Joe Sabia ’05 is the creative director of Studio Sabia and a renowned digital content creator. As SVP of creative development at Condé Nast, Joe created Vogue Magazine’s 73 Questions while growing Condé Nast’s cumulative YouTube audience from 1.5M to 46M subscribers. Joe is a 2005 alumnus of TFAS’s Prague Program and is a graduate of Boston College.
In this week’s Liberty and Leadership Podcast, Roger and Joe discuss his TFAS experience in Prague skydiving and rooming with “George from Georgia” (the country not the state), driving from London to Mongolia for charity, how Joe got started producing YouTube content in college, working with people you like, creating 73 Questions for Vogue Magazine, owning a pizza restaurant, and how Joe won the international pun championship.
The Liberty + Leadership Podcast is hosted by TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 and produced by kglobal. If you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni who are making a real impact in politics, public policy, government, business, philanthropy, law, and the media. Today, I’m excited to be joined by Joe Sabia, a leader in the digital space and creator behind Vogue’s 73 questions. Among many other things Joe has developed in his career. Joe attended the TFAS program in Prague in 2005. Today, Joe will tell us about his work in the digital space. His experience since TFAS. And maybe if we’re lucky, about the Italian restaurant he co-owns in Georgia. Joe, I’m looking forward to our conversation today. Thanks so much for joining me.
Joe Sabia [00:00:52] Thank you for having me.
Roger Ream [00:00:53] Well, if you could, I’d like to first start with a little bit about your TFAS experience in 2005. You went to our program in Prague. It was about, I guess it was 12 years old at the time and it brought together a very diverse number of countries in that region and from the United States and elsewhere. For three weeks at Charles University and living in that beautiful city. What prompted you to go to the program? How did you discover it?
Joe Sabia [00:01:22] I think we have to go back to December of 2004, six months before the program. I’m in the study abroad office at Boston College, about to go in to talk about the next four months living in Italy. And for me, I chose the spring semester to go abroad. I was kind of excited. But that term of study abroad went from February to June. And when I was about to go into the office, it sounds like a crazy story. But I’m sitting there in the chair waiting to have my name called, and when my name was called, I got up and a brochure probably the size of this piece of paper falls on my foot and I look down and it says, Your summer in Prague. And I put two and two together and I said, well, I don’t have plans after Italy. You know, I was planning on probably going back and just working over the summer, but if I extended my stay just a little bit, then this is one heck of a reason to stay in Europe. So I open up the pamphlet three weeks all of July. I studied political science and economics. This was about political science and economics. And I said, I got to ask my parents if I can get permission for this. So my parents were like, Yeah, cool. As long as you like work and pay it off right when you get back. But that was the reason why, just the brochure fell on my foot. So I applied. I got in and I found myself on a train from Rome, Italy, arriving in Prague on July 7. And the rest is history.
Roger Ream [00:02:54] Yeah. And you made the most of that experience, from what I’ve heard from you and from our team that was over there. What we really love is for the American students to take advantage of the opportunity to really engage with students from all these other countries. And tell me about that experience.
Joe Sabia [00:03:13] It was really special because I had gone from four months living in a house where I was pretty much the only American surrounded by 15 Italians who didn’t speak English. And I was really out of my comfort zone in those four months. I loved it because I learned the language. I loved it because I felt out of my comfort zone. But it was a different type of being out of the comfort zone that I experienced in Prague because there was only a dozen Americans surrounded by 130 Eastern Europeans. I had heard about, you know, as a geography buff, I had heard about a lot of these countries, except for one, you know, one country. I think out of all of them I haven’t heard of was the country of Georgia. The only reference I had to the country of Georgia was the femme fatale from Goldeneye, the movie called Pierce Brosnan. And Pierce Brosnan is like, is your accent Georgian? So that was the only reference I had. But I think that being out of the comfort zone, being surrounded by so many Eastern Europeans, because for them, getting into this program was a very important thing that their whole upbringing has. They were reminded of all of the students who were lucky enough to be sponsored, to be sent over to a program like Prague. And for me, I kind of took it for granted as an American. I didn’t really know many other people who did this program. It wasn’t as well known in the university system that I attended. So it was a really special thing to see a lot of people who been waiting a very long time to have the opportunity to be in this environment. And I felt a deep sense of appreciation for that. I felt very lucky to be a part of that. Knowing how many and knowing what this program meant to a lot of people.
Roger Ream [00:04:56] Yeah. There’s a member of Congress who did our program when he was a college student, and he did it about ten years earlier than you. So the students he was around had a little bit more of a firsthand experience living under communism. Though the students you were with had that experience when they were young. But he echoed what you just said. I mean, it’s what, you know, he realized. In a sense, he didn’t appreciate the amount of freedom he had. The democracy he grew up in compared to his classmates. Did the experience there then have a lasting impact on you in any way?
Joe Sabia [00:05:31] I think in that regard, it was a deep, deep educational process. Those three weeks, let’s be honest, Roger, I think the real bonding happens in nightlife and, you know, not so much in the classroom. It’s the bonds and the relationships.
Roger Ream [00:05:47] Over cheap beer at the pubs in Prague.
Joe Sabia [00:05:49] The most delicious beer in the world, mind you. But I think that, yeah, there’s many forms of education going on. I think the deepest education was learning about the lives of these students who were my age, getting somewhat of a surface level understanding of very hard upbringings, you know, not just for them, but for their parents and their grandparents in some countries were worse than others. But I think at the end of the day, the students that I saw were just extremely intelligent, extremely affable and just happy to be there networking and whatnot. So the thing that’s really exceptional about my experience, which completely blindsided me, was the fact that my roommate was this guy, George, from Georgia. And he is this really likable, extremely friendly guy who I clicked with immediately to the degree that you would think that we were brothers from another mother. And that friendship that was formed with him, those three weeks with other Georgians, shout out to Nini and Tatyana to this Dutch guy, Vincent Blanquer. You know, we basically formed quite a bond hanging out and it was absolute bliss. It was three weeks of the happiest weeks of my life. And these were friendships and bonds that have lasted a lifetime. And when I mean lifetime, I mean, I’ve been to Georgia 20 times since that experience. I consider myself the unofficial American ambassador of the country. It’s a responsibility that I carry.
Roger Ream [00:07:35] Well, maybe we can make that official someday.
Joe Sabia [00:07:38] I doubt it, I don’t even think that’s a possible thing. But we’re talking about a brochure falling on my foot that led to quite a significant picture in my life. I mean, we’re talking one of the most important aspects of my life, features of my life is these friendships and all of the immersion, you know, the real immersion that comes with knowing more and more about the lives of these friends and the culture that they come from, a culture that’s absolutely worth celebrating. One of the coolest, best kept secrets of the world is a country like Georgia. So I feel really grateful, super grateful that I got accepted into the program that I ended up there.
Roger Ream [00:08:22] Well, I think you had mentioned that you are godparent to is that to Georgia’s one of his children?
Joe Sabia [00:08:32] Yeah. Anastasia, his firstborn daughter, who I think is turning 12 this year. Like talk about a bond right? Being asked to be the best man and being asked to be the godfather of a child. I mean, this is a deep connection and it’s so deep that I actually brought my roommate from Boston College into the mix. His name is Ryan and Ryan has also become a best friend. So we’re a triumph for it. The three of us are extremely close and we got in businesses together. And, you know, it’s a very, very deep connection, extremely special.
Roger Ream [00:09:04] So you mentioned you’ve been to Georgia some 20 times. You’ve also traveled a lot of other places. Is it right you’ve been to, what, some 80 plus countries in the world?
Joe Sabia [00:09:16] Yeah. I’ve had the great fortune of just going out and trying to be in as many places as possible over the years. You know, I think back to some of the crazier trips I’ve taken. Four years after Prague, I hopped in a Fiat Cinquecento which is basically has the engine of the size of a golf cart. And I drove from England to Mongolia 10,000 miles, 40 days. Those days are done. I don’t know if my health insurance policy covers what would possibly happen at this age there. But yes, I’ve definitely traveled. Ex-Soviet states are some of my favorite. I really just have loved going to that part of the world and yeah just really happy to have explored and also connected with a lot of the friends I met at Apex. Every place I went.
Roger Ream [00:10:07] The trip from London to Mongolia was that something you filmed or turned into some sort of documentary? Why did you do that? Just for fun?
