Aaron Craig Mitchell, Entrepreneur & Changemaker, AaronCraigMitchell.com

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In this special episode in honor of Black History Month, Chris is joined by Aaron Craig Mitchell. Aaron is the former director of HR at Netflix Animation Studios, where he helped engineer the company’s pledge to allocate 2 percent of its cash holdings into financial institutions and organizations that directly support Black communities in the U.S.

Aaron describes himself as a tortoise (a nod to the Aesop’s fable that lends this episode its title) because he learned persistence and resilience from an early age—traits that have helped him slowly and steadily drive huge positive change in his career so far.

Aaron has lived a life of extraordinary impact, and he’s only just getting started. In this episode, Chris and Aaron discuss:

And much more!

013 Aaron Craig Mitchell: The Tortoise & the Shared Jazz Solo

Aaron Craig Mitchell 00:00
The title of the book is I Hope I'm the Tortoise. It's a reference to the tortoise and the hare. You know, there's always that saying, like, nice guys finish last ,or something like that. And I don't think I'm finishing last. I'm far from done with this race, but I'm not finishing last. And I don't have to just because I'm a nice guy.

Announcer 00:18
Welcome to The Storied Future Podcast with Chris Hare, a show that provides the knowledge and inspiration C-suite leaders need to shift the future. Hear from experts, innovators, and purpose-driven leaders who have harnessed the power of narrative to create lasting change.

Chris Hare 00:36
Hi, and welcome to a special episode of The Storied Future Podcast in honor of Black History Month. I'm Chris Hare, and I'm glad you're here. Each episode, I talk to C-suite leaders, experts, and innovators who have used the power of narrative to change minds, change behavior, and change the future. My guest today is Aaron Craig Mitchell. Aaron is an LA based entrepreneur, advisor, coach, and change maker with nearly 20 years’ experience across various industries. He was recently the Director of HR for Netflix Animation, one of the largest and fastest growing animation studios in history. Prior to that, he spent his career as a leader in talent acquisition across various industries, companies, and geographies. An experienced business leader with a demonstrated history of executing change, Aaron has become globally recognized for his historic work pioneering Netflix's 2% cash-holdings pledge of $100 million into Black-owned banks. This initiative anchored a movement for financial equity and inclusion and open doors for marginalized communities to flourish. His work has led to features in the New York Times, CNBC, and Wired. In this episode, we explore: how Aaron struggles as a self-described sickly, shy, clumsy, and nerdy kid unlocked a rich, inner life of imagination and creativity; how a hard ass music teacher, who made JK Simmons character in the movie Whiplash look like a nice guy, introduced Aaron to a lifelong love of jazz that now shapes every part of his work; how he worked to fan flames of healthy chaos during Netflix's cannonball into the pool of animation, going from zero to the largest studio in the world inside of a year; and finally, how a Jefferson Dinner in the early days of the pandemic sparked the creation of an initiative at Netflix that has injected $2 billion in cash into Black banks and financial institutions that is now providing access to the loans that Black businesses need to survive, thrive, and grow. There's so much goodness in Aaron’s story. But my favorite part is our conversation about his jazz solo. We asked Aaron if we could feature some of his music, and he was kind enough to share a piece from his jazz ensemble, featuring one of his solos. You'll hear that piece throughout this episode as Aaron shares his approach to life, business, creativity, and narrative transformation. Let's dive in.

Well, Aaron, thanks for joining The Storied Future Podcast.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 02:59
Thanks for having me, Chris.

Chris Hare 03:01
So, to start off, I'd love to hear a little bit about where you grew up and what you were like as a kid.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 03:06
So, I grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. As a kid growing up in New Haven, I was shy, clumsy, nerdy. And I like to draw a lot, I was quiet, kind of read as an introvert, even though I'm very much an extrovert. And I'm a middle child of older brother, younger sister. So typical sort of middle child syndrome, sort of playing the middle mediator between conflict and whatnot. And growing up, I really just idolized my older brother. I was born on his birthday, five years after he was born, and just kind of looked up to everything he did. My brother had a huge imagination. And so as kids, like, we just made games up. And one of the cool things was just, my grandmother had these milk crates on the side of the house, probably a collection of 80 of them. And my brother would just make up all different types of games with these milk crates. They could be race cars, they could be trains, they could be castles, they could be shields, they could be cannons. Whatever it was, these 80 milk crates created this whole entire universe. Kind of like, I don't know if you ever watched the show Muppet Babies, but they would always go into these imaginary worlds. And we were doing that in our backyard. So like, there was a lot of utilization of my imagination as a kid, which was cool, because otherwise, I wasn't really interacting with a bunch of people. I was sickly early on, so I was a little bit more sheltered than my brother and my sister were. So yeah, that's what growing up was like. And the other part about growing up in New Haven, Yale University sort of sounded New Haven, and therefore we had access to just a lot of arts, a lot of culture that came into New Haven because of Yale. So despite the fact that we grew up working-class, we had this real middle-upper-class sort of exposure pretty early on, because Yale was super involved in the New Haven public schools.

Chris Hare 05:15
And did you, if you recall, when you we're dealing with different health issues and things like that, and spent a lot of time in your imagination and drawing and creating these worlds, do you recall any of the emotion of that?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 05:28
Um, I think it was a lot of wonder, it was a lot of curiosity. That was where, for the most part, I would derive joy, in that sort of creative process. Because, again, anything went. You know, there were no rules in our imagination. But otherwise, being in the neighborhood I grew up in specifically, in New Haven, during the 80s was pretty hard hit by the crack cocaine epidemic. And so there was just a lot of violence and crime in real close proximity, right? Like, literally across the street from where I grew up. So the imagination, the play, the drawing, all that stuff was an escape from an otherwise scary reality, right? Because I was never, I was never a street kid, I was never tough. Today, I weigh maybe 155 pounds. And this is close to the heaviest I've been. So I was never, I was never an imposing physically, mentally, etc. So the joy I got came from just sort of escaping into these worlds.

Chris Hare 06:37
And do you recall as a kid, like, what were your hopes and dreams for the future, and then also, when you imagine the future, what, whether it's the environment or within yourself, or your family kind of shaped what you believed was possible?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 06:51
Funny enough, you know, I remember thinking that when I grew up, specifically in the neighborhood I grew up in, I was gonna buy my house, the house I grew up in, and a couple of houses on the block. And I was going to stay put, and I was going to invest in that space, because I hadn't been anywhere else, right, up until a certain point. And so New Haven was all I knew. And it seemed good enough. My parents, despite the fact that my parents are both still working class, blue collar, father’s a mechanic, my mom decorated cakes for a number of years. You know, they were super smart folks, right? So I never saw a correlation between hard work and intelligence as some exit strategy from the conditions I grew up in. I didn't even think I was as smart as my parents or my siblings. I was the slow one, I was the one that was a little bit further behind. So I didn't have these, like, huge aspirations when I was much younger. And probably until I was 16, I didn't even think leaving New Haven needed to be an option.

Chris Hare 08:01
And what was it that ultimately led you to leave New Haven and, kind of, take you down the journey into business eventually?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 08:09
The sort of first, I think, trigger, at least a desire to do something, came from when my grandmother opened up a bakery. Opened up a bakery when I was about 13 years old. And the entire family got behind the idea. I worked in the bakery. I baked, I had been baking with my grandmother since I was three years old. So it was sort of a natural progression. And I think we all thought that this was going to be our ticket out of this working-class reality, right, this sort of paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle we had lived. And it didn't work. The bakery closed down two years later, when I was 15. And I was like, You know what, I think we did some things fundamentally wrong from a business perspective. I knew we had a superior product, but we didn't know how to get it out to people. We didn't manage the business properly. And that sort of encouraged me to want to go to school for business. And then I went on this trip to Washington, DC, when I was 16, a trip called Close Up, where 10 of us from my high school went on this trip to get a, sort of, in-real-life civics lesson in the nation’s capital. And it was my first time spending a week away from home without my parents, without my siblings. And I remember being on the train ride back like, Oh, I gotta go. There's a bigger world. There's people who think differently than me. There's different models for what success looks like. I can't stay in New Haven if what I'm trying to do is make things better for me and my family. Because I just didn't see that option available to me in New Haven.

Chris Hare 09:51
I'm glad you said that ‘for me and my family’, because I was going there as like, was it a, Hey, here's what I need to do for me, or How can I go and learn so that I can also help my family? Is that accurate?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 10:00
That's definitely accurate. I mean, I think my understanding of what that means looks a lot different today than it did when I was 15 or 16 years old. But it's absolutely been a part of it. I'm not doing for me alone. You know, I'm trying to create access points and prosperity for my entire family, and more if I can, and when I can.

Chris Hare 10:23
Let's talk about that. Because there is this narrative in America about the self-made rugged individual that prevails over every obstacle, right? And I know that's a narrative that you feel it's really important for you to challenge. And so why is that?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 10:37
Yeah, it's not so much that I want to challenge that narrative. But I want to expand the narrative. Because I think, you know, growing up, I definitely got exposed to that as the model for what success meant. You go off, you do, you're brilliant, and hard charging and extroverted. And that wins the day, you know, sort of that cowboy or that business titan, and I wasn't that person. Like, that didn't resonate with me. When I got to business school, freshman year of college, there was nothing about that model that appealed to me. So I'm like, Okay, I guess I'm not going to be successful. So let me just go ahead and do things this way. Because I do believe in community, and I do believe in one. I don't think I'm that brilliant. And therefore I've always relied on tapping into other people. And I've never taken credit for, like, anybody's ideas. And over time, I started to notice that that wasn't stifling my success. And so I just kept doing more and more of that. You know, there's always that saying, like, nice guys finish last, or something like that. And I don't think I'm finishing last. I'm far from done with this race, however, you want to define that race, but I'm not finishing last. And I don't have to just because I'm a nice guy.

Chris Hare 11:59
You know, talking about the race, can you talk a little bit about your book, I Hope I'm the Tortoise, and what you want to communicate through it.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 12:08
Yeah. So, as you said, the title of the book is I Hope I'm the Tortoise, and it's a reference to the tortoise and the hare Aesop’s Fables that I read. You know, it's probably one of the earliest stories that I remember reading, because my grandparents had Aesop’s Fables on their bookshelf in their living room. And so, you know, this idea that slow and steady wins the race, and you can be ill-equipped, and essentially, unprepared. And this sort of dogged persistence can still put you in a winning position. And somatically, that is my life, right? Like, as I mentioned, a lot of health problems as a child, there was a point in time where I think the doctors thought I might not survive from some of the allergies and other things that were happening when I was born. And then I just was not, in my own sort of estimation, I did not feel like a very remarkable child, despite the fact that my mom had told me I'm special. I thought that's something that moms say to all children, right? And so the idea behind this book is that I want to tell the stories, one, because I think that the thing that I've benefited from were parents that understood how to build resilience. I failed a lot, right? And I think, too, for a certain point in life, like I had more failures than successes. And never, there was never this sort of, like, I'm going to give up, because it just didn't seem like an option. It was like, Okay, try again, try again, try again, try again, try again differently this time, right? And so there's this real building of resilience that I want to help showcase. And then this sort of, you don't have to have everything figured out as long as you're, sort of, forward-focused and just persistent in that forward momentum and forward movement. And the last piece is really, in contrast to that rugged, individual self-made personal story, I think many people will benefit from understanding that you can win with other, and surrounded by other, like-minded people, and community has always been a huge part of how I've moved throughout organizations, throughout new communities. I've moved more than a lot of folks tend to move. And so there's this idea that persistence, resilience, and community are other building blocks to the American success story. And I just want other people to have access to understand what that looks like.

Chris Hare 14:46
And I know invention, innovation were a really key part of the lessons that you also learned growing up. I would love it if you could read a little bit from the chapter you entitled “SEPTA”.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 14:57
Absolutely. So. “Whoever came up with the saying, ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ probably wasn't thinking of the lives of broke, black Americans. But I grew up learning how to innovate as a matter of survival. My parents and grandparents worked hard to provide food and shelter, and I grew up well loved. This is not to be overlooked or taken for granted. But still, we were often broke. Electricity would routinely get cut off. If we weren't siphoning cable from my grandmother's house or directly from the pole with the hood hookup, it would certainly get disconnected. During the winter, it was common for us to have a few cold days, or even weeks, as we waited to get enough money to pay for the oil that went to the furnace. Blankets and body heat, while leaving the oven on, just was not a sustainable solution.”

