Stoutways featuring Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer SXSW

Stoutways featuring Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer SXSW

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Bold, Brave, and Determined
No journey can be started without these STOUTways.

Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer SXSW, at Stout Magazine’s Doing More With Less Event

But how does that translate into action?
Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer of South by Southwest, reveals how Stoutness has played into his journey.

BOLD – In a podcast last year, (author and entrepreneur) Seth Godin said that the best way to sharpen your thinking was to write in a public forum every day. So last August, I decided to embark on a writing project, four paragraphs a day for the website Medium. I don’t make it every day, but am writing about 25 days per month. It’s definitely helped me improve my thinking.

BRAVE – I used to be afraid of public speaking. I’m still not good at it, but I forced myself to keep doing it, and through repetition, it no longer bothers me. In fact, I’ve found that I enjoy it – although strangely enough, I almost miss the conquering feeling I used to get afterwards when I had pushed through my fear.

DETERMINED – One of the biggest challenges of SXSW is that it can continually be improved upon, but it requires the long-term approach of “we’ll get there eventually”. Small steps lead to larger distance covered; success is the result of plugging away and plugging away. You need perseverance and determination to keep climbing mountains.

Glory Days- Hugh Forrest with The Boss, Bruce Springsteen and SXSW Staff

Glory Days- Hugh Forrest with The Boss, Bruce Springsteen and SXSW Staff

“Bruce Springsteen and a Laser Printer”

If you’re looking for a secret success strategy for how to land a cool gig like SXSW, Hugh Forrest is probably not the man to ask. Forrest’s entree into the festival’s world was somewhat less than auspicious – he had a computer and a laser printer, and the original organizers did not. (While the MacPlus is long gone, that laser printer is still safely tucked away in storage in Portland, Oregon). Don’t be fooled by the humble beginnings, though – it takes a lot of grit, perseverance and hard work to build a regional music festival with 700 attendees the first year into the international business and entertainment powerhouse that it is today. How does someone find – and maintain – that kind of vision and energy? Fittingly, given SWSX’s musical roots, Forrest’s biggest inspiration has been and continues to be rocker Bruce Springsteen, aka The Boss.


“Why The Boss? Why not The Boss? The energy, excitement, enthusiasm, and passion that he brings to his live shows – it fuels me every time. He’s been doing his job for years, and yet he brings it every time. It makes me reflect, to try harder myself. He’s always an inspiration; I learn something new every time I hear him.”


Hugh Forrest, Chief Programming Officer SXSW

Hugh Forrest

Forrest is no stranger to passion and years of dedication himself. He’s been with SXSW since the very beginning, although he has, in his words, “left and been reeled back in several times”.  He’s been wooed back for good reason: the former collegiate basketball player – who favors Western shirts and looks even taller than his 6’5″ height –  approaches his role as Chief Programming Office of SXSW as if building the business is a competitive sport:

“I’m most passionate about trying to make SXSW better every year – to improve the experience for more people. I want to keep at it, to get everything right. This is the game I’m in now, and I’m always asking ‘how can it be better than it was before’? If we bench-pressed 100lbs this time, how much more can we do the next time? 


Stout's Doing More With Less Event Panelists Matt Laessig, Christi Hester, Founder of Stout Magazine, Ann Webb, Scott Sonenshein, Stretch author, and Hugh Forrest

Stout’s Doing More With Less Event Panelists Matt Laessig, Christi Hester, Founder of Stout Magazine, Ann Webb, Scott Sonenshein, Stretch author, and Hugh Forrest

With that kind of hard-charging spirit, perhaps it’s no surprise that Forrest is fascinated with people who bring uncommon energy to their passions and beliefs. Forrest himself gets up 4:15am each weekday to set his goals for the day. Not a coffee drinker, he admits that he fuels up for rest of the day with an energy drink as his reward for rising so early. Weekends are his time to sleep in and recharge, supplemented with moments of meditation during the week.

That meditation habit will definitely come in handy. Forrest admits that the challenges of organizing SXSW have grown as it grows – while the event has improved dramatically over time, the spotlight has also gotten brighter and hotter. As Forrest puts it, he has “less freedom to screw up in a public way, and more expectations. Admittedly, it’s a first world challenge – we just need to continue to up the game.” For him, a win in that game is when someone tells him that SXSW was the highlight of their year.

So how much longer will he keep at it? Let’s just say that Hugh Forrest definitely defines the “determined” in Stout’s “bold, brave and determined” mantra. “Until all the issues are resolved,” he says, “I will keep pursuing the [admittedly improbable] dream that all things will be fixed.”

Stout Takeaways from Hugh Forrest:

  • Small Changes Lead to Big Results.
    SXSW’s growth didn’t happen overnight, and neither will achieving any worthy goal. Steady, small steps over time will get you where you want to be, while allowing you to keep  your footing.
  • Up Your Game.
    Forrest’s mantra is “what was good enough is not good enough next time.” Learn from your successes – and your failures – to make your efforts better each time.
  • Persistence Pays.
    Forrest tells the story of author Tim Ferriss, who lobbied hard for a spot at the festival several years ago. After a barrage of phone calls and emails, Forrest finally gave in and picked up the phone. He ended up being so impressed by aspiring panelist’s enthusiasm that he gave him a spot in SXSW’s book-reading program – and Ferriss became a breakout success that year.
Bruce photo courtesy of Hugh Forrest. Hugh Forrest photos by Matt Lankes. Stout Event photos by Arnold Wells.