HBS Goes Hollywood With Gordon Ramsay

British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in a promotional video for Harvard Business School’s HBX online learning initiative

It’s not exactly what you would expect from Harvard Business School.

British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay sits in the back seat of a moving car talking about his career with multiple bleeps to mask an onslaught of obscenities –all in a black-and-white, film noir video to promote HBX, the school’s online learning initiative.

The blunt and acerbic Ramsay is the featured star in a new video series launched yesterday (Jan. 10) called DRIVEN to bring greater attention to the school’s quickly growing portfolio of online learning courses. The two-minute-44-second debut clip is subtle in its HBX marketing. Not once is the brand mentioned, other than as an overlay on the screen during the beginning and the end of the video.

The idea for the series was hatched after the school tried to film Scott Cook, an HBS alum and co-founder of Intuit, during a visit to campus. “Our plan was to catch some time with him at the end,” says Chris Linnane, HBX creative director. “We set up a nice interview but we weren’t able to pull it off because he had to leave. We thought wouldn’t it be great if we could just jump in the car and capture him then. And then we thought this could be a very cool, flexible and cheap production model for video.”


The concept? “If you were to randomly share a cab for a few minutes with a high-powered businessperson, what would you ask them?,” explains Linnane. “We then decided to ask these business leaders about an ‘aha’ moment in their careers. Ultimately, we wanted to capture something that was both candid and reflective, something that would give viewers food for thought as they contemplate their own careers.”

In the debut clip of the series, Ramsay recalls opening his first restaurant in London at the age of 33 with an obsession to win three stars from Michelin. Once his Chelsea eatery gained its stars, he says, “it made me stop for five minutes and think, you know what, I’ve made it. But I hadn’t because winning it was one thing. Maintaining it is ten times more difficult.

But the biggest kick in the balls for me was the next day…a customer asking me for tomato F-ing ketchup” to put on what Ramsay called the best sea bass he had ever cooked in his life. “Man, it’s true. Are you kidding me? I just won three Michelin stars. I just cooked the best sea bass in my entire career and you ask me for f-ucking tomato ketchup? Man, get your white sneakers out of restaurant. What a donut!”


In little more than two minutes of monologue, Ramsay is bleeped out at least seven times, with the F-bomb coming fast and furious. In fact, at the end of the clip, he says half-jokingly, “Knowing what I know now, having been cooking for over 21 years, I wish I had learned to cook, swearing f-ing less.” Then, he steps out of the car and away.

Linnane, who a former colleague praises as “the Michael Moore and Steven Spielberg of videography” on his LinkedIn profile, says the bleeped swearing is authentic to who Ramsay is, even if it is unconventional for an academic product. “For me,” says Linnane, “anytime someoone can truly be themselves on camera you are going to have much more compelling content. We are showing his real personality and with that comes passion, depth and some extra levels of interest. It’s a little bit different but I think the content is so strong that it speaks directly to what we talk about and what we teach. It’s okay that we get a little bit extra personality along the way. ”

Linnane says that when the video was filmed in Van Nuys, California, near the chef’s studio, and Ramsay was about to make an exit, he couldn’t get out of the car because the child safety lock was on. “He swore at me, and I see that as a badge of honor. It had nothing to do with the filming. I had done my job well, but I still got yelled at by Gordon Ramsay! That was a good day.”


HBX says it plans to feature leaders from a wide variety of industries including tech, retail, entertainment, education and the government each week through mid-March. “We can just grab people from all these sectors and have them speak to our students,” adds Linnane. As for the subtle promo for HBX, he says that  “we didn’t need to plaster it all over. We just want people to know there is great content there and we didn’t want to over brand it.”

Linnane thinks of DRIVEN as a “series” that if successful will be renewed and go into a second season. He is also working on another series “with a similar vibe, something fun and spontaneous,” he says, that will feature students and faculty.



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