Chris Hare 15:51
And how did that hit you as a kid? And I'm also curious how it kind of shaped your view of the world of money.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 15:57
As a kid, my brother's imagination I think derived from my mom and dad's imagination. And so, for the most part, I don't think we understood that we were broke. There's poverty, and then they're just sort of working class broke, paycheck by paycheck, and I'd say we were absolutely in the latter category, right, where I knew people who absolutely lived in a different form of poverty. We just didn't really know, right? Like, we were happy, we were loved. And my parents did not fixate on what we didn't have. We focused on what we did have. We played with milk crates while our friends had power wheels. And there was never like, Why don't we have power wheels? Maybe it happened once or twice, but we didn't fixate on it. And so I grew up understanding that money was an absolute necessity. But I wasn't obsessed with it and the acquisition of it. And if I could use the little bit of money that I had to get gifts for my brother and my sister, or for my parents, my mom on Mother's Day, that was a huge source of joy. But at the same time, I wanted stability. And so despite the fact that I would consider myself far more creative than I am a business person, I went to school for business because there was no way I was going to go and become a musician, and be broke, because I just didn't want to be broke anymore, right? I didn't need to be rich. But being broke was just not all that fun. Because, you know, when the TV gets cut off, and you can't watch your Saturday morning cartoons, that sucks.

Chris Hare 17:47
And I think we'll talk more about creativity later. But creatives often feel like, Oh, I could just do so much better work if there weren't any constraints, right? But it's interesting in your story where there were so many constraints between the finances, between your health, between the neighborhood. And it led to this pretty extraordinary level of imagination. And I'm also struck by again, I'm not saying it wasn't hard, right? But also struck by the how you said you had joy in the middle of that world.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 18:20
Yeah, I mean, I was talking to my brother about it the other day, and he's like, Either mom was brilliant, or just a master manipulator. Like, I just didn't know we were broke. And so yeah, I mean, I credit my parents for cultivating that environment. Because I can't imagine it was easy. I have two daughters now. And it's hard enough to keep them happy with means. So I can't imagine doing it without.

Chris Hare 18:43
Talk to me a little bit about jazz, and if there's a memory that comes to mind of music, and what it's done for you. And I'd love to understand how it's also just kind of transformed you and your approach to life.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 18:56
Absolutely. So, I went to a performing arts high school in New Haven called the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School, and ended up going reluctantly for music. So my mom knew that I wanted to do visual arts. I used to draw all the time, right? Basically draw, work with clay, paint, anything that I could do with visual arts, I did. But my mom really wanted me to go for music, got me into the music program, and honestly, for the first year and a half, maybe, I hated it. I would keep my saxophone in the locker. I wouldn't practice. I just didn't enjoy it. And then my sophomore year, a guy by the name of Harold Eugene Riley was hired to whip the music program into shape. And this dude was, like, you know that movie Whiplash, with JK Simmons? So, JK Simmons won an Oscar for his portrayal of this character, this music teacher, in Whiplash. And this dude was, like, hard ass, right? Harold Eugene Riley made that character look like a nice, pleasant individual. Harold Eugene Riley was a drill sergeant dude from Savannah, Georgia, who was all about order, all about following the rules, all about discipline and practice. And he drilled us. And so the music program was probably 30-something people when he joined. By the time he whittled it down, there were eight of us left. And the eight of us that stayed, I don't know if it was out of fear or what, because we weren't enjoying it. But, you know, at least there was some discipline there. He would not allow us to finish a song if we made any mistakes. He'd yell, he’d wave his arms, and he was loud, and he was intimidating. And so, he just browbeat us, right? And then one day, we were rehearsing a song, Mood Indigo, by Duke Ellington. And I don't know if we were just so beaten down, or if we were just so in the zen of it all, that we finally, for the first time, and this was probably, like, halfway through my sophomore year, we finally played the song from beginning to end. And up until that point, I had never considered playing the saxophone as music. It was noise, right? And it was annoying. But that was the first day that I had created music, like it had come from me. And it had happened because, in addition to like drilling us about how we sounded, he was also super intentional about us listening to every other instrument. And so when we got to the end of the song, we all heard the song, we all heard each other. And we all realized that we had just created music. And it was a sort of magical epiphany. And like, that was the moment where I'm like, Ooh, if I can do this, I want to do this. I want to create in this way, because it was the first time I thought I created something that was with other people, that was something that could be enjoyed by other people, and I was hooked. And so that was sort of my, that was when music really became something important to me. And beyond that, jazz music, for me, became this sort of way to create my own expression that really helped to unlock who I was, my personality. Because like I mentioned, I was quiet, withdrawn, probably read more of an introvert, and through music and through performance, I had to put myself out there, I had to express myself, I had to express my personality. And one of the probably most important things about jazz is, you actually have to take chances, you have to take risks, you have to put yourself out there, you have to try things that may or may not work. And that allowed me to really understand this, I think those sort of building blocks and the ingredients for what it takes to be innovative and creative, you know, in big and meaningful ways.

Chris Hare 23:17
What really strikes me, though, is this intense discipline that made no sense to you potentially, right, but just in this fear that unlocked that creativity, right, which is pretty remarkable.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 23:30
Yeah. I'm still really good friends with a number of the folks who went through that experience. And every time we talk, we talk about Mr. Riley. And you know, he's a super important person, despite the fact that he was, you know, a drill sergeant, I love him for who he is or who he was, and what he did. He passed away a number of years ago. But before that, I was able to really share with him just how impactful and important that year was for us, because we only had him for that year. But it definitely carried over into how I even approached music with others when I started doing instruction through a thing called the Bakersfield Jazz Workshop. I brought a lot of that energy and that discipline to the students. And right or wrong – and I say right or wrong, because it's just not for everybody, which is why the population went from 30 to eight – right or wrong, I think that the people who needed it gravitated towards it, and it changed them for the better.

