Nick Leighton | [Top Agency Series] Getting Held Hostage and Breaking into the Playboy Mansion
Smart Business Revolution

Nick Leighton is an agency owner, founder, and serial entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience working across the globe in North America, South America, Europe, and the Middle East. He owns and operates a coaching and peer advisory board agency, an international marketing agency, and a project management company. 

Nick is the Author of the book, Exactly Where You Want To Be: A Business Owner’s Guide To Passion, Profit and Happiness. He also does professional speaking and executive coaching for business owners and facilitates various peer advisory boards. Fun fact: Nick met his wife at an event at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles.

Nick Leighton, the Owner and CEO of The Alternative Board, is John Corcoran’s guest in this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where he talks about running an agency and coaching fellow agency owners to build more profitable businesses. Nick also shares an experience getting hijacked in Pakistan, talks about champagne moments, and explains how humanitarian activities have impacted his agency. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • How Nick Leighton got hijacked while working in the Middle East
  • Nick talks about champagne moments and shares some of his own
  • The impactful purpose behind Nick’s agency
  • How Nick went to work in Dubai, the challenges he encountered, and why he sold his agency but retained the name 
  • The challenges Nick faced managing an agency remotely while living in Los Angeles
  • How Nick met his wife at the Playboy Mansion and his current coaching work at The Alternative Board
  • Where to learn more about Nick Leighton

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:10

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the show. And every week I get such a great privilege and such a thrill out of talking to interesting CEOs, founders, entrepreneurs of wide ranging different companies from Netflix to Kinkos’, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, LendingTree, and so many others. I’m also the Co-founder of Rise25, where we help connect b2b business owners to their ideal prospects. And this week, we’ve got a great agency owner and founder. His name is Nick Leighton. He’s a serial entrepreneur, 25 plus years experience working across the globe in North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, we’re going to talk about some of the different places that he’s worked in, some crazy experiences, like getting hijacked and held hostage for a period of time. He also owns and operates a coaching and peer advisory board agency and international marketing agency and a project management company. He’s the author of the book, Exactly Where You Want To Be: A Business Owner’s Guide To Passion, Profit and Happiness. And he also does of course, personal professional speaking executive coaching for business owners, and facilitates various different peer advisory boards. And fun fact, Nick met his wife at an event at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles. So I got to ask about that, right? 

This episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses, get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcasts and content marketing. If you’re listening to us and ever thought about starting a podcast, go to our website right now, We’ve got all kinds of resources on there for you to check out to learn more about it. All right, Nick, a pleasure to have you here today. And let’s start with this crazy story about you’re doing work in the Middle East, you’re doing you’re on a pro bono trip. So your agency is built to a size where Fortunately, you can do some pro bono work working with the UN and you’ve got a group of journalists you’re taking to see these various different programs. And crazy you get hijacked. Take me back to what’s going through your head. You’re on helicopters at this moment, and men come out with machine guns. What was it like?

Nick Leighton 2:44

Hey, John, yeah, great to be here. So it’s that moment where well, it’s happening to you, you know, it’s pivotal for a reason. So we are sitting on a very large old Russian helicopter. It has united nations on the side of it. We are flying, we can see out the window. It’s noisy. This is not exactly a lottery helicopter. There is food in the middle of this helicopter, which we’ve got our feet on. We’re cramped in there. It’s me effect. We have two helicopters flying together. With us. I have a photographer who works with us and I have about 20 international journalists from all around the world. And I’m looking out the window and we’re flying over the Kashmir region between India and Pakistan that I rose, which is really not in the right place. I know what our flight plan should be. So I’m kind of weird. So I unbuckle. I go to the front. It’s really noisy. And I shout over to these big Russian pilots. Because let’s face it, who would be crazy enough to be flying helicopters in Pakistan anyway? Feeling like nations not being paid. And I’m like, What are we doing here? We shouldn’t be here. And he points out the way he goes. You see those two sixteenths that tell us where to go? Like wow, okay, cool. And you know, you’ve all seen a picture of a little fighter plane. That’s kind of cool. An F 16. Up Close. Flying next to you is really scary. Wow. So they tell us where to land. So we land in what was a high school kind of yard and the whole pitchers the whole kind of fences surrounded by guys with machine guns. And they tell us to get onto a truck with no very good communications at this stage. 

John Corcoran 4:22

Because at this point who’s taking it and nothing is marked. 

Nick Leighton 4:24

There’s nothing going on. So I’m playing it pretty cool. I’m like okay, I don’t want to tell a bunch of journalists that we may be in the middle of something a little bit risky. Don’t want to freak out. So I have quite a world with the photographer, the UN guy who’s like our guide. He’s looking at me like we’ll just go with it you know, it shouldn’t be too bad. Get on like a truck, get driven through looks like a war easily.

