The National Coalition of Ethnic Organizations (NECO) awarded Santa Barbara management guru Dr. Ichak Adizes the Ellis Medal of Honor on May 8 in Ellis Island, NY. According to NECO’s website, the award celebrates those who have brought diversity to America. Notable past recipients include President Bill Clinton, President George H. W. Bush, President Gerald Ford, Mohammad Ali, Frank Sinatra, Donald Trump, and many others.
Dr. Azides is the first Macedonian-Israeli to have won the award. He is the founder and president of Azides Institute, and he is regarded as one of the leading management experts in the world. He has received fifteen honorary doctorates, two honorary citizenships, and the honorary rank of Major from the military. According to a press release, he has been on the teaching staff of UCLA, Stanford, and Columbia University. This month, he will travel the globe, consulting prime ministers and top companies.
He generously gave me 40 minutes of time for an interview where he talked about the award, his history in management, and Santa Barbara.
You’ve recently won the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. That puts you in extremely elite company. What was your reaction to winning the award? What does the award mean to you?
Well, in the beginning, I was not too moved because I’ve received enough awards in the past that I don’t get too excited. And then, I went to the event itself and was really moved. The idea of the award went really well with my philosophy about how we should honor and have diversity. And the past recipients are a really unbelievable list of people. So, I was very honored to be included on that list.
The ceremony itself was a very impressive event. The band of United States military was playing, Marines were saluting, flags were flying. And there were 100 of us to receive the award. I was the first one to be called, so I was sitting in the back row, and I could see everyone else sitting in front of me.
The story that comes before that is this. When I came to the United States in 1963, I came with the Israeli delegation called Experiment International Living. The purpose was to stay for six weeks, experience what it means to be an American, and then go back home. At the end of my stay, I got papers to be accepted to Columbia University for a master’s degree. But they didn’t give me any money. I managed to get a student loan for tuition, but I had no money to live on whatsoever. When I finished first semester at Columbia, I was actually starving. And I thought my stay in the United States was over. I went to the director the international house and explained that I had no money. I received $2,000 fellowship from a guy named Stanley Rumbough. And because of that fellowship, I finished my MBA at Columbia. And then I got my fellowship to get my doctorate, then the rest is history.
At the award ceremony, Stanley Rumbough was there. And he was given the same medal at the same ceremony on the same night. So, I went there, and I thanked him, because I really appreciated what he did. It was a very exciting moment.
How are you able to integrate so many different cultural perspectives into your business?
Because of my background, I lecture in four different languages. I lecture in English, Hebrew, Serbian, and also in Spanish. And this has enabled me to lecture all over the world. So far, I have lectured to top executives and consultants in fifty-two countries, so I actually cover the world very well and not as a tourist but as someone who gets to know the inner workings of the country. And that gives me the vision to see that the problems of the world are not that unique. Usually, when we have problems, we think no one else in the world has them. But, when you travel the globe, you start to see patterns, so my methodology developed in response.
What drew you to the management field?
When I went to the university to study, I didn’t know what to study. I liked every field of social science, but I had to specialize. And then, this older man told me: “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” But, I wondered, what does it mean to “do what you love”? It means to do what inspires you. But what does it mean, inspire? It means to be in spirit. What does it mean to be in spirit? It means to be lost. You don’t remember what gravity is, you don’t remember where you are. You are totally integrated in something bigger than yourself, integrated to the point that you disappear. And then I realized the next thing. When you do something you love, you get more energy from it than what went into it. So I asked myself, what is it that I get so excited it gives me energy? And I realized it was political science. I decided to study public administration.
And then, when I worked for my master’s at Columbia, everybody was trying to convince me to study marketing, but what I really had a passion for was management. And now, the rest is history. I was following my love, following my heart, that which gives me energy, gives me excitement, and gives me reason to live.
How did you develop your theories of management, and what was your experience in the corporate world?
Many years ago, there was a Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. It was chaired by this guy named Bob Hutchins. He was a very unusual guy. By the time of the center, he was 77-years-old, and he was dying of Leukemia. The center was creme de la creme of intellectual society of America. It was a highlight of my life. But, the center was dying because Bob Hutchins was dying from cancer. I offered my consulting so the center could keep going after his departure. I wrote about why this will disappear upon his death, and what we need to do to maintain its life. And everybody that read the book, including Bob Hutchins, said, “You’re absolutely right.” And then, nothing happened. Nothing happened. Bob Hutchins died, the center was moved to UCSB, and after, it disappeared. And I was really depressed. And then I told a friend how everybody agreed with me, but they lied to me! And he laughed at me, and he said the majority of these consulting reports never get through. I realized there must be a new field for me to study. So I began studying a new field. How do make change happen, not on a piece of paper, but in reality? So I developed a new field of consulting.
There was another event that caused me to go to this field. In 1969, I was in a program that helped manage a fiscal organization. And the LA Music Center hired me to see how I could improve the operations of the center. I finished writing the report and submitted it, and they called me in and ask me to sign a paper that I’ve never written this report, and that it doesn’t exist because my ideas went against their own political agenda. I was shocked! I decided to really study implementation, how to maneuver around political powers, so that actual change can be implemented.
What drew you to Santa Barbara?
While I was here for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, I fell in love with the city. Small, clean, wonderful weather, no real crime that you could talk about. And very, very interesting people. It was a jewel. When I gave up UCLA, I realized I could live anywhere I wanted to in the world because my work is not in my office. My work is around the world. So why not Santa Barbara?
Also, when I was writing my dissertation, my friend gave me a little hut. A little, little hut in Malibu, on the beach with a bathroom shower outside so I could sit down and write. And it was one of the happiest times of my life, just writing my books secluded. When I drove to the beach of Santa Barbara, and I saw a open house, and it was a replica of that little hut where I stayed when I was writing my dissertation. My wife and I refurbished it and we moved to Santa Barbara. I don’t live there anymore, but I loved that little hut.
The only problem with Santa Barbara is nothing compares to it. I go around the world, but nowhere is as nice and good as Santa Barbara.
You’ve published 11 books, some in 26 languages. Where do you draw your inspiration for these books?
Well, the inspiration for my books is the problems I encounter when I work with clients. Any problems that they cannot solve, they ask me to solve. And that’s what keeps me awake at night and gives me material. I get my inspiration from real problems in real life.
What inspired you to found the Azides Institute?
I could be consulting as an individual for a good living. But there was nobody for me to talk to. Nobody to share with, nobody to discuss problems that I did not know how to solve. So I decided to establish my own institute so that together we can share knowledge, develop the knowledge, and motivate each other because when you’re alone, you burn out quickly. I needed a place where I could teach to and learn from my associates.
It’s known that you have some personal habits that set you apart from so many other Americans. What inspired your interest in folk dancing and the accordion? Why are you a vegan?
Folk dancing and accordion playing comes from my cultural background. You learn it before you learn how to walk as a child. It’s what you do! I cannot describe the feeling when people get together, have a meal, and sing until four o’clock in the morning. It is unbelievably beautiful.
Now, the vegan thing started over seven years ago when I was trying to lose weight. What I learned is that losing weight is not a goal. The point is to be healthy. And I learned all the disadvantages and side-effects of eating meat. And the commercial world always tries to make profits. They fill up the meat with all kinds of antibiotics. So I decided to stick to a vegetarian meal. But it is very hard to get away from the addiction to meat and bread. I’m not that strict unfortunately.
What message would you leave today for the people who will follow in your footsteps?
Well, what I consider my mantra is learn like you will live forever and love like you will die tomorrow. Many people say they won’t learn because they’re too old, they’re going to die anyway, so it’s useless. No, no! Learn as if you will live forever. And love, with passion, with everything you have, as if you will die tomorrow.
One final question. Is there a question that I missed? If you could conduct an interview for yourself, what is the most important question you’d ask?
What am I proud of? Nobody asks what I’m proud of! They say he’s got doctorates, and honorary citizenships and numerous awards, but they never ask, “What are you really proud of?”
Well, what are you really proud of?
Losing one pound of my weight! That is the most difficult thing for me to do. Getting prizes is what other people give you. You have no control over it. What are you trying to change that is in your control to change? That is what you should be proud of. What have you done about your life, not what other people have given to you.