Chris Hare 24:40
So, until September of this year, you were director of HR for Netflix Animation Studio. Looking at you and understanding who you are as a creative soul, HR is not a direction I would have guessed. And I know you explained a little bit of why you went that route in college. What was your journey from studying business in college? And then how did you go ultimately land at Netflix?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 25:02
Yeah, so the sort of quick story, right? The only reason I really landed in HR, because I didn't know anything about HR before I got to Temple University. I listened to all the different majors do their presentations my freshman year, because I joined Temple as an undecided business major. And I heard the accountants present, and I'm like, That's kind of boring. Marketing, I don't really understand it, it seems like alchemy. Finance was like, it's interesting, but I don't get it. I had always been really, really interested in people. And really, from the perspective of like, philosophy, psychology, understanding people, and had studied European history and Middle East history in high school and really took to a lot of these human stories. And so when I heard HR as a major, I'm like, Ooh, that's actually a portion of business that I think I would enjoy. Marketing would have probably seemed like a more linear fit for a creative person. But it didn't really speak to me. Fast forward, you know, I come out of college, I moved to Bakersfield, California, sight unseen. I ended up working for a food processing company called Bolthouse Farms. At the same time, I'm a musical director for a salsa band playing in this sort of jazz community. When I moved to Bakersfield, I wasn't really thinking that I was going to be some high-powered executive. My wife had gotten a job with Chevron, she was the breadwinner. So I'm like, I'm just gonna, you know, enjoy myself and do things that I'm having a good time doing. And then table sort of turned, she wanted to take a step back. And I started to invest more in being the business leader that I was pretending to be. So got my MBA from Harvard, I ended up going to Citibank after HBS. And a year after my first year in the HR development program, I got the opportunity to move to Singapore. Singapore was only meant to be a one-year assignment, ended up staying in Singapore for four and a half, almost five years, initially leading recruitment transformation for the entire APAC region for Citibank, which was about 65,000 employees. We were hiring 19,000 people a year. So it was a humongous sort of remit. And there were a lot of problems to solve. And nobody had any answers. So it was a perfect place to be creative. And so I got to do a bunch of things there that folks weren't thinking about simply because I had the trust to sort of try those things out. I ended up moving back to the US with a company called MassMutual. And the role that was marketed, that was offered, ended up not being the role that I took. So I ended up leaving after about 10 months. And honestly, I'm not gonna say I wasn't interested. But when I got the call from Netflix, I was ready to leave the US again, because repatriation was tough. I lived in Singapore for four and a half years, our daughter was born in Singapore. So our oldest, Sophia, was four when we left. Had a bunch of amazing experiences. We loved the education there. We loved the fact that she was getting this multicultural experience. And then we come back to the US. And we came back at the beginning of 2017. And if you remember sort of the state of the world back then, there was a lot of unrest. And this is a few years before, I think, George Floyd, but you know that brought unrest to everybody's attention. But there were a number of these killings that were happening. And when we were in Singapore, there was this whole vigil and protest. I won't even say protest, but a show of support by local Singaporeans for the black Americans that were in Singapore. And for context, any sort of assembly of people in Singapore is highly scrutinized by the government. Anything that is race based, is even more scrutinized. And so you had local Singaporean people who are essentially risking their freedom to show support for people halfway across the world. And the things that I was reading on social media and the conversations I was having with people back home was, it was hard to get other Americans to show that same support. And so I moved back in the midst of all that, and feel all that really negative energy, and a lot of the different interactions in my daughter's school, and work, et cetera. And I'm like, We gots to go, right? And so literally had an opportunity to moved back to Asia, had a job offer in Hong Kong. When I got the call to join Netflix, I remember having a conversation with my wife where I was like, Can you believe this? Now that I have an opportunity, I got this email from Netflix, check this out. And she's like, So you're gonna take the interview, right? And I'm like, No, we're going to Hong Kong. She's like, but it's Netflix, take the interview. So I’m like, All right. And I always listen to my wife, even if reluctantly, and everything that I heard in the process, right, because I walked into the process thinking, the thing I enjoyed most about Singapore was the fact that I got to be a more complete version of myself in all aspects of my life, without facing any of the microaggressions that I had sort of grown accustomed to. I had normalized them, I didn't know any different, right? It's similar like being in New Haven, and having never left. Being in the US and having never left, I didn't realize what I was missing. But then, four and a half years in Singapore, I'm like, Oh, when I say something smart, people nod their heads, and then we do that thing. And if it doesn't work, then we try something else. But I couldn't even get half of my ideas to get any sort of acknowledgement, with the exception of having some really good relationships with really senior people when I was at Citibank, which is how I got the Singapore opportunity to begin with. So long story short, I was thinking, let me go ahead and just say all the things you're not supposed to say in an interview process, let me talk openly about things that I didn't like about my last employer. Let me talk about diversity and inclusion and openly what I'm looking for and what I'm seeking. And at no point did the people that I was speaking to at Netflix flinch. I was showing who I was, and it was making them more excited. And that's ultimately what got me to join. When I showed up being myself, the doors kept opening.

Chris Hare 31:56
Can you talk a little bit about the identity piece? I believe you've written about, you know, before your identity was a black man in America. And then you go to Singapore. And you've talked a little bit about how different that is. But what did that identity, I guess, feel like, and how was that different there?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 32:14
Yeah, I mean, up until I left the US, I normalized this unspoken, second-class-citizen mentality that I think is, unfortunately, still very much prevalent in too many spaces and systems in the US. But I didn't question it because it was normal, right? And then when I go to Singapore, it was the first time that I felt like I was just a person, right? There was no Black American sort of label. At worst, I was an American. And that was sort of weird, because I'm like, Wait, American? And here's sort of a funny story. But when my daughter was born, my wife is a Nigerian American. So we're both Black. And that's why, that's what makes what I'm about to say funny, but also curious, right? When she's born, and we go down to the registrar's office, the registrar asks us, So we don't have the same races here as you have in the United States. So your choices for her birth certificate are American or Caucasian. Which do you choose? And my wife and I laughed. We’re like, Well, I mean, what do you mean, we have two choices? Those are not two choices, we have one choice. But the woman didn't realize that Caucasian was a specific sort of subset of American, you know? It was just sort of a widely applied term, right? And so in the context of Singapore, they didn't have our history around race, they don't have our hang-ups around race. And even some of the stereotypes that they heard or understood like, oh, gang violence, oh, guns, would be expressed more as a curiosity, and not as something that defined the person. And so I had four and a half years of just being a person. And I didn't realize that that was even possible. But then after four and a half years of that, there was sort of this like, I can't go back into that box, I can no longer shrink myself and be the person that I was, because I was only that person because I didn't know any better. Now that I know better, and now that I know that there are places that can accept me for who I am and can see my humanity first, I refuse to allow anybody else to put something other than humanity in front of me.

Chris Hare 34:48
Absolutely. And so you felt that connection, then, with Netflix. Obviously, it's not a perfect company, but you felt that you could now come to work as a whole person?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 34:56
I showed up as a whole person and I was not ever corrected or questioned or given feedback that would suggest that I do anything other than that. And again, even when I worked for Citibank, and I would come back to the US, that wasn't necessarily the experience, right? And that's not a knock on Citibank. That's more so just an acknowledgement that these companies exist within the countries where they do business. And we still have lots of things to work out as a country when it comes to race and identity and gender and sexuality and those things. And so I wasn't going to give them a chance to put me in that box when I showed up. And they never tried. And that's why I ultimately decided to join.