Joe Sabia [00:10:17] I don’t know, I just knew there is this massive rally that happened. It wasn’t a race it’s just everyone get in a tiny car and do whatever it takes to get to Mongolia. Now, this is before obviously everything that’s happened in Russia and the complications there you can’t really do this type of trip anymore. But yeah, that was kind of that was the whole thing, you know. So really crazy.
Roger Ream [00:10:40] Well, let me ask you a little bit now about the success you’ve had in your career. Well how did a political science and economics major end up on the career path that you’re on today with the creative documentaries and videos and Internet site, the websites you’ve just, you know, so successfully built.
Joe Sabia [00:11:04] I was a confused kid back then. I honestly was getting off that train and going to Prague, having a great experience. But that other life that I had at college was one where, I don’t know, I was a little bit conflicted. I was a political science and economics major. I had gone to BC, which is such an incredible school and I’m so grateful for the experience I had. But here I am getting into arts and scientists switching I’ll go into business school thinking that that’s going to be better for my career and then leaving business school and going back into arts and sciences. So I had kind of a schizophrenic, uncertain experience, one that I think was driven more about the idea that I needed straight A’s just to do something in grad school. Then the self-examination that I really should have done to say, what is it that I’m good at? What is it that I derive joy from? And is there a need in the world for it? Now those three things are the three key questions of a Jesuit education at Boston College hammered into our heads are those three key questions, and I was the worst at really trying to understand and answer those questions for my whole experience. So that summer was a really crazy turning point or a fork in the road, crossroads, whatever you want to call it. Because I had this one idea that I guess like political science and economics was for me. And then right when I got back to the States my senior year, everything was flipped upside down. I realized that my calling was entertainment and video work, picking up my dad’s camera, shooting things that were zero budget that had an impact. And sufficient enough to make me realize that I can do it for a living. So my senior year was one where I created this web show. And this web show was a spoof of the TV show The O.C. It was starring a Jesuit priest called and people like Tim Russert, you know, because his son went there to make cameos and Doug Flutie made cameos as well. And my senior year was one where, you know, I was really taking economics and political science classes that were interrupted by The New York Times, coming in by CBS Evening News, coming to film me and the team and me taking spring break trips out my, you know, to Hollywood. Interviewing for Hollywood. So it’s a very, very nontraditional thing that happened to me. And my calling was realized right after AIPES. And now maybe it’s because of the Prague program. Maybe the Prague program may have made the universe come together in a certain way. And I don’t know how much credit I should be giving to The Fund for American Studies. But that was my senior year. And then from there, I just was on a path to digital video, you know, YouTube creation, very much that. And I’ve made a living off of that platform, filming all types of things, you know, which eventually landed me to Condé Nast Entertainment, filming 73 questions. So that path was that time right in 2005 and 2006.
Roger Ream [00:14:03] Well, let’s talk for a minute about 73 questions. And some people listening to this may not know what that is. I’ll just describe it as a opportunity for you to meet with a famous person, a celebrity of some sort, and pose 73 questions to them, often in their home. Maybe not, I guess not always. And it caught on like wildfire. I mean, you go to any of those interviews and they have, you know, 18, 20, 30 million views. It’s really remarkable. Describe it maybe better than I did. And kind of what led you to create that program?
Joe Sabia [00:14:44] I mean, that was a perfect description. It’s pretty self-explanatory. I go to someone’s home and I ask them 73 questions. During that time in 2014, I was a digital creator making all sorts of YouTube videos and many of which would kind of go viral. And I was known for just having kind of out there out of the box concepts and ideas that I was, for the most part, doing myself. And an opportunity came up to do something with Sarah Jessica Parker, where they said, Joe, you’re a YouTube creator. We don’t want a traditional filmmaker. We don’t want a traditional fashion photographer. We kind of want you to throw your hat in the ring to come up with a great idea of what you would do in the first time ever being in Sarah Jessica Parker is home. So at that time I was all about one take videos. I was doing so much of that. So I said, How about in one take? I’m basically going in and asking her an absurd amount of questions like, you know, 100 and which ended up getting trimmed down to 73. So my buddy at the time, Vince Palin, said, well, what if what if she’s looking at the camera as if the camera is you? And that ended up turning this into a format where the camera is me. You hear my voice and I’m going around and the celebrities looking at the camera as if they’re looking at me, as if they’re looking at you if you’re watching the video and they’re answering 73 questions in rapid speed. So this was the first thing that we did for Vogue. Sarah Jessica Parker kicked it off. And then I remember going back in the office being like, Do it again, do it again. So, kind of Nest Entertainment and Vogue ended up doing it again and then it’s turned into over 80 times over the past eight years.
