digital romance. It doesn’t take the place of being together in person. It’s a tool that makes it easier to communicate. It can amplify, but it doesn’t replace.
Will Bachman: Talk to me about some of your habits. Perhaps your morning routine, daily routines, things that have really worked for you. Maybe anything that you recently changed. Habits that you’ve changed or added.
Sunny Bates: It’s interesting, I’m always trying to play around with my morning routine. For so many years, I always would do my physical activity in the morning because that was the only way, when my kids were little, that I could do it before work. I sort of got into that habit, which is that things tend to stack up at the end of the day. Now I’m on the advisory board for the American Theater Wing, which makes me a Tony voter. So now I’m all things theater, all the time, because you have to see everything on Broadway. Which is great, it’s just between now and the Tony’s in the beginning of June, I have not a night free. So if I don’t do physical activity in the morning, I don’t do it. I don’t get to it. So that’s typically a morning activity.
I found something recently where I was very excited about trying to experience a moment of beauty first thing in the morning. So it was reading a poem, it was looking at some beautiful photograph or picture, it was listening to a beautiful song. It was something that was a pause for some beauty. I was very excited about that, and then it got pushed back to checking WhatsApp to see what my sweetheart was up to because we have a six hour time difference. So that’s been driving my mornings now.
Then some of the ritual, let’s just say the routine of physical activity and then the ritual of something beautiful. But that said, I also have lots and lots of house guests. One of the things of knowing a lot of people and having a conveniently located apartment in New York City is you have lots of house guests. So that’s also great, because it’s like having a vacation. You come out of bed in the morning and there’s someone you want to talk to.
So many late nights and many mornings I’m with whoever the house guest is, catching up with them and hearing about what’s going on in their life and seeing if there’s anything I can do to make it better or if something interesting can happen.
Will Bachman: Mindfulness, meditation?
Sunny Bates: Yeah, I meditate. I started meditating many, many years ago. When I was 17 TM came through the school and I did it. And then I fell away from it, I would occasionally come back to it and then I fell away from it. I picked it up pretty regularly, probably four or five years ago. Four or five years ago. And then a year ago in December, I had been introduced to two magnificent people who run a place called the One World Academy in India. I had the great privilege of going to … A friend in New York had a session for the weekend and in turn, I was going to be doing work in India. So they said come and see us.
I did. I was working and my daughter was with me and the two of us ended up in [inaudible 00:21:16] at this academy for five days. I mentioned before, I’m not really a planner. I hadn’t really understood what might take place, I was just like oh, sure, I’ll come. As I said, I like to say yes. It was a life changing experience. There was meditation around mindfulness, around not just seeking your truth, but really going deep inside and trying to settle on that which you feared most, which is your personal truth particularly, and how that can drive a lot of negative behavior. So that really is a big turning point for me, and I think at that point, I’m at least once a day regular meditator.
I’m always amazed. Yesterday, I was very tired. I’d had a full morning, very intensive work session for a board, and then I had a meeting. I knew I had to be on here like this is a big meeting, we’ve got like five people coming. I was so tired and I thought how am I going to make it through this? I don’t drink caffeine, so I couldn’t do the upper. So I decided I was going to try a like a 10 minute meditation. I went into one of those public spaces that’s like a private-public space, which is like an atrium of a big office building.
I sat down and I looked around. It was mostly messengers taking a break because it was raining outside. I put my phone in my lap and I put my purse on my lap on top of it because I thought, I may fall asleep during this. I mean like totally konk out.
I just was able to do just 10 minutes. Something happened where I thought someone was tapping me on my shoulder, and in fact it was my phone in my lap, but it buzzed, but i felt it in my shoulder. I woke up and I was wide awake. So I literally did like 10 minutes and I felt like I’d taken a nap. I forget about the power or clarity, of just a few moments of meditation. So yes, indeed.
I think that it’s not even the time that you set aside for it, it’s the practice to put yourself in the mood and the place, but I have to say I see it, like in my office here, there’s many people who meditate. I was actually thinking we should say does anyone want to do a regular time where we take the big conference room and do a group meditation. I see people on the subway often that clearly, they’re meditating. I see that in parks. So, it’s become a much bigger than that certainly has been for me. It’s nice to see it and it’s making its way more broadly through the culture, at least in New York.
Will Bachman: I’m surprised, not surprised, but it’s interesting I’ll say how many successful people who have a practice in medication. One that goes way back and not just in the past year or two. Talk to me about books. Books that have been particularly important to you, books that you’ve gifted most often, or maybe what you’re reading now.
Sunny Bates: I love books, and I’ve got way, way, way too many books. One of my fabulous colleagues a number of years ago was like, no more eBooks for you, Sunny, you’ve just got to get rid of all these books. I’m not drowning in books, but I have a lot of books, and I get a lot of books. At one point I thought, pretty much everything I’ve read is from an author who I know, which is also, what a problem to have. Such a bountiful group of people in my world.