Chris Hare 35:53
So when you landed at Netflix, what were some of the big challenges that you had to crack right off the bat from a creative, from the human side of things, from running that part of the business?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 36:03
So when I first joined Netflix, I was running talent acquisition for the studio business, at the time we called it physical production. And then our, at the time, content planning and analysis or content strategy businesses. And then very shortly after I joined, it was probably February where Netflix announced that they were building an animation studio, so I got that responsibility as well. And I'd say like, the first humongous challenge was, Netflix is making more content than any studio in history. And this is back in 2018. So that was true even back then, and at the time was shifting to doing more content self-produced. And so we had to hire at ridiculous growth rates. We had to double and triple the teams every quarter, essentially. And so I'm leading a team to hire all of these studio, physical production, professionals from the existing ecosystem. In a space where contracts prevail, in a space where, even though Netflix is, I think, was an attractive employer to a lot, there was still a lot of skepticism in Hollywood, because as a disruptor, people weren't necessarily trusting that Netflix was going to be around for the long haul. And so you have all of these dynamics going. Fast growth, we, as new to the space, didn't actually know all of what good looked like. Nobody had ever managed a studio this large, across this many countries, across this many different types of titles. So everything that we were doing felt like guesswork. So there's that complexity of me having to hire and build a team simultaneously to support that growth. And then when you throw the animation studio into the mix, Netflix jumped into animation, sort of did a cannonball into the pool of animation, right? Where it's like, We're going to try to maybe figure this thing out. And then that's quickly shifted to, Actually, we're just going to build the largest animation studio in the world, and not go through that, you know, figuring it out phase that Pixar and DreamWorks and even Disney and Illumination went through. We're just gonna go from zero to the largest studio in the world, in less than a year. And I inherited all that. I initially hired two people. And then that two people became eight people, and I stepped away from that role. And by the time I came back as head of HR for the animation studio, the animation recruitment team alone was over 30 people. And all of that was just in an effort to scale and catch up and build infrastructure so that we could support this massive content appetite. But all that being said, it was fun. You know, one, there's a cool factor being able to say you work for Netflix. It got to the point where I just, I started removing the labels from my backpack and clothing because everybody at every airport would want to have a conversation about Netflix, and why did you cancel my show? And like, I even got into that conversation with my mom at one point where she's like, Why did you guys cancel? I'm like, Mom, I don't have anything to do with those decisions. And I trust that they were made with… But you don't understand. I really love that show. And you might lose a customer. I'm like, Okay, mom, like I'll give that feedback.

Chris Hare 39:51
When I worked at Amazon, and the older relative would call you and say, Hey, my book never showed up on my order. Can you track it down? I was like, You know how big of a company this is? That's not my division either. So, yeah.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 40:04
And you gotta love those conversations, because I'm sure they know. But even still, they're gonna press you anyway, right?

Chris Hare 40:12
So, obviously, there's just a ton, it's just moving really fast. And there's a lot of chaos in that environment. What role does chaos play just within a creative team ongoing? And then what's your role in that? Because you're the creative, but you also have the rigor and the discipline. I’m curious what that looks like.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 40:30
So, I like to say, and I started saying this probably a little over two years ago, when I formally took on being the head of HR for Netflix Animation. First of all, I believe that chaos is the raw material of creativity, right? And when you think about creatives as world builders, and specifically in the space of animation, where every dot, every can, every marble, every single thing that ends up in a frame of animation is there because somebody intended to put it there. There's got to be an extreme amount of chaos involved in the process, unless, of course, you're just rinsing and repeating. The most important and the most compelling stories are built on, you know, this real unabridged creativity. I believe that my role has always been to try and scale that chaos, but do so in a way that prevents it from descending into madness. The bad behaviors like discrimination and harassment and making people feel unsafe and insecure and, you know, the tolerating misogyny and all of these other forms of things that, in ways, can sort of disguise themselves as chaos, but are really something else, right? I've always looked at my job, even before I could put this into words, as trying to hold that madness at bay, at trying to call out that madness, and root it out of the system so that that chaos can continue to operate safely. But it's also, in some ways, to be a translator. As you mentioned, and maybe this is self-proclaimed, but I am this creative person who's disguised themselves, or I’ve disguised myself, as a business person. So a lot of people, unless I told them or show them, would not have necessarily guessed that I'm a creative person. And that's partly because I've learned to speak multiple languages, right? I went to school for business, after going to a performing arts high school, so that I could figure out how to translate all of these good ideas into things that made sense from a business perspective. I wanted to always be able to take all of these different concepts, and help people see each other's points of view. And I think that's partly to do with being a middle child, being this mediator. But also like, it was part of the intention, right, of why I went the route that I went. So that's how I see my role in the chaos. And everything that I tried to do when I was leading HR at Netflix Animation, which was probably, not probably, was THE most chaotic of environments that I've worked in. It was to help my leaders understand that, like, don't stop that thing. Don't stifle that thing, facilitate that discussion, right? Create that connection from that thing to that thing. And then keep your mind focused on what the objective is. Because I think sometimes as HR people, we can get caught up in policies and procedures, as opposed to the purpose and the output. And so I would always try to make sure that they were focused on the output, focused on the objective, and not on that thing that we're supposed to be responsible for, probably to the dissatisfaction of my leaders. But I've always been that way. I have good relationships with most of my former bosses who never seem to bring that up as a point of contention, because I would always help them focus on building those bridges and getting the ultimate objective, even if the metrics weren't met.