Roger Ream [00:16:15] So was 73, just kind of random number?
Joe Sabia [00:16:18] Yeah, it was just 100 was too many because it was one take. So we trimmed it down to 73. I Googled it and it was a prime number, had good search engine optimization.
Roger Ream [00:16:27] I mean the first question that occurred to me watching these is how do you get the celebrities to agree to this? Is it I mean, they’re all so famous to begin with. They don’t need more publicity. You know, maybe you’ll tell me you pay them all $25,000 or $1,000 a question.
Joe Sabia [00:16:47] 30,000. No, I’m kidding.
Roger Ream [00:16:49] But I kind of wondered, you know, you’ve had just the top of stars from Hollywood. You’ve had, you know, Roger Federer from the world of tennis. Which is something they’re willing to do?
Joe Sabia [00:16:59] Yeah, pretty much. I mean, the entertainment space, I mean, for anyone who paid attention to maybe the early like 2010, 11, 12, 13, 14, for the most part, when you think about like a famous person, you only saw them in a few modes. You would see them on a red carpet at an event and someone’s asking them about what they’re wearing. You’d see them on Jimmy Fallon and for the most part, or, you know, like Jay Leno, where there’s this late night host asking them kind of mundane questions or you would see them if you’ve ever seen the movie Junket Posters where they’re answering questions from Access Hollywood, talking about the experience with the movie posters behind them. So at the same time, social media was rising, you know, and social media was providing a link for actors and actresses and musicians to have a direct link with their audience, athletes as well. But the idea that you can authentically capture celebrity as themselves, not in these outdated modes that I just mentioned, was kind of a new concept. So for a publisher like Vogue, who for many, many years was the best in the world at doing the whole photo on the cover, maybe a behind the scenes video where they’re talking about an experience working on a movie where there’s like cutaways of them, like getting photographed. It was a very, like, magazine approach to video. So to do something as random and conceptual and strange and interesting as go in the home where the interviewer is the camera and you’re asking rapid-fire questions and they need to pull off something. As difficult as that was, an example of one of the first ever times where celebrities were being asked to do things that were very out of the norm. And Roger, I don’t know if you’re a fan of a show called Hot Ones, but celebrities eating hot wings in increasingly hot order is another example around that time of platforms, realizing if you have a celebrity, do something fun with them. Do something interesting. And that’s what kicked off my career, working full time at Condé Nast Entertainment where we developed hundreds of these formats where if you have 15 minutes with a celebrity promoting something, you might as well do something fun with them.
Roger Ream [00:19:09] If anyone wants to watch those interviews, they’re all linked at JoeSabia.com is that right?
Joe Sabia [00:19:16] Yeah. Go to JoeSabia.co. It’s on Vogue. You can kind of see my portfolio on my personal site of just all the strange, strange things I’ve done over the years on the Internet. Are you big internet video watcher Roger.
Roger Ream [00:19:32] I wouldn’t consider myself as a big one, but, you know, I’ve seen a few dozen of TED videos that have been, you know, useful ones to me. I get directed to them by people I know, my children and others, but I’d say I watch 73 questions more than any other videos. And before this, I guess you did this Sopranos video that went viral. Is that right?
Joe Sabia [00:19:58] Yeah. Back in 2007, I got a job at HBO because of that Web show I just mentioned. And I was a full-time employee of HBO, and I was more interested in kind of doing these very experimental, like, remixes where I would take footage when I really shouldn’t have and chopping it all together. And in doing things like recapping everything that happened in The Sopranos, and I thought that I was doing the public service because the final season was coming up. So if people were able to watch my recap of everything that happened, then they were all caught up for the final season. So me and my roommate, Paul kind of chopped together a recap. And HBO didn’t know about it because if they did then they would have been really pissed because back then, like the idea of taking all of the footage and spoiling everything that happened was unheard of. So my boss at the time, Franchetti, who’s a mentor of mine now, said, look, I’m not going to tell you not to do it, but if you do, don’t put your name on it because you’re the one who works at HBO. So I put the recap out and it went viral. Was in the New York Times. Again, I found myself in the New York Times twice in one year. And then I realized, wow, I have a knack for doing offbeat viral video work. So I kind of just ended up leaving HBO, and I just did that for many years, just making strange things that went viral on the Internet. And that’s pretty much where I come from.
