“Only Make Time for Greatness And Never Forget the Joy Factor”
A Changemaker Chat with Deb Dugan, CEO of (RED)

“There’s no job I haven’t done. I was a welder, a waitress, you name it, I’ve done it.” 
As a young woman, I looked outside my family for role models. After graduating college, Deborah chose to go to the University of Utah Law School, where they gave her a room, arranged for a job as a waitress, and she was able to pay for and complete a 3-year law degree.

On landing a job as a Wall Street lawyer
Fresh out of school, Deb walked into her first job interview and asked “What do you do here?” The firm provided a laundry list of what they did. On her next interview with the firm, they asked “What are you interested in doing?” and Deborah just regurgitated the list she had heard the day before. She got the job. When asked where she gets her confidence going into an interview, her answer is clear: desperation. Always assume you can do it. Deborah then spent 4 years on Wall street working 90 hour weeks.

The smartest thing I’ve ever done is follow my passion
I took the pay cut from Wall Street to follow what I love, music. She started working for Lawyers for the Arts, where she learnt how to do a record deal. This in turn led her into an attorney role at EMI Records, a major record label.

A great mentor is someone who nurtures the talents you may not have seen in your self. 
Deborah was lucky to have a great mentor who shaped her career at EMI and put her on the path from lawyer to CEO. Her mentor, the head of a label at EMI, noticed that her talents did not simply lie in being a good music attorney, but that Deborah also had a knack for picking hit singles. Her role shifted from law to managing record deals, labels and more. Right before they would enter a meeting together, she would ask him “what are the three things you want them to think when you walk out of that room?” Making others look good is critical to your own success.

If you are lucky enough to work for a place where they give you formal training, embrace it.
Deborah transitioned from EMI to Disney, where selling records was replaced with sales of books, authors and magazines. As one of the company’s six presidents, she received formal management training, for which she is truly grateful.

Take that morning breakfast meeting…especially if it’s with Bono. 
Deborah was looking to apply her business acumen to philanthropy and apply her skills in marketing, sales and branding for social good. A recruiter reached out with “Would you like to have breakfast with Bono in the morning?” While some of us might feel apprehensive to take such a celebrity meeting, Deborah says “I don’t get wowed by celebrity… I work well with crazy talented artistic people.” After taking a look at (RED)’s books, and thinking she’d rather like working with Bono, she took the job as CEO of (RED). Here, she applies the skill set of bringing products to market to save lives.

At (RED) we power awareness campaigns and harness companies’ marketing power to fight HIV/AIDS
Founded by Bono and Bobby Shriver to engage brands in the fight against AIDS – (RED) has raised over half a billion dollars. Deb spoke of the innovative partnership with Coca-Cola: (RED) loves their “last mile” campaign, which leverages their global supply chain distribution network to deliver anti-retroviral medication to communities in hard to reach areas.  “People want products that stand for something. The truth is, people have lost faith in government, in the media, but they trust those brands in their close network. They expect companies to do good and have a sense of purpose.”

On Deborah’s leadership style… “We are a small team so we have stayed focused on big swings but keep our eye on the joy factor”
At (RED), we are 25 people in a loft in Chelsea, we definitely have a start-up mentality. We are built on agile teams where things shift at a moment’s notice. When a deal falls through, you realize that lives are on the line.

On work-life balance…”Fake confidence, fake composure”
Deborah has mastered a few life-hacks.
1.      Realize that you will burn out on the “trying to do it all treadmill”.
2.      Set Limits and Dance More
3.      I brush my teeth in the shower
4.      Maintain perspective
5.      No time for BS


  • The Coca Cola Company
  • Eataly
  • City Winery