I am a little dyslexic, so I’m a very slow reader. So I’d spend a lot of time with audio, lot of audio books and that’s my favorite thing to do on a plane. I actually don’t watch movies. Very, very rarely. I see tons of theater and I do a lot of art and culture. I listen to podcasts and I listen to audio books a lot. A lot.
I have a really good memory for certain things and I tend to try to, when I gift books, it’s usually when someone’s got a particular problem. A friend of mine who just lost her husband, so I wanted to send her Franco [inaudible 00:25:11] book about the seven habits of [inaudible 00:25:14], he had started a zen center in San Francisco around dying. I thought that would be great.
Another friend who’s daughter was going through something, I knew a book for that. So, my gifts tend to be very specific to what the person is experiencing. I was just recommending the Power Paradox yesterday to somebody because we were taking about the shifting of power. It’s a beautiful book that’s been done about what we think about power, and then the research shows that power is really much for relational. Power is really much more about trust and about helpfulness, and those are people who really have power in groups, rather than this sort of authoritarian, charismatic leader that we’re all following. It’s an interesting, a nice turn of its head of that. So I just sent that off to someone recently.
I’m reading a book that’s still in manuscript form from a very, very close friend. I’m reading the Fire and the Fury on Trump, which is hard to read and Gray, he’s a wonderful writer. Michael Wolf. I’m reading poetry. I always read a lot of poetry. And what am I listening to? I’ve been obsessed with listening to The Hidden Brain. And I just discovered, I don’t know why it took me so long, but my COO Rebecca is a big podcaster, so she said you’ve gotta listen to this. After the first one, I was hooked, the second one I loved it even more. It was like oh, there’s 100 episodes and about [inaudible 00:26:32] that’s 50 hours, I’ll finish that in a couple weeks.
So that’s kind of how I roll in terms of … And when I read, I read fast. I fell in love with Michael Lewis when I was reading the Undoing Project. Then I read everything he’d written. Then I sent The Undoing Project to everybody I knew. I had already read The Fast and Slow Thinking, the Danny Kahneman book, but knowing the story around that I loved. Then a lot of fiction. I was reading a couple different fiction, I guess it was the Orphan Master’s Son and The Sympathizer. Then I decided I had to read every Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, be those had been [inaudible 00:27:08] so I did that. Mostly listened to him. I listened to all of them, actually. Which is what I do on a plane. I travel a lot, so cue up my audible and I just listen to books on the plane. I read slow, but I can listen fast, so I’ll do it at 1.5, sometimes 1.7, sometimes 2.0. If it’s nonfiction, I can race through it.
Will Bachman: I love the theater, and I gotta ask about being a Tony voter and about your involvement with the theater and attending the theater. Can you talk about what that’s like?
Sunny Bates: Well, I guess you can tell by some of what I’ve talked about. I’m kind of an in real life person more than I am a virtual person. So to see the transformative power of theater I think is extraordinary. And to see the ways in which the form can be experimented with and what can happen when you have a group of people experiencing something at the same time in a live audience. To me, there’s something amazing about that.
There’s also times when it’s not. Sometimes when it’s tedious and you’re like oh, gee, this same old thing. But the combination of what can [inaudible 00:28:16] reinterpreted with a new director. It’s sort of like a song. When its rearranged and sung by someone different, you’re like whoa! Totally different song, when you see that kind of remixing. That happens in theater lot and I love that.
I love that when you see a lot of theater, it’s sort of like when you see a lot of movies, you begin to develop a discerning eye and understanding what you love and what makes something great, but there’s something about the alchemy of all of that coming together. I love the experimentation that happens.
Right now Randy Wiener is someone I’m working with on a project. He’s been involved with immersive theater for like 25, almost 30 years. We’ve been involved [inaudible 00:28:55] circus probably 10 years ago. He’s the person who brought Sleep No More here to New York, to America, which has been a huge success globally. He’s always experimenting in different kinds of theatrical forms, so I love seeing these done. I love this stuff.
When you have to see everything on Broadway, which is a great pleasure, but very time consuming, it’s hard to see other things in other theaters. I have a friend who’s a composer, an opera composer. I got an email from him today and he said, I’m going to go see my old, one of my oldest friend’s son’s drag show. You wanna go tonight? I’m like yeah, but I can’t, right, because I’ve got another theater.
So, there’s something about the power of a human being to hold your attention, or a group of human beings to hold your attention in an imaginative, artful way with their talent without special effects that is incredible. And to be guided, manipulated, whatever the word is you wanna say through an experience where you feel like you’ve got choice. You feel like you’re so drawn into it and to the power of doing that with a group of other people.
So I’m looking forward to seeing Harry Potter, which I haven’t yet. But I love the idea of [inaudible 00:30:07] Angels in America, I’m going with a colleague and we’re going to do the matinee and the evening. So put on your seatbelt and know you’re going to be immersed. So I do love that kind of intense immersion.