John Corcoran 4:50

You haven’t told the journalist at this point what’s going

Nick Leighton 4:52

on? No, there’s no point getting everyone rolled up like you know, let’s just see what we get to this stage and 10 15 mins laid up, we’re in this camp. And it’s a beautiful, organized camp. There’s also tents. And a lot of people have been displaced from an earthquake a few months beforehand. And so this was a military place of Pakistan, who had decided to put out aid. But they wanted the journalists that were in Pakistan that we took to report on this, rather than necessarily just reporting all the Coworth united nations are doing because they’re an international organization. They wanted the local country to get a little bit of praise for what they’re doing for their people, which I understand is an accent that maybe doesn’t have the best media relations around the world. So we were offered tea and cookies and journalists were politely asked to ask some questions. And they did that. And then we were shown back onto the truck, which took us back to the helicopter, now people with machine guns, and we were allowed to go on our way.

John Corcoran 5:51

And it was guessed that when the guys showed up with the machine guns, the journalists didn’t feel threatened. They didn’t feel like they’re being held hostage. If no,

Nick Leighton 5:58

I think we had guns being pointed. It just really shoved guns. You know, we’re like, Yeah, we’re gonna do what? They tell us to go. Yeah, right. And where else are we gonna go? We’re in the middle of nowhere, right? I mean, it’s so many options. So and it was a moment where I realized that I really was exactly where I wanted to be. I was doing what I loved, with people I love for the cause I loved. And although we were in danger, we know what’s going to happen at that moment. A realization that I’d rather be here than behind a desk right now. And that even

John Corcoran 6:29

in spite of being hijacked, like I’m being hijacked, but yeah, at least at least I’m not stuck in a cubicle. Right?

Nick Leighton 6:36

Exactly. He was, I mean, if everyone remembers Dilbert, I mean, like, yeah, no, that’s not what I want to be doing. I’m working with journalists, law, and respect for a large international organization. And I’m privileged enough to be doing this and making a difference, you know, campaigns that will bring in millions of dollars worth of aid for people who really need it. This has got to be better than something else punching a clock.

John Corcoran 6:58

Yeah. So I’m curious. Then, at what point did those journalists realize that they’d been temporarily held hostage? Or are they going to listen to this podcast interview? And like, wait a second, when we land in that random field, that wasn’t part of the plan?

Nick Leighton 7:11

Yeah, I told them off this, once we got back into Islamabad, at the end of that day, would have gone on unscheduled stop, I think is kind of the same. That’s really all they need to show. Again, yeah, we got to be careful. We tell journalists, right, you don’t want them to write about things. You can never lie to Jonas, we don’t necessarily want to write about things. So you don’t have to tell them everything all the time. That would go with that story. Right?

John Corcoran 7:36

Yeah, exactly. I have to say, you have to be cool. Yeah, I’ve had some bad tour guides over the years, but you must be the coolest under the collar to get taken, you know, hijacked with a bunch of journalists to keep your cool and, and, you know, senses enough to to play it off. That’s pretty. It’s pretty amazing.

Nick Leighton 7:55

Why don’t we get desensitized to these things? I mean, we were in Pakistan in that case, but it was only six weeks earlier, we were in Colombia, we were somewhere else, with bad situations going on. So this wasn’t the first time that things have happened. 

John Corcoran 8:10

And what was that situation? Was that a bad situation? Well, that was

Nick Leighton 8:14

more actually more emotive because the work we did for the nations was very much about feeding children. So you know, if you take some journalists to a municipality refuge in a third world country, and you see starving children, and you experience them, you smile, and you step in, and you’re like, Oh, this is really how these people live. That’s just another emotional roller coaster, maybe not in danger at that time. So a lot of the press tours we were doing at that time, was showing how badly certain communities were needed at work. That was our job. And if anything, probably journalists are the one type of people who who, you know, if you’re sitting nicely in Amsterdam, writing for a nice, comfortable, well known respected newspaper, and you take the opportunity to be flown into the Middle East, and then on to Pakistan, you probably a little bit of adventure. And you’re right,

John Corcoran 9:04

probably so you’re like, this might not go so smoothly. Right? Right. So I’m curious, though, you know, what was it like for you, your, your company was doing well enough that you’re able to get involved in these types of activities. And I love that you did it. I love companies that do that, that have more, you know, a purpose to them and that are able to give back. So how did that evolve? And talk a bit about what role that played for you and your company being able to, you know, embark in these types of initiatives? Right, right.

Nick Leighton 9:41

When I work with agency owners, motivation, business owners, entrepreneurs right now, I also try to identify champagne moments. Champagne moment is the one thing you want to do personally, in the next year or two. So it’s all fine having a business but getting to the first million or the next million is really just a stepping stone. I know how personally satisfying that is, because there’s always another million to get to. So I try to get to the root of why people are themselves what’s important to them. And we have to look at their relationships and the people around them and what’s important as far as hobbies and humanitarian interests and what they want to get out. Yeah, exactly. And ultimately, if you can do that, if you have a vision for where you want to go, and then you can actually qualify that by having a champagne moment, then that means something.