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Case Study: Robert Gelb

Personal details
Degree:Modern History Profile picture
School(s): School of History
Year of Graduation:Jun-2011
LinkedIn:http://uk.linkedin.com/in/robgelb/
National of: United States of America
Employment details
Organisation: Bus 52
Job title: Founder, CEO
Occupational Sector: Not for profit
What has been your route to getting your current position?
In my third year at St Andrews, I was trying to work out what I wanted to do afterward. I had a lot of interest in media, and realised I had not really seen most of America. This wish to travel and 'produce' something was set in the backdrop of the financial crisis - a time when there was much negativity. The ideas of traveling, media production and responding to the negativity blended together into the idea of Bus 52 - traveling around the US in a converted school bus, making videos about people who were making a difference in their communities but not getting the attention they deserved.
What does your job involve ?
Five people lived and worked in a 40-ft long converted school bus from January to December 2012. We traveled to all of the lower 48 states, and produced 3-5 minute video stories about people we met along the way. The project required considerable planning, fundraising, and time to get off the ground. Throughout the trip we had to learn basics of video production, marketing, press interaction, and, most importantly, how to manage the stresses of always being on the move and living and working in very close quarters with one another.
What are the best bits of your job ?
In terms of what we were able to accomplish - the fact that we set out to do something and managed to achieved it surprised us all. Getting to meet people that work so hard for others was certainly rewarding as well. We were also fortunate enough to get on US National TV a few times, which was good fun.
Why were you successful?
I think the most important aspect that enabled us to succeed was an honesty of our own shortcomings, and a willingness to work together in order to achieve them. Though that might sound a bit wishy-washy, it is one thing to say that you work well with others, and you can handle stress; the reality of how you deal with stress - both expected and unexpected - tells a lot about how good you are at confronting difficulty. We managed to understand that and keep the team intact and productive.

In terms of work experience, etc, personally I was fortunate to have two fantastic internships that prepared me for dealing with things that were foreign or that I had not done before. The first was with Al Jazeera English in Washington DC - I was the intern to the White House Producer and got invaluable experience and coaching from my boss there. The second was in a leadership office in the US congress - that taught me how to work with very different kinds of people, under immense stress much of the time. Aside from internships, I also found the process of starting companies and working on start-ups before Bus 52 very helpful to getting some of the learning process out of the way beforehand.
What skills/ knowledge from your degree have you found particularly helpful in this role?
I think the most benefit my History degree gave me was in writing & analysis, as well as discussion. All of my classes that I took while at St Andrews encouraged discussion and disagreement, which forced you to think on your feet. Writing, though mine leaves much to be desired, is always improved when you have to read and write - and the constant demand for intelligent analysis was very useful.
What advice would you give to students wishing to follow the same path?
If you are thinking about starting your own business or project like this, I would make sure that you get really comfortable with the idea in your head, and be willing to speak about nothing else. You need to make sure that you surround yourself with smarter people than you, and that you accept that mistakes must be made for learning to happen. And don't be too uptight.