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November 2, 2016

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5 Questions with Matt Lauer

Profiles
Journals

November 2, 2016

Matt Lauer is an iconic American journalist who is celebrating an incredible 20 years of being an anchor on NBC's TODAY. As a longtime fan of the brand, Matt worked with us to produce a capsule collection of five Shinola products for TODAY's Original, an initiative in which TODAY anchors create products with net profits benefitting the charity of their choice. We sat down with Matt after he toured our Detroit headquarters to hear more about his career at TODAY.

All of net profits from the Shinola TODAY's Original collection will go to the Detroit Children's Fund to benefit the Detroit Edison Public School Academy. 

"I chose products that are important in my life and I hope they create some connection for people as well," Matt says. The collection includes: a 12 month Runwell Planner, paperback journals, a leather passport wallet, a selection of G10 Nylon watch straps, and a boxed card set made in conjunction with the artisans at Paper Chase Press.

These products are available while supplies last. 

Matt suiting up with Shinola's CMO Bridget Russo to enter our Detroit watch factory. Everyone must wear disposable booties, a hair net, and jacket before entering the dust free zone.

Tell us a story from your early days that may have set the tone for the rest of your tenure.

I think that the most telling story is what happened on the day before my first day. It was Bryant Gumbel's last day on the show. We did this big, huge farewell for him, and as oftentimes you do in farewell shows, we did this enormous taped retrospective piece of the 15 years he spent at TODAY. I remember sitting on the couch with him, Katie, Willard and Gene Shalit watching this taped piece of his 15 years on the show, and just panicking because I'd watched all the things he had done over those 15 years — all the people he had interviewed, all the places he had traveled to, and all the important stories he had covered, and I thought, 'I have no resume. I have done nothing compared to what this guy has done.'

I really got nervous. It was very unsettling. I started thinking, 'what am I going to do Monday when I have to take over this job?' Yet, next thing you know a year had passed, two years and five years, and I started to have the same opportunities that I watched him have for those 15 years. But I think that the most telling moment was watching that tape and realizing just what an experience it was going be to have the chance to host the show — it's been exactly what I thought it would be.

Matt and Bridget entering the Watch Factory.

Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists out there?

I think you have to find a way to nurture your curiosity. It's one of those things we're all born with to varying degrees. Some people are more curious about life than others. I happen to have always been a really curious person. I was always glued to local news when I was a kid, and I loved magazines and books. I love to travel and luckily my parents were really good at inspiring that fascination with travel and other cultures.

For aspiring journalists, you have to really nurture that sense of curiosity. You have to read everything you get your hands on and get out of your bubble. Get out of your comfort zone and go see parts of the world that you're not familiar with so that you can have a better perspective of the world you live in.

Matt inside the leather factory observing leather artisan Marcus Alexander.

What is some essential advice that you received early on in your time at TODAY?

I remember one time when I was getting ready to take over the job and I was looking for advice from people who had been in the business a long time. I said in passing to one of those people, 'Who should I try to pattern myself as?', and the guy, I'll never forget, looked at me and said, 'Well the whole reason we've hired you and we want you for this job is that we don't want you to pattern yourself off of anyone else. We want you to be yourself.'

And he said, 'Even as I tell you that, that's the hardest thing I can tell you to do because what really you'll find most people have a hard time with is being themselves on TV, but the viewers want to know that if they were to bump into you on the street and strike up a conversation with you that you'd be the exact same person on the street that they watch on TV.'

That was a really liberating piece of advice because it allowed me to just go out there and not worry about who I was as long as I was being true to myself.

When you watch Al Roker on our show, you know that is the real Al Roker, and Savannah's the same way. To be honest with you, that's me on the air, so if you like what you see me do on TV then I hope you like me. If you don't, then you don't like me. But I can't become someone else just to get people to like me.

Matt Lauer writes a note on a card that is part of his collection. 

Why did you choose to create these products?

First thing, each morning, I wake up and I open my leather-bound calendar. I get a look at my day as I do every day, and I look ahead at my week and look at my travel planner. I know 90 percent of people these days do all of that on their smart phone and their digital calendars, but that's just not me. I like to have a book in my hands. I like to open it up. I like the tactile approach to it, so I've used that today. I have used notecards this morning before I left the show this morning.

I had a couple of people I needed to thank for something. I whipped out my notecards and fired off a couple of quick thank-you notes to people, and that was really the genesis of this.

I wanted to work with Shinola because when I think of the brand I always think it has a really strong connection to the past. The products are very modern and current, but they all have a very strong connection with the past as the company itself does. I get kidded a lot that I'm a bit of a dinosaur, but I still like to hold a book in my hands.

I still like to write a note as opposed to sending a text or an email. I love when I get a letter, a personally written letter. If I walk into my house and on my table is the mail and I see a note from someone as opposed to a bill or an advertisement, that's an event. I like opening it up. I sit down. I take time to read it. I know that person has put time and energy into actually writing a handwritten note. 

These are things I use in my life every day. I travel like crazy. I'm traveling out of the country all the time, so I use the passport holder probably two-, three-dozen times a year. I chose products that are important in my life and I hope they create some connection for people as well.

What do you hope to achieve for this collaboration with Shinola and the Detroit Edison Public School Academy?

I just went there and I was blown away. I'm enormously concerned about education in this country. I have three kids. I have a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 9-year-old, and we take education seriously in my house. I know that kids in some areas of the country and some parts of Detroit, for example, have a difficult time getting a great education.

I looked into this school at the suggestion of Shinola, and I know you guys are closely connected with the school. Today, I found out the reason. I went there, I met the superintendent Mr. Brand, and I was blown away.

These kids were so attentive and so polite. It was the cleanest, most thought-provoking school I've seen. It was the perfect atmosphere for learning. They came up and they had written thank you notes to me for contributing the net profits of these products to their school scholarship funds. Then, they also wrote thank you notes to people in their lives that they wanted to thank.

One young man wrote a thank you note to his father who saved his life when he was five years old. He had fallen in the pool and was drowning and the father saved his life and this young man wrote a thank you note to his dad for that and how it had brought them closer together. Another young lady wrote a letter to her uncle thanking him, who served in the marines, thanking him for his service to this country. It was really moving moment at the school and time for me to see what the money is going to. It also connected to this whole idea of giving thanks.

Shop the Matt Lauer + Shinola TODAY Originals Collection

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