The Profile: The Elon Musk of trash & Nashville’s hot chicken empire
Good morning, friends.
“What makes a great profile?”
It’s my favorite question because it seems like the answer is: “You can’t pinpoint it. You just know.”
In reality, all must-read features contain the same elements — a captivating anecdotal lead, a strong nut graf, a relatable tone, months of reporting, and language that appeals to the reader’s senses (visuals, smells, sounds, etc).
Yet those ingredients aren’t enough — there’s a lot of tweaking, cutting, massaging, re-working, and crying that goes into producing an excellent profile.
One of Fortune’s brilliant editors recently explained feature writing through something he calls “The Italian Grandma Sauce Theory of Feature Writing.” It goes like this: "That sauce you bought at Whole Foods has pretty much the same ingredients as your grandma's sauce. But the important difference is, your grandma's sauce cooks all. damn. day."
So when I got an email earlier this month from Propllr’s Hunter Stuart asking, “What do you think makes a great profile,” I obviously had some thoughts.
Check out the post Hunter wrote about the key things I look for in profiles before including them in this newsletter.
There were so many excellent ‘grandma sauce’ features this week that there are two highly recommends.
— The Elon Musk of trash [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The school shooter’s brother
— The Apple exec transforming retail
— The king of horror
— The West Wing star starting over in Hollywood
— The professor fighting to reclaim his stolen data
— Nashville’s hot chicken empire [**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**]
— The monster quarterback
If you enjoy reading profiles of the most successful people and companies, click here to tweet so others can enjoy it too.
PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The Elon Musk of trash: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a gyre, twice the size of Texas, containing nearly two trillion pieces of plastic which weigh eighty thousand metric tons. In other words, there’s a lot of trash in the ocean — and it’s being ingested by fish, which are then ingested by you and I. Now, a young, Dutch entrepreneur named Boyan Slat has an ambitious plan to get rid of 90% of ocean plastic by 2040. After a major setback, Slat is relentlessly pursuing this expensive yet imperative endeavor.
“The sea is an unrelenting trial judge. The probability of failure was at least as high as the probability of success.”
The school shooter’s brother: What if the only family you had left turned out to be one of the most notorious mass murderers in history? That is reality for Zachary Cruz. One year ago, his older brother went to school in Parkland, Florida, and killed 14 students and three staff members. The profile features a chilling video of the moment Zach sees his brother the day after the mass shooting. Just a warning: This story will break your heart. And then break it again. And then one more time.
“Other people look at me like I’m crazy for even — and I don’t, I don’t care what other people think. Like, you’re my brother. I love you.”
The Apple exec transforming retail: No company is doing experiential retail with the same level of scale or ambition as Apple. Apple’s VP of retail Angela Ahrendts is behind the company’s new program “Today at Apple,” which offers classes, talks, concerts and workshops. Ahrendts’ plan to transform retail runs contrary to the digital addiction Apple’s business model fuels. “I think as humans we still need gathering places,” she says. “And when you are serving digital natives, the thing they long for more than anything is human connection. Eye contact.”
“The tragedy in retail is that it has become about numbers. It’s about cost-cutting the way to prosperity instead of investing in your people.”
The king of horror: How do you top a movie that shook Hollywood? The filmmaker behind ‘Get Out’ has a simple plan: Scare the hell out of you. In this wide-ranging profile, Jordan Peele opens up about how his comedy career led him into the horror genre, breaks down his process for storytelling, and best of all, reveals how he really feels about Kanye West.
“It’s important to me that we can tell black stories without it being about race.”
The West Wing star starting over in Hollywood: Over the years, Hope Hicks had become an ever-present Trump appendage, a surrogate daughter, de facto whisperer and translator. She touched everything but left fingerprints on nothing. After years in the Trump orbit, Hicks has entered a brave new world of Murdochs, fussy trade reporters, and Los Angeles semiotics. What exactly does her second act entail?
“It was four P.M. when I met her, and it was like an alien landed in the middle of Los Angeles.”
The professor fighting to reclaim his stolen data: David Carroll has been on an obsessive two-year-long quest to reclaim his data from Cambridge Analytica. He has been locked in a legal war to force the infamous company to turn over its files on him. He’s won a battle, but the war continues.
“All I want is everything. Because I’m entitled to it. And so is everyone.”
COMPANIES TO WATCH.
Nashville’s hot chicken empire: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack is a Nashville institution. It’s been described as “worse than dope” in its addictiveness. Beyoncé and Jay-Z get takeout when they’re in town. The chicken’s spices stimulate the nervous system, awaken mucus, and cause the heart to beat faster. The owner likes to say that hot chicken will sober you up and clean you out. This profile offers an inside look into the evolution of the 80-year-old family business.
“I eat many strange and spicy things around the world, but never in my life have I experienced something like this. Is it food? Or an initiation ritual for Yankees?”
FROM THE VAULT.
The monster quarterback: I discovered that Tom Brady and I have something in common: We both used to be incredibly bad athletes in high school. His life ended up a little differently than mine, but who’s counting? When “Tommy” Brady started as quarterback on his JV high school football team for the first time, he was sacked 15 times. Disaster was an understatement. His old coach says, “It was the worst beating of my life, and it made you want to walk off and go to a bar and quit." Although this profile is from 2017, I’m including it in honor of the Super Bowl today. (Also to be totally honest, I thought the Super Bowl already happened but I was recently informed it didn’t. It is today. #Football #Murica)
“I just want to win because I owe it to my teammates. I'm working this year like I have [no rings], and hopefully it results in a magical season."