Chris Hare 44:31
I know you talked in Wired Magazine about kind of that whole approach to creativity and chaos is really orchestrating a jazz band, right? It's the creativity, the adaptation. But you also talked about at Netflix, there was this lack of hierarchy that enabled you to pursue your own jazz solo. What was that, ultimately?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 44:50
That jazz solo – and if any of my musician friends are listening, I'm sure that was cringe-worthy because jazz solo in the context of boring, boring business stuff, I'm sorry, y'all – but that was proudest achievement in my career thus far, and specifically at Netflix, was leading an initiative to move $100 million or 2% of Netflix's cash into Black banks. It's an announcement that we ended up making about a month after George Floyd was murdered. It's something that came out in the midst of a lot of, I'd say, less concrete, corporate responses to racial inequity in the US. It was really about addressing the racial wealth gap. And what had been happening is that the gap was once again set to increase and widen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And what was going to end up happening is, Black and Brown communities were going to have less opportunity, less capital available, more businesses were going to be shut down. And it was going to be a cycle that was very similar to the 2008 financial crisis, where more than 50% of Black wealth was erased. And the reason that I say ‘greatest jazz solo’, a lot of people, you know, will think about a solo as an individual endeavor. And the important characteristic of jazz music is that jazz is always a communication, a call and response. And even something that can be or appear to be spontaneous is really calling on lots and lots of preparation, calling on lots and lots of stories that have been told throughout the years, right? And so the phrasing and whatnot that a jazz musician may employ is sort of a culmination of all those things, but happening in sort of a split second. And we went from concept to announcement in 33 days. So I initially sent the proposal that I had written to Reed Hastings on May 27. And then we were on CNBC on June 30, announcing. One of the books that I read, a book by Mehrsa Baradaran, The Color of Money, she does a really good job of telling the entire history of the banking industry, from the perspective of the racial wealth gap. And so I drew a lot of my knowledge from that book, from conversations that I had with friends, etc. And so just like a jazz solo, if you hear Coltrane, you know, in certain solos, referencing changes that he’ll then play later on in giant steps, right, there's that you can sort of pick these pieces out of somebody's body of work, this was that for me, right, just in the context of business. But it required tapping into this larger body of work, it required working with a number of different people who played different roles. This was not like, ooh, this thing that I did, it was this thing that WE were able to do as a collective by listening to one another, by responding to one another, by motivating one another. And ultimately, that amazing jazz solo that I'm super proud of is something that has gone on to help, I think, have a much, much larger impact than I could have even imagined in that Netflix committed $100 million, but now, over $2 billion has moved that way toward these Black banks and financial institutions. And organizations like Hope Credit Union, CEO Bill Bynum was one of the first people that I spoke to, was the recipient of a $10 million deposit from Netflix. That $10 million deposit turned into $100 million within nine months from a number of other companies from across corporate America. That then provided the conditions for Hope to receive a $92 million treasury infusion, which then now allows them and enables them to lend close to a billion dollars to the communities that they serve within the South. And in their 40-year history, they've had more capital available in just the last three years than they had over the entire existence over that first 40 years.

Chris Hare 49:42
Take me to April 16, 2020. Now, you hosted a Jefferson Dinner. I would love to understand what the goal of that dinner was initially, and then how your plans and kind of got disrupted and shifted to where you ultimately landed.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 49:56
Yeah, so the Jefferson Dinner. I had been given the permission from my boss at the time, Nellie Peshkov, who basically had all her leaders come up with diversity recruitment strategies. I presented this idea that we're going to do these dinners, that we would use this Jefferson Dinner format. It's named Jefferson Dinner after Thomas Jefferson, who would have these dinners of 8 to 12 people from different walks of life, different ideologies, different political leanings, etc., around a table in his home to discuss a specific topic, with the objective of generating some specific change or momentum on that topic. And so I took that concept to address what is called the ‘networking gap’. And so the networking gap is this phenomenon where, based on where you're born, where you went to school, where you've worked, you are 12 times more likely to get hired at a place, if you have those things in common with the people who work in that place. And in the United States, that networking gap, in a lot of ways, is drawn against race and ethnicity, right? And so when I sit in the seat of a diversity recruiter, it's like, Oh, well, how are we supposed to recruit more people of color, broadly speaking, if the people in the seats don't have them in their networks, because despite the fact that recruiters’ jobs are to go out and find people, people tend to move forward with the people that they're most comfortable with. And then that comes back to where you went to school, where you grew up, where you've worked. And then you end up getting these real homogenous organizations. So again, the dinner was meant to sort of break that apart. The concept was we get these people into the room, we have a conversation about changing the complexion and composition of the C-suite, as the thing that we're trying to change. We bring in a number of people who are outside the network of the executive that we would have in the seat. I facilitate. Bam, we have networks. We did a few of these dinners before the pandemic started. And we were starting to build momentum, they were well received. And we were seeing the benefits of closing those networks. Pandemic hits, and I'm like, Okay, let's do some virtual dinners. And it was April 16, we were having the very first of the virtual dinners, and this was just really meant to be a proof of concept. On that call, there was a gentleman who was Chief Lending Officer of the Harbor Bank in Baltimore, Maryland. He's talking about like, Y'all, very interesting conversation, if I seem distracted it’s because I'm trying to get PPP funding to a number of Black and Brown businesses who've been declined by their banks. These aren't even my clients. But if we don't do this, then we're going to see a whole lot of, you know, a whole lot of what we saw in 2008. I'm like, Alright, we're not going to talk about this corporate stuff. We're going to talk about this topic here. Because if we can't get people out of their communities, we absolutely cannot get people into these companies. And so, Ebbie Parsons, who you had on the show, he's the founder, managing partner of a firm called Yardstick Management. We had been using Yardstick Management to build these rooms. I’d facilitate the conversations, Yardstick Management would invite the people. And so Ebbie’s on the call that day, and he's like, Yo, how do we get corporations to move their money into Black banks, in response to what this guy had said? And I'm like, Ooh, I don't know. But I'm gonna ask. And then that became the catalyst for the initiative.

Chris Hare 53:48
So, Richard Nixon, in a 1968 campaign ad said, “The Black community has to build from within.” And Victor Luckerson writes about this in his Wired article, he says, the thinking was that, “If only they could effectively pool their resources, Black people would lift themselves out of poverty and into the compounding benefits of intergenerational wealth.” How does this narrative harm Black communities and then set it straight for us in terms of the context of history?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 54:17
It's incomplete, right? And so I always tell people, like, read The Color of Money, Mehrsa actually breaks it down in a very, sort of, James Baldwin type of way. And she says, ‘the wealth gap is where historic injustice breeds present suffering’. And so this sort of idea that if Black people would just build wealth, then they would benefit from the compounding interest. But if you understand that, one, previous attempts to do so had been thwarted, and systems had been put in place to prevent that accumulation of wealth to occur, or that that wealth was extracted, in addition to the fact that, without wealth, one cannot create wealth. Wealth creation requires capital injection. If these two things exist or don't exist, right, like the net statement is an empty statement, right? It doesn't acknowledge the systemic sort of changes that it required in order for that statement to be fully true. And so I think that that statement ends up putting all of the onus on people who may not have the access to change their fortunes, to basically say, Well, if you just worked harder, you'd get out of your circumstances, right? And it's like, yes. But if you understand that there's 159-year history of folks doing just that, and then losing anyway because of policy, because of extraction, etc., then you're missing the completeness of the story. And I think it was that understanding that really inspired a lot of folks within Netflix's leadership to be an active part of injecting that capital in those communities, so that a statement like that would not be empty. So that a statement like that would not sort of fall on deaf ears, because it would not be absent of the fact that, Well, I would do that if I had access to capital. But when I go to my credit union, they don't have a deposit base big enough for me to get a loan. When that narrative shifts, then the entire narrative shifts.