Will Bachman: Any particular favorites that you’ve seen over the past year or so? Things that are still playing? Are you allowed to say that? I don’t know.
Sunny Bates: Oh, yeah, yeah, of course because it’s just my opinion. The things that are playing [inaudible 00:30:34] amazing, Waitress is amazing. Once on This Island is playing now and there’s beautiful, beautiful voices in that. Very imaginative staging. The Band Visit is a lovely story. I’m just going into ahead of about 20 shows that I’ll be seeing over the next month. Yeah. I wasn’t joking when I said every single night and sometimes, you know twice in a day. So, what else is … This is the problem, you’ll ask me and I’ll tell you what I just saw.
I think that there’s less this year than there has been in the last two years, I think, although I may be saying things out of turn because I haven’t seen as much. There hasn’t been as much going on.
Will Bachman: I guess with so much time going to Broadway, you may not have as much chance to go to Classic Stage or Theater [crosstalk 00:31:34].
Sunny Bates: Yeah, I have not has as much, that’s one of my problems. I don’t get to see much opera. I remember one of the things I loved in the last couple years that I thought was extraordinary. It played last year on Broadway and it won a Pulitzer. It didn’t win a Tony, but it won a Pulitzer, was Sweat. Then another show played this year at Lincoln Center called Junk. To me, those things should be staged together, even though they’re totally different.
Junk was the story of junk bonds happening in the 80’s with Drexel Burnham and the lead character was modeled on Michael Milken. And this whole reshaping of thinking on Wall Street, which is greed is good and debt is good and the financing companies who debt. What was so interesting about that really magnificent performance was that every character in there, you could identify with in some ways. Some you loved more than others, but everybody had a dark side to them. Then everybody had their price. It wasn’t a matter of, no one would stand this tidal wave so it wasn’t a matter of if you were going to cave or not or sell out. Everyone sold out, it was just a matter of price.
So there was an emptiness and a sadness at the end. But, you cut from that in the 80’s to Sweat, which started in the 90’s, which was what happened. They’re only connected in my mind, and sort of historically, which was that Sweat is what happened. You had the 90’s, it was in Reading, Pennsylvania, it was a closing down of the big steel factory in town. So the end of it when the new owners came in and it was no longer the family that owned it, it had sort of been the factory family town, then it was some kind of a private equity group that was stripping it down. The dynamics that happened in that, really artfully done. So, race played out. Friendships began to fray. That closeness, the steaming and the anger and then the terrible consequences of some of these actions.
It went between some contemporary day back into the 90’s. So with Junk, you saw this is what we do in the 80’s, this is where it goes, takes us in the 90’s, this is where we are now. It was really, really extraordinary to see those things together. Long winded [crosstalk 00:33:59]
Will Bachman: That’s was awesome. Well, I think our time is almost up, Sunny. I guess one question, maybe, before we wrap. You say you travel a lot and it sounds like you always have your phone so you can be listening to audio books. Anything else that you always take with you when you travel?
Sunny Bates: I’ve got my packing down to a fine art right now. Really, truly. So, it’s funny you say this because years ago, my friend James Truman was the editor of the Ritz Carlton magazines and I did a column for him about people, what they brought when they travel. Now they’ve got that list in the Times travel section. But I’m always fascinated by what people travel with. I always travel with my neck pillow. I always travel with herbal teas. I always travel with loaded up … I always travel with my computer, too, because I try to do all of my email catch up usually in Google offline.
I had one day where I had to travel almost 24 hours, I think I was online for 15 hours of email. But I drained, I got through everything. It was fantastic.
Sometimes I travel with magazines, with physical magazines, and then I get to tear them apart and leave them behind to keep things that I want to send to people. I was in the magazine business a long time ago, so that’s a habit that persists. Always with a couple of really big, warm scarves, like Phashmina, her silk scarves to keep warm. Ear plugs, noise canceling ear phones, all my cords. I feel like I’ve got a zoo, they’re all lining up now, lighting, blinking at me like a bunch of animals.
I don’t have any talismans, necessarily that I travel with. I don’t have a fear of flying or those things.
Will Bachman: Herbal tea and plenty of cords.
Sunny Bates: Herbal tea, plenty of cords, lot of ginger tea. Sometimes I travel with a strange, I do a lot of Chinese herbs and stuff, so sometimes I’ll travel with those things. I’ll travel with gelatin, which I use like a protein in the morning and evening, which keeps my energy level good. Then sometimes a Chinese mix that Trisha Wong, who I mentioned before, that she gives me and then put hot water on to be drinking. Oh, and tea tree oil for inside your nostrils on long flights so you don’t get colds. There you go. Disinfectant.
Will Bachman: Sunny, so generous of you to share some times. Thank you so much for joining.
Sunny Bates: My pleasure.

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