Roger Ream [00:21:18] Now when’s the last time you did a 73 Questions interview?
Joe Sabia [00:21:21] So I left Condé Nast Entertainment two years ago to start my own studio, my own company. But 73 questions keeps going. I just did Anna Wintour for the second time in an interview. I did Jennifer Lawrence before that, Dua Lipa, Adele. So I think we’re trying to focus now more on real A-list massive names versus maybe up and coming, you know, celebrities. So it happens, I don’t know, like three or four times a year. Roger Federer, though, you mentioned Roger.
Roger Ream [00:21:50] Yeah, as a fan of tennis that, you know, he’s just top of my list of tennis players. And you did an amazing one. It was at Wimbledon, of all places. How do you arrange something like that? I mean, you just get in touch with his people and ask him if you can do it and he agreed?
Joe Sabia [00:22:12] People have this idea that I’m doing the outreach or I’m hanging out with all these celebrities. It’s very systematic in the way that these bookings happen. You know, there’s a couple of ways, you know, for Vogue to have someone on the cover. There’s an interview, there’s a photo session, and then some of them or many of them will go and do a 73 questions interview because it is tied to the booking. Then other times, there are people who Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, there are people who she just really honors, who she’s friends with, who she would love to have shine in a format like this. And Roger Federer represents an example of that, where Anna has been friends with him for a very long time and Anna I think pulled the strings and said, Roger, you should do this interview. Joe should go out to Wimbledon right before you play and do it. So Roger obliged. Who can turn that down? I show up and Roger’s the first ever celebrity I interviewed who gave me a massive hug when he met me. He’s like, Joe! Good to see you. I’m like, this guy’s the real deal.
Roger Ream [00:23:17] He seemed to just thoroughly enjoy the interview, you know, had a smile on his face the whole time.
Joe Sabia [00:23:22] Yeah. And everyone’s like, Who’s your favorite? Who’s your favorite? That’s the number one question I get. And I often say Roger Federer like that was my favorite interview. If you watch it, it’s supernatural, it’s super amazing. And he’s just such a great guy. What you see is what you get with someone like him. He’s just a great guy.
Roger Ream [00:23:40] Do you find that’s the case with most of the celebrities you interview or do you kind of get a sense when you interview someone that whether the person’s kind of real or not.
Joe Sabia [00:23:50] For the most part, everyone really is real. You know, I think a lot of people are able to be real because of the format, because it’s vogue, because this is a comfortable and safe space for them to be themselves. And I think that that’s the power of that brand is that, you know, the celebrities that are featured in Vogue really want to be there. This is not an obligation, you know. So I think a lot of the experiences I’ve had with celebrities is that they’re just happy to be there. They’re happy to be in the club of 73 questions, of being on a cover of Vogue. Of course, there’s some off days for certain people. Of course, like anyone else who has off days. Of course, maybe there’s a little bit of that, but for the most part, really pleasant people and they’re just really grateful that they’re there and I’m really grateful to be there with them.
Roger Ream [00:24:34] You have in your bio that you in 2007 won a competition in puns? A pun competition. I didn’t know there was such a thing though. We have someone close to TFAS who is the International Whistling Champion. So there are whistling competitions. Tell me, what was this pun competition?
Joe Sabia [00:24:54] It was. I thought Roger was going to ream me out for this.
Roger Ream [00:24:59] I was going to ask you to make a pun about Prague or something about the Prague program or Charles University.
Joe Sabia [00:25:08] Well, it’s actually funny you mention that, because I’ve always known that I’ve had a proclivity for puns. I’m always punning. And I ended up going to the International Pun Championships in Texas in 2007, two years after the Prague program. And I ended up winning because I did the US Presidents as puns. Oh, so this is up your alley, Roger. Just a bunch. All the U.S. presidents as puns. George was washing tons of clothes with saliva. He was spitting, Miller didn’t fill more food in the dish for an already starving kitten. Zachary didn’t bring my suit to the tailor like I asked him to. Franklin pierced his ears. William and Howard got tattoos.
Roger Ream [00:25:45] All right.
Joe Sabia [00:25:47] Right. Corny. So I ended up winning. So as you know, Roger, there’s these country presentations.
Roger Ream [00:25:56] Yes. In Prague. Yes.
Joe Sabia [00:25:58] Where we have a massive dinner. Everyone drinks a little bit more than they should. And everyone has their opportunity to represent their country with what they’re wearing, with the music that’s playing, with any sort of presentation. And that was one of my favorite nights. So I remember Elkin from Uzbekistan and Vincent from Netherlands decided to team up and we came up with this routine where we all worked together and we all helped write it. Where they came out and we took Tupac Shakur’s song, California knows how to party. California knows how to party. And we changed the lyrics to Nether Beckistan knows how to party. Nether Beckistan knows how to party. So I think there’s a first time at Prague that two people from two countries came out representing one country as a pun to the song of Tupac, California.
Roger Ream [00:26:53] I think that goes down in the annals as the first time. That’s right.
Joe Sabia [00:26:57] I’m sure you’re very proud of the creativity that came out of that.
Roger Ream [00:27:00] Yeah, I wish. Is there a video of you winning the pun competition in Texas?
Joe Sabia [00:27:06] There is.
Roger Ream [00:27:06] Is that’s on YouTube? All right. Well, I have to look that up. I love your description of the three things you kind of faced your senior year at BC, trying to determine what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, what you derive joy from, and where there’s a need in the world. I don’t know if I’ve captured all three very well, but that’s sound advice to give to students today attending our programs. Kind of what advice would you give them? I mean, I’ll tell you this, Joe. This summer, I thought we had among the most serious students we’ve ever had. They were in Washington to, you know, kick the tires on careers to try to figure out what direction to take in their life. We do offer them a lot of career counseling type of things during the course of the summer. But what advice would you offer them?
Joe Sabia [00:27:54] I think that helps to ask questions like that for sure. I mean, the older I get, the more I look back at that time in life and I mean, to so much of a degree I didn’t really know much back then. I mean, I guess that’s how it goes, right? You get older, you look back at youth and you’re like, well, I’m just a kid. I mean, what do I know?
Roger Ream [00:28:11] So your advice would be, listen to old people with what they tell you, which they never do.
Joe Sabia [00:28:23] The other day, I was across from my really good friend who just left his job. And he’s kind of like, well, I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do next, like where I’m going to go, what I want to be doing. And we got into this conversation where it was a reminder that sometimes it’s maybe more important to ask the question, well, who do you want to be around? Maybe from like, A who do you want to learn from? But also too, like what types of people do you want to be spending your precious hours of your life with? Because sometimes you can derive a sense of mission for what you’re doing or what you want to be doing, like technically, or what you want to be wrapping your mind around. It’s easier to kind of figure that out sometimes when you’re simply around people, you enjoy being around. Because I can tell you one thing if you’re around people you hate being around, it’s going to really muddle and confuse the process of figuring out what you want to be spending your brainpower on in your life. So that something I’m all about right now. It’s like I’m at this point where I left Condé Nast Entertainment and I had my own company. And the beauty of having my own company for me is that I’m able to kind of curate and choose the people who I want in my life from a professional standpoint. But what does that mean for anyone else in any other position, especially if you’re a 20 year old from any country doing AIPES, you have this beautiful opportunity to kind of be exposed to all these other personalities out there from a regional from a an international standpoint. It’s formative because you’re probably going to be 20, 21 years old. So what lessons can you derive from simply being around people who mean a lot to you, who inspire you? Because that’s also a mirror holding up to who you are as a person. You know, because during those years, it’s just so important to really figure out what your character is and what your values are. And I think that a lot of that is found in other people, you know, and spending time with other people who you want to spend time with. So that’s kind of my first reaction to that. What do you think?
Roger Ream [00:30:19] That’s no, I think that’s great advice. And, you know, having now been at The Fund for American Studies for as long as I have, you know, and we just came off of a recently all staff retreat where we took all close to 40 people offsite for a day and a half. And, you know, I just sat there looking around the room saying, we just have a great team right now. It’s people I like being around. They’re dedicated to our mission. They’re there working hard. They seem very passionate about what we do that’s so important, you know? And there have always been times, you know, in my career where I’ve, you know, been around some people where it’s not pleasant to be around them and you have to make a change sometimes. But that’s a good way to look at it. I think in terms of just a career too, because, you know, you’re going to be probably around good people in almost any job you take, any industry you go to. But, you know, I’m sure if you decide you want to be an investment banker, you’re on different people than if you want to be an accountant or want to go into the kinds of creative work you’re doing or into nonprofit work, charitable work. They attract different types of people. So I like that advice.
Joe Sabia [00:31:27] There’s also a bit of just, you know, just try things like you really should be trying a lot of things. It’s sometimes more important to find what you hate doing rather than find what you love, because by the practice of finding all the things you hate doing, it lands you in a place where you find what you love doing by a process of elimination. So it’s just super important that you’re experimenting, that you’re trying. I think for a lot of individuals, you know, following the path from which would come from The Fund for American Studies or APIES is that for many of them, they really do stick to either a governmental or a political, economic or policy driven path because if they’re at a program like APIES, they’re probably already interested in things that may have a more global and interconnected or policy driven fingerprint. But one thing that I think about a lot and as an American, I think were super fortunate in knowing that whatever path we take were probably, for the most part, going to do it in America. And we never have to be torn about doing it anywhere else. Now, granted, there’s tons of exceptions to that. But the thing that’s interesting about meeting so many of these talented individuals from developing countries is that for many of them, it’s a really difficult process to leave the country you’re from. Or do you feel a responsibility to stay in the country you’re from to help develop those countries? And I had an awareness of how difficult that decision can be for some people. And it’s just a very interesting thing that my eyes were open to. And I don’t know what your view is on that, but that’s got to be difficult. It’s got to be difficult not knowing to leave the developing country you’re from or to stick around.
Roger Ream [00:33:15] Yeah. You know, I was hired by the board of the of TFAS and right after I was hired, because of all the changes taking place in Eastern and Central Europe, the Berlin Wall coming down a few years before that, Soviet Union breaking up. You know, I was tasked with working with some board members to go to Prague and with our now chairman, Randy Teague, to develop a program in Eastern Central Europe for students there. Because we were getting so many applications coming in for the DC programs and there just wasn’t the funding to bring them all to Washington. And so when we set up the Prague program, you know, it’s just so different – I joined the organization never thinking a year earlier that there’d be an international dimension to what we did. And now we’ve been doing it. We do it. And we have programs we did in Guatemala this summer. We go to Santiago, Chile. We’ve been in Hong Kong, now Singapore, and doing two programs in Prague. And it’s been an incredible experience for me. And what I discovered from people like you and others before you and after you is that the experience for the Americans can be life changing and transformational. It’s so broadening for Americans to go. You had gone to Italy already. But some you know, are never going to travel outside the country and never have. And so while we kind of built the program to help students in that region of Central and Eastern Europe, who lived under communism, the impact, it said on the Americans who attend has just been much bigger than I ever anticipated. So I think you’re right. In your observation, many of our graduates from overseas do come to the U.S. for at least a portion of their careers. Some have moved here permanently but we like to see them going back to their home country and making a difference there if possible.
Joe Sabia [00:35:03] Yeah. I definitely developed a deeper sense of empathy of realizing the immense amount of privilege, at least in my American experience, being raised the way I was. Like I said before, hard lives, really, really hard lives. Not to say that there are no hard lives in America, but in that region of the world, given the political, you know, things that have happened in the past.
Roger Ream [00:35:27] And continues.
Joe Sabia [00:35:29] And continues. And I think a lot of Americans despite, this is just my personal opinion, despite how we criticize America. And don’t get me wrong, it’s a flawed country. There are definitely other systems that are worse than what we have. And I think we need to put that in perspective.
Roger Ream [00:35:45] Yeah. There’s some truth to that saying that if you’re born in America, you won the lottery, you know, you have opportunities that a lot of people in the world don’t have. Before we run out of time, I want to be sure to ask you, you’ve got ownership, part ownership, at least of a pizza restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. I want to ask about that because my daughter lives there. I go there often.
