Back in 2008, a program called I Want To Work For Diddy made its debut on VH1. As its title suggests, the program follows a handful of Millennials as they perform outrageous tasks in order to win approval—and, eventually, employment—from Sean “Diddy” Combs.
The contestants had plenty to worry about, given the difficulty of Diddy’s marching orders in that reality show and others. In Making The Band, for instance, he famously ordered some of his charges to walk from Manhattan to Brooklyn and pick up cheesecake for him.
“A lot of people think that I come in and out of places, studios, and yell at people telling them to get cheesecake,” explained Diddy in an interview last month. “I won’t say that’s not [true], but the thing that’s real about me, and the thing that I hope inspires people, is I come from a neighborhood that you can relate to. I come from a type of personality that you can relate to … I love going where the hustle is, I love going where like-minded people like me are .”
As Diddy enters his latest phase of reinvention, he’s ensuring that many of them are at Revolt TV, his multi-platform cable channel that’s aiming to be the MTV of the next generation. On a recent visit to the network’s Los Angeles offices, FORBES sat down for a roundtable interview with ten employees to discuss what it’s like to work for him in real life.
To be sure, all of these individuals were among the 100-plus names on Revolt’s payroll, and not likely to speak ill of their boss. Yet without exception, they displayed the sort of effusive joy that’s tough to fake, both when discussing their jobs and their fearless leader. The image that emerged was that of a thoughtful Sean Combs—not the irascible Diddy—who’s well on his way to becoming hip-hop’s first billionaire.
Mr. Combs, as they call him, is extremely hands-on. He knows everybody’s name. He buys food at the office vending machine. He gives his personal email and phone number to employees and encourages them to send him interesting songs and videos. (“He’d get mad if I didn’t call him or email him,” recalls Julian Mitchell, Revolt’s Social Media Director. “He wanted to be overwhelmed.”)
Nearly every one of the employees at the roundtable had a meaningful personal story about Diddy. Jaunice Sills, Revolt’s Director of Program Scheduling and Promo Strategy, who came to the company after five years at Viacom VIAB +0.35%, remembers her first interaction with him two days after the channel launched. She had just worked two days straight without leaving the office.
“He actually came over and gave me a hug and he was like, ‘I really appreciate all of your hard work,’” she says. “And he wrote me a thank-you note. I just remember thinking, ‘Wow.’ For the chairman to hug you and just give you that support and make you feel valued, and that your work’s not in vain, that he appreciates you—I remember thinking I wouldn’t have gotten that at any other network.”
That sort of approach has created an environment that seems to be capable of attracting retaining bright young employees poached from the likes of MTV and BET, despite the long hours. Hearing them talk about the collaborative projects, the frequent all-nighters and the notion of loving and living their jobs makes Revolt seem like a cross between grad school and some sort of pop-culture NASA.
“I’m meeting people from Los Angeles, Virginia, upstate New York, it’s just all over the place,” says Dana Jeter, Talent Coordinator. “And it’s all of us coming together and just bringing our different mindsets and cultures, and outlooks on music. … You can’t work as an individual here. Each one of us helps the other in so many different ways.”
The culture at Revolt is quite a departure from the atmosphere at Bad Boy Records, which Diddy launched in the 1990s and built into one of the most significant labels in music. Tiesha LeShore, now Production Coordinator at Revolt, got her start as Diddy’s assistant years ago. She remembers him running Bad Boy Records as something of a one-man show.
“When I worked at the other office it was so different, because it was just everybody working toward what Mr. Combs wanted, the whole company,” she recalls. “[At Revolt], he seems to be more interested in supporting what everyone is doing. He sees the value and he makes sure your supervisors know that you are valuable. It’s amazing to see that difference.”
Of course, there are a few vestiges of the Bad Boy world. Show business is, in many ways, a small town where everybody knows everybody, and new hires happen upon job opportunities on account of industry connections. Revolt is no different, but plenty of its employees come through the front door.
Besidone Amoruwa, an MBA with previous experience in the advertising world, got hired as Marketing Coordinator at Revolt after simply submitting an online job application. Like her colleagues at the company’s Los Angeles headquarters, she brims with optimism for what’s in store.
“I feel there’s no limit to what Revolt can do,” she says. “I feel like we don’t have competitors—I feel like we only compete with ourselves right now because nobody had the same type of content we put out, nobody is working at the speed that we’re working. And look how small our unit is. … Once we really grow, everybody else has to watch out.”
As for the cheesecake? Diddy isn’t asking his employees at Revolt to fetch any of that for him these days.
“Rubbing shoulders with young people with a dream, that’s what I really love to do,” he says. “And so I’m sorry about the cheesecake thing, it was just for TV. I really would go to Brooklyn to get cheesecake if somebody told me to, that’s just the truth.”