Chris Hare 56:32
Can you give an example of that? Well, first of all, if you could kind of, you know, $2 billion has been invested or put in. And can you talk about how big the problem is as a whole, from a financial standpoint? But then I would love you to zoom in to a specific story of a business that was impacted.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 56:49
There are several, several figures available around the actual size of that gap, and the amount of capital that would be required to close it. But we're talking in the hundreds of billions, just in terms of the capital required to inject into these communities in the form of loans and investments and businesses and venture capital, etc. And when you look across, VC, PE, money market banking, etc., you see that so many of these systems are skewed away from these communities, right? But the upside for investing in these communities is that we generate something like another trillion dollars in gross domestic product, with investing in closing the racial wealth gap. And that upside is something that everybody in America benefits from, not just the communities that are systemically being left behind. So, I think contextually, that's sort of important to understand, because I think a lot of times people think that people are looking for seeking handouts, as opposed to we're looking to repair some systemic wrongs that are harming all of us, right? Plain and simple. It's harming the entire country. And if we had a way to generate another trillion dollars, why the heck wouldn't we jump all over that? For every dollar that's put into a bank, in the form of a deposit or other sort of forms of capital, you're creating $10 worth of lending just based on how banks can write loans on the deposits that they keep. And so that injection of $2 billion into these communities is $20 billion of home loans and business loans and other things that allow people to be self-sufficiently focused on economic development, as opposed to the criticism of handouts, right? Because a loan is not a handout. These aren't grants. This is opening up a wider aperture in how you can include more banks in the course of doing business. In fact, you know, when I emailed Reed about this thing, his response was, It's so capitalistic, it warms my heart. Because it wasn't a call for charity, it wasn't a donation, it wasn't anything other than, Let's just take a bigger view on our business relationships, and include this part of the economy that may have been left out systemically. And we don't have to play in that game.

Chris Hare 59:33
So, a lot of the promises that companies are making over the last several years to Black communities seem to be really performative, right? It's great that there's a lot more conversation around purpose within businesses, but that can also, at least in my experience, it seems like it can often be a veneer. What advice do you have for C-suite leaders who really want to have an impact?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 59:57
So first of all, you know I'll say this. Businesses should focus on doing really good business, right? Like being profitable, creating revenue, creating jobs, all of those things should absolutely be the focus, right? Like, this conversation would often come up in HR, where it's like, People should come first. And it's like, there is no people to employ for businesses not viable, right? So first and foremost, run a viable, non-exploitative business. But specifically around if they want to make, you know, impact in the spaces that are not empty promises or not marketing campaigns. I'll start with, like, expanding on the Black banking initiative, where I'd say, Read The Color of Money. I've also created a playbook that I put on my website that is completely free of charge. Read the playbook, because it provides, you know, a list of contacts that we work with in banking, and within the CDFI community. So, copy/paste, you can just take my name off of it and put your name on it, like go out and do. And then I'd say beyond that, look at other ways that in the natural course of your business there is some opportunity for righting a systemic wrong that is just something you do in the course of business. If you think about the hiring policies for a number of companies, how required is that college degree, right? Because you and I have had careers, I'm sure, when we've come to some realization that I don't think I really applied any of my degree in this particular job. So was it really a requirement, or was it a gating mechanism? I'd say companies should look at their policies around hiring nonviolent ex-convicts, right? Because you've got an entire portion of the society in a country that has the largest prison population in the world that, unfortunately, are barred from doing certain types of jobs, not because they lacked the qualifications or the drive, but simply because of a past mistake. It heavily impacts certain communities more than others. So I'd say that's one way to provide a systemic solution that has a benefit to other communities without changing the course of business, right? And there's a bunch of different ways that I think companies can look at that. This Black banking thing that we did was really a way to take a broader view of even supplier diversity. And that's another way that I think organizations can make an impact, it’s like, How are we spending our money? Because if you're a multibillion-dollar company, you're spending billions of dollars. Who are you spending that billions of dollars with? And is there an opportunity to spread that investment across communities that have been historically kept out of that? And then last thing I'd say is, if you want to brainstorm, give me a call. I'd love the opportunity to just figure out more ways that companies can do this really important work without having to make an empty commitment or to give a grant or something like that, but make it a sustainable part of how they do business. While at the same time, again, so the first point that I made, focusing on how to make money, focusing on how to create jobs to sustain growth, because all those things are super duper important for any of these initiatives to really be successful.

Chris Hare 1:03:40
You left Netflix in September, you're writing your memoir, you're consulting, coaching, speaking. And I know you also have recently launched a Web3 company. Can you talk to me a little bit about what you're creating now?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 1:03:51
I can. So that Web3 company is called Pega Visão Salvador Club, or PVSC. I'm working with a few other really amazing people. And what we're doing is essentially building a company that's focused on connecting the world to the culture of Salvador, Brazil, first through this sort of intersection of digital art and technology, but eventually, through art, through music, through animation, and through actual excursions that will take people down to Salvador, Brazil. It's Web3 because, on the technology side, we are using Blockchain technology to create smart contracts to, one, ensure ownership and custody of the assets that are purchased, but also, so that we can bypass some of the inefficiencies in the financial system in Brazil to put money directly in the hands of the creators. All of this really built to empower the local creators, and to create something that draws people into the magic that is the culture of Salvador, Brazil.

