Now 72 and residing in New York City, Greenly is still writing speeches for the likes of Exxon/Mobil and Tito’s Vodka, but his songwriting is also continuing to flourish.
Surprisingly, he claims to the two are very similar.
Recently, he spent an afternoon with the legendary Nile Rodgers and Moran, working on another song called “My Fire.” We caught up with Greenly at Quad Studios in Manhattan to talk about his improbable career.
TheImproper: How did you land in two such prominent corporate jobs at Avon, Lever early on in your career?
Greenly: Lever was first. It was hard to leave educational publishing for Fortune 500 marketing, so a head-hunter talked me into getting my foot into the door as a promotional writer at Lever. After I’d proven myself (3-4 months) and started going to school at night to get my MBA, they transferred me to marketing. A couple years later, a fellow brand manager moved to Avon and talked me into interviewing in their more people-focused culture. Immediately, things “clicked” and I stayed there for 13 years.
IM: You were dubbed the first interactive journalist; what was it like working with a computer back then?
Greenly: I felt super-cool with my little RadioShack computer and its 3-line LCD screen. It was hard to explain to people – in getting press credentials for the political conventions and the Oscars, for example – that I wasn’t just “writing” on a computer– I was also getting responses from readers around the world. I felt like some comic book Future Boy, bringing earthlings Technology from Tomorrowland. (It may sound grandiose now, but it was really hard to explain to people back then, how one could receive other people’s comments from “inside that little box” on my lap.)
IM: How did you and producer Tony Moran meet?
Greenly: Kimberly Davis was singing what became my first Billboard Top 5 Dance Hit, “With You.” I was thrilled to hear her sing it live one night at a club where Tony was DJ’ing. I invited him to dinner to explore how we might collaborate, and we’ve become great friends as well as musical partners.
IM: Being a writer, I’m sure the transition to becoming a songwriter wasn’t as difficult as it might sound. How would you describe the move?
Greenly: First, I was writing and editing songs already in my corporate life, and then as a freelance speech and script writer. Companies typically used “theme songs” for their meetings. Since I was the writer for “the show,” I was paired with a composer to come up with a song to reinforce management’s overall message. After discovering how much fun I had writing lyrics, I invited two different composers to try writing for the public with me. With each of them, I’ve since had Billboard-charted hits.
IM: You just had a No. 1 dance-music record with Jason Walker (“Say Yes”) and Tony Moran, tell us how that came about?
Greenly: I write songs in varying ways, sometimes starting with just my words; sometimes being given just a melody; sometimes a starting idea as an “assignment.” In this case, Tony – one of the most musically gifted people I’ve ever worked with – approached me with an unfinished song of his, “We’ve Got It Goin’ On” (still the first line of the song.) We evolved the song together – which became “Say Yes” — and agreed to offer it to Jason Walker.
IM: You also had some songs on Tony’s recent Moodswings album; tell us about that album.
Greenly: Tony says I helped encourage him to make the project happen. All I know is, I got so caught up in the fun of helping him put the album together that I ended up being Executive Producer – and am thrilled to have helped write seven titles as part of the 28-song collection.
IM: You spent an afternoon with Nile Rodgers recently,working on the song “My Fire.” Tell us about that?
Greenly: All of us observed and were grateful for his openness and generosity. This iconic musical legend was totally friendly and down-to-earth. But every time I heard him handle that guitar with such mastery, I was awestruck.
IM: You also write speeches. Tell us a little about how that works.
Greenly: Writing a speech is surprisingly like writing a song: my job is to convey the intended message – from an executive (or artist) to his/her audience, or right from my own heart. It all starts with the focus, the take-away message that becomes my North Star for song or speech.
IM: Tell us some of your speech-writing clients?
Greenly: It helps me (versus the jillions of other freelance speechwriters out there) that I, myself, was a Fortune 500 Officer. I know what life is like on the client’s side of the desk. But the goal is always the same – to help an exec (or an entire team of presenters) be their best and most effective. Regardless of company and industry – from ExxonMobil to Johnson & Johnson … from Sanofi to Tito’s. Every client I write for has a lot on the line. It gives me pleasure to be their “secret weapon” and help them win with their audiences.
IM: Who would you like to perform one of your songs? Your wish list.
Greenly: Tim McGraw, Little Big Town, Alan Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift.