Pattie Sellers spent more than 30 years writing for Fortune magazine and has interviewed some of the richest people in the world. She knows the lasting luxuries their money can buy, but says there’s something even more valuable to preserve—their life story.
“We believe the most generous gift you can give to the people you care about is the story of your family, your career, and your successes,” says the part-time Naples resident, who quit writing for the magazine in 2016 and—with fellow Fortune veteran Nina Easton—launched SellersEaston Media, which helps individuals and companies tell their stories. “The challenges, the lessons learned, the values strengthened … these are the gifts that keep on giving as the story is passed on through generations.”
The former journalist—who’s discussed success with Warren Buffett, charisma with Donald Trump (in 1996 before the Oval Office), and power with Melinda Gates, among countless other luminaries—now coordinates with clients so they can share their personal tales through videos, books, and more. “Some people express concern that capturing their story in a book or on film is an act of ego, but it’s actually the opposite of that,” says Sellers, who’s ghostwriting the memoir of John Mack, former chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, after first shooting two “life story” videos for Mack and his wife, Christy. “It’s an act of generosity to give a piece of yourself to other people this way.”
“Life stories” involve Sellers sitting down with a person in their home for two hours and asking them questions. “We make everything look beautiful—the camera angles, the lighting, the background, the makeup. It’s TV-quality production. We also do a service called the ‘modern family portrait’ where we go into someone’s home for two days every year and film swimming lessons, bike rides, and anything else that’s going on. We have a very prominent Silicon Valley CEO who’s having us do this every year for 12 years in a row, producing a film that will become the annual family gift.”
In addition to the emotional aspect of preserving family stories, Sellers says, there’s also a fiduciary benefit. “The No. 1 reason that wealth doesn’t get passed down properly is a communication breakdown,” she explains. “Wealthy families benefit when younger generations know about the sacrifices and hard work that came before them. Now, entrepreneurs and family business executives are using these stories as action plans. When a family knows its history, this builds trust as well as a sense of appreciation in generations to come.”
Sellers cofounded Fortune’s Most Powerful Women, which began in 1998 as an annual ranking and is how she met part-time Neapolitan Jan Fields, the former president of McDonald’s USA. (Fields was named No. 17 in 2011.) The executive and journalist became friends, and now during season, Sellers stays in the guest wing of Fields’ Quail West home. Sellers spends the rest of the year in Manhattan—or occasionally in the home of a client. Clients, by the way, have total control of how their stories are told and own the content after they approve the final version.
Sellers currently chairs the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit, one of the world’s preeminent leadership communities that brings together women in business, government, philanthropy, education, and the arts for conversations that inspire and deliver practical advice.
“I recently did a book project for a man in Palm Beach, a retired top executive at Fidelity [Investments], after he e-mailed me that he was interested in my capturing his story for his grandchildren,” Sellers says. “I’d only talked to him once on the phone—I’d never met the family—and he said you’re welcome to stay in our house. There was a trust factor there, and that was fantastic. That comfort level makes for the best storytelling.”