Joe Sabia [00:36:06] Roger I’m sorry to interrupt, but it’s Tbilisi, Georgia.
Roger Ream [00:36:09] Oh, it is Tbilisi.
Joe Sabia [00:36:11] Yes. So there’s nothing in my life that involves the American state of Georgia.
Roger Ream [00:36:15] Okay, I was confusing about that. You’re in Georgia. Georgia. Okay.
Joe Sabia [00:36:19] I’m so Georgian that everything that relates to Georgia has to do with the country and nothing with the American states.
Roger Ream [00:36:25] Okay. Okay. Well, when I get to Tbilisi I will look for it. There’s probably not too many there. No, I don’t know. But is it doing well?
Joe Sabia [00:36:34] Well, we are we actually changed management, so we we sold it to other management. If you go to Tabidze Street in Tbilisi, you’ll see a restaurant called Piano. A Piano is an Italian restaurant that we had for a few years. My friends George, from Georgia and Ryan, my Boston College roommate, Ryan. So we had that for a few years. And now we have a records management company called Doster, which is kind of like Iron Mountain in America, but it’s the first of its kind version of Iron Mountain in the country of Georgia, which stores all sorts of documents from banks and and whatnot, a huge facility employing over 50 people with hundreds of thousands of boxes of very important documents that companies cannot get rid of. So that’s what I’m involved in now since AIPES.
Roger Ream [00:37:24] Yeah. Wonderful, wonderful. With a classmate too. This has been great I appreciate you giving us some time this morning from your busy schedule of activities and your entrepreneurial success is an inspiration not just to me, but to students who do our program and people who listen to our podcast. So thank you very much.
Joe Sabia [00:37:44] I appreciate that. I was wondering actually if I can leave on one note. I promised myself that I would show a photo from 2005 in AIPES.
Roger Ream [00:38:00] Wonderful. I’m looking forward to seeing this photo.
Joe Sabia [00:38:03] I should have done it before but I didn’t. But here you go.
Roger Ream [00:38:08] Yeah go ahead.
Joe Sabia [00:38:13] So there is one day in the three weeks in Prague where they let the students just do whatever they want. It’s a free day. They’re not obligated to do anything AIPES related or anything classroom related. So the five of us of five friends, newly formed friends, decided to go out to Pilsen, which is in the countryside of Czech Republic, and to do some skydiving.
Roger Ream [00:38:36] Skydiving. Oh, wow.
Joe Sabia [00:38:37] So yep, yep. I’m not sure if any of them are aware of that.
Roger Ream [00:38:41] Yeah. No, that’s beyond what any other students have done with their free day.
Joe Sabia [00:38:45] So this is a photo of George from Georgia, Vincent from Holland. And then there’s me. Now, the two of them are jumping at the same time and I’m not. So I definitely look.
Roger Ream [00:38:59] They weren’t 7’3.
Joe Sabia [00:39:02] Yeah. I mean, Holland is known for having extremely tall people and George is tall himself. But these guys are not that much taller than me. So this was one of the best days of my life. And I want to thank you for ushering in a program that can have that impact on me, because it has meant a tremendous amount in my life. And a shout out to Matt Quarsabarsky also who ran the AIPES program.
Roger Ream [00:39:24] Long time staff director there.
Joe Sabia [00:39:25] I wanted to make sure I mention his name as well. So deeply grateful, Roger. And happy to be here. And anything I can do to support the program, let me know.
Roger Ream [00:39:34] Maybe we can bring you in for producing a video for us that we can use to recruit students or something.
Joe Sabia [00:39:40] Let’s do it. Yeah, I’m ready.
Roger Ream [00:39:42] Good. Well, thank you. My guest today has been Joe Sabia, accomplished entrepreneur, creative genius, documentary filmmaker and many other things alumni of our Prague program in 2005. Thanks for being with us today, Joe.
Joe Sabia [00:39:59] You got it, Roger. Thanks so much.
Roger Ream [00:40:01] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download like or share the show on Apple, Spotify or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it, and if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal Studios in Washington, D.C. I’m your host Roger Ream and until next time show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.
View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.