• Elana Duffy

Frank's Story


This is to serve as an introduction, a way to eliminate the feeling of being strangers. The founders of Present Tense want you to know their stories, where they come from, why they do what they do, so you can see deeper and, in turn, let them help you find YOUR story. This is Frank: Founder, writer, editor, CEO.

I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember, creating and illustrating worlds that grew more elaborate the older I got. Most of my earliest childhood memories, though, involve race cars. My father regularly took my sister and me to small tracks in the South. Was it the noise and the excitement? Or maybe it was the intoxicating smell in the pits, a mixture of gasoline, burnt rubber, and cigarette smoke. Whatever it was, something convinced me that I would grow up to be an engineer who designed cars, and maybe raced them, too.

Moving from North Carolina to the Boston area at age 9 was pure culture shock. Stock-car racing wouldn’t catch on there for a few decades, so the twin interests in writing and science continued in much different forms. I started covering high school sports for the Mansfield News, the local weekly, at the age of 12, and I have been paid to write something every year since then. I also read books and magazines on astronomy, got a telescope for Christmas, loved the planetarium, and remember the Viking landing on Mars. Until my senior year of high school, a college major in engineering seemed inevitable, and the Boston area had plenty of great options.That’s when the next period of culture shock began, this time entirely self-inflicted: I decided to go to the University of Chicago, which offers no degrees at all in engineering.

But the split between writing and science continued. I majored in physics, and worked for three years as a calculus tutor and teaching assistant in the math department. I also took as many writing classes as I did physics classes, and did better in them. Starting in my second-year, I began writing for the Chicago Maroon, and became editor-in-chief in my fourth year. And then there was blues music, still a passion today. In college I published an interview with an up-and-coming guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan. That article launched what would become an 8-year career as a free-lance music critic in Chicago, Cleveland, and Boston.

I graduated from college at the age of 20 knowing one thing for certain: I would not continue in physics. A few years of free-lance writing work followed, as I also tried and failed to break into advertising. One bold attempt to do the latter – sitting on a bridge on Michigan Avenue in Chicago with a big sign that said “Good Writer Needs Ad Job” – almost worked. I had a second-round interview with a major agency on October 20, 1987. I mention the date because it is the day after Black Monday, the day of the massive stock market crash. Advertising clients immediately froze or cut budgets, and sadly, that made the interview moot.

I moved to Germany, learned German, and lived there for 10 years. My first job, which I held for four years, was working as news editor for a wire service. It involved rapid-fire decisions on what to post, translating German stories into English, and writing headlines with only 45 characters to work with, a constraint which makes Twitter seem like long-form journalism. Bu when a merger eliminated that job, the science background became the fall-back. Through a friend of a colleague, I got a job with a small consulting firm in Bonn, Germany that worked on pricing. Pricing turned out to be a wonderful mix of storytelling and quantitative analysis, finally merging my interests.

I spent over 16 years at that firm, made partner, and played a small role in helping it grow from 1 to 27 offices, and from 50 people locally to 700 associates worldwide. That work also allowed me to see the world. In addition to projects throughout Europe, I had the opportunity to travel to the Middle East, to China, and to Southeast Asia.The writing and communication work extended beyond projects. I co-wrote several op-eds for The Wall Street Journal Europe, became a frequently quoted source on pricing for music and consumer goods, and also co-authored a book published by Harvard Business School Publishing. I even earned 15 seconds of fame with brief TV appearances on CNN and CBS Sunday Morning.

The price for that work is the 24/7 lifestyle, which loses its charm over time. That sowed the first seeds for what became Present Tense LLC. If I stepped off the 24/7 treadmill, what would I do? The answer a final decision on which of the two passions – writing and science – to emphasize. The question answered itself. When Malcolm Gladwell published Outliers, it was easy for me to declare where I had invested my 10,000 hours: writing, or more specifically, storytelling. And I blew through the 10,000-hour plateau ages ago.

What kind of firm would Present Tense be? That question also had a straightforward answer. I envision a company which has the strengths and assets of a team, but offers those team members the lifestyle and flexibility of a free-lancer. “Work to live” and not “live to work” as the saying goes. This is not a fantasy. Books such as Rework, Freedom, Inc., and even Creative Confidence (by the founders of IDEO) provide inspiration on how to establish and nourish that kind of culture.

Pulling it off requires finding the right people: you need someone who “gets” that mission and also brings the requisite passion and skills for storytelling. That’s where Elana comes in, bringing logic, discipline, and efficiency as well. We got Present Tense off the ground, and are fortunate enough to have clients right from the start.That’s my story, so far. I say “so far” because while this sums up a lot of my past, that story is also the prologue to Present Tense LLC, which is dedicated to helping you or your business tell your story.

To connect, please email me at frank@presenttensellc.com

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