Chris Hare 1:05:08
And I just imagined kind of tying it back to the way you're talking about jazz. As folks can kind of tap into that history and that creativity, imagine that will shape a lot of future stories in some really powerful ways.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 1:05:22
Yeah, I mean, funny thing you mentioned jazz. So, Salvador, Brazil, and a lot of people don't know this, right? Salvador is first capital of Brazil. And today has the largest population of people of African descent. So, 3 million people, 84%, African-descendant people. And because of just the abundance of enslaved peoples who were brought to Brazil, 4.8 of the 12 million people who were brought to the Americas went to Brazil, the majority of those came in through Salvador. There's this deep imprint, cultural imprint that was left in Salvador and that sort of persists today. And so when you talk about jazz music, which is a very American art, but also an art that was created by African Americans through fusions of a number of different sort of art forms, Salvador is another version of that, with more significant connectivity, I'd say culturally, to the African experience, the African continent. And including, like, my wife, I mentioned, Nigeria, and specifically she's Yoruba, very large ethnic group in what is today, Nigeria. A number of the people who were pulled into the slave trade are from Yoruba land, a large number of them ended up in Salvador, Brazil. And to this day, Yoruba is the second largest spoken language in Salvador, Brazil, after Portuguese. And this is after almost 500 years of being separated from the continent. And so there's a sort of cultural persistence that is alive and well in Salvador, which has created this cultural export. So everything that you know as Brazilian, whether it be Samba, capoeira, a number of different types of music and art forms, a lot of it started in Salvador, Brazil. So Salvador, in a lot of ways, is this cultural engine that powers the culture of Brazil, and through Pega Visão Salvador Club, we're creating an access point directly to the source. And we're using the technology and the art to act as a way to translate because, you know, I think something like 99% of people in Salvador don't speak English. And so we just haven't had a whole lot of natural entry points. And so we're building this business with the express purpose of being that access point to the culture, because like jazz music, like R&B, like hip hop in America, Salvador is the center for all of that really vibrant culture that invites people in, that invites people to play around and make it their own. And there's very few things in the world that we haven't really experienced yet, because of technology and because of the internet and all of these things. And Salvador is still fertile.

Chris Hare 1:08:28
I love it. Yeah, I can't wait to see it come to life and follow your journey. It's going to be cool. So we've talked a lot about your journey and your work. I know your two most important jobs are husband and dad. I read a post of yours yesterday about your daughter. What's your hope for your daughters and the future that you want to create for them? And then also kind of the, what are you trying to instill in them?

Aaron Craig Mitchell 1:08:52
Yeah, I think about this a lot, obviously. You're a parent. The one thing I don't want to do is force my ideals, force my perspectives on them. The thing I think about most is, how do I cultivate an environment for them like my parents cultivated for me, where they get to tap into that chaos? They get to tap into their imaginations, and they get to sort of build their own worlds. Both of my daughters have already said that they're artists. My five-year-old declared it, right? It was like, I think I asked her one day, I was like, What do you want to be when you grow up? She's like, I'm an artist. I was like, Oh, so you want to be an artist when you grow up? She's like, No, I AM an artist. Like, Oh, okay. It has been spoken. I even wrote it down. I keep a journal for both of them that I'll give to them when they're older. And I wrote it down that day, like, today you told me you are an artist. And so the things that I think are most important for me and how I'm raising my children: One, I just want to ensure that they have superior critical thinking skills, so that they can operate and understand the world in a way that allows them to seek to understand and to build bridges and to experience, I'd say, more humanity from more people. I want to make sure that they are self-sufficient. Because my wife and I have no desire to support them beyond what is absolutely necessary.

Chris Hare 1:10:25
Amen to that. We have that same conversation at home.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 1:10:29
We tell them all the time, like, Oh, you know, time's running out, you better, you're gonna be on your own. You're five now you're gonna be off pretty soon. Yes. But, you know, the last piece has been, you know, I want them to have the confidence and the resilience to dream big, to fail hard, and to pick up and try again.

Chris Hare 1:10:53
Well, Aaron, thanks so much. It's been an absolute pleasure and privilege to chat with you and to hear your story. I really, really appreciate you spending time with me.

Aaron Craig Mitchell 1:11:00
I appreciate the opportunity, Chris. This is fun.

Chris Hare 1:11:03
Awesome. We'll talk soon.

Aaron has lived a life of extraordinary impact. And I believe he's only just getting started. I've had 46 years of experience as a Hare, a Hare who prizes the all-out frenetic, chaotic sprint, so it was good for my soul to take a breath, spend time with Aaron, and see the magic of the tortoise. I marvel at Aaron's slow and steady pace as he patiently plugs away outside the limelight, until one day, he arrives at the finish line and unleashes something new that the world wants, that the world needs, but that the world couldn't create without him. It's easy to think that we got here, to this point in the race of life, by ourselves. And that's a narrative that Aaron is changing every day. I love how he recognized that his contribution at Netflix is like a jazz solo. To the untrained listener, it might seem like Aaron is playing that solo on his own. But listen more closely and you'll hear a deeply-layered piece created by an ensemble, the result of generations of work, call and response, shared knowledge, and shared experience. A solo that was created with his parents, his brother, and his grandmother, a solo that was created with Harold Eugene Riley, and Coltrane, and Ellington. A solo that was created with Bill Bynum, Ebbie Parsons, and with countless others across the generations. And a solo that is now transforming businesses and communities across the country. And that's it. Thanks for joining us for the special episode of The Storied Future Podcast. Please subscribe, leave us a review, and be sure to visit TSFpod.com for more information about Aaron Craig Mitchell, what he's up to, for Show Notes, and to check out other episodes.

The Storied Future Podcast is a production of The Storied Future, LLC, produced and edited by Ray Sylvester, audio engineering by Ali Özbay, logo design by Evan MacDonald, theme music by The Brewz. Your host is me, Chris Hare. This episode contains excerpts from the song “C is For Kidz” by Soulajar, which contains a saxophone solo by Aaron. Learn more about our work helping leaders create great B2B narratives for a change at www.thestoriedfold.wpengine.com.


Aaron Craig Mitchell is an LA-based entrepreneur, advisor, coach, and changemaker with nearly 20 years’ experience across various industries. He was recently the Director of HR for Netflix Animation, one of the largest and fastest growing animation studios in history. Prior to that, he spent his career as a leader in talent acquisition across various industries, companies, and geographies. An experienced business leader with a demonstrated history of executing change, Aaron has become globally recognized for his historic work pioneering Netflix’s 2% Cash Holdings Pledge of $100 Million into Black-owned banks. This initiative anchored a movement for financial equity and inclusion and opened doors for marginalized communities to flourish. His work has led to features in the New York TimesCNBC, and WIRED. Born in New Haven, CT, he earned his MBA from Harvard Business School and his BBA from Temple University. He resides in LA with his wife and two daughters.