Real change happens in small ways. That belief led Duke Greenhill back to his hometown of Fort Worth.
“I believe in community, and this is the community that I came from,” Greenhill said. “And so my vision is to try to use … my superpowers to leave Fort Worth better in some way.”
His superpower? Storytelling.
After a three-year teaching stint at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Greenhill, 43, has already brought his talents to the boards of two organizations in Fort Worth — including the center where he was adopted as a child.
Greenhill’s interests range from the macro to the micro — everything from global environmental issues to Fort Worth’s burgeoning film industry
Greenhill is now on the board of the Gladney Center For Adoption, where he was adopted when he was 14 days old. Getting adopted through the center changed his life. He has fond memories of the place he considered a second home, where he attended Christmas and Easter parties. His best friend also is a Gladney baby.
He’s also taking a board seat at Cowtown Clubhouse as a subject matter expert on marketing and communications. The nonprofit helps people who have gone through psycho emotional or mental health challenges to find jobs and transition back into society, Greenhill said.
Alongside his volunteer work, Greenhill is teaching strategic communication at Texas Christian University and serves as the chief marketing officer for Rogue Water LLC and its sister company Rogue Water Lab. The companies work with municipalities and utility companies on effectively communicating — all in an effort to mitigate what Greenhill calls the “next great human crisis”: access to fresh and healthy water.
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Greenhill has already made an impact in Fort Worth. His love of film led him to help create the Fort Worth Film Commission in 2015. Now, the film industry in Fort Worth has added millions into the local economy and thousands of jobs since its inception. He also oversaw the design and strategy for the rebrand of the “T” as Trinity Metro.
“I believe in micro change,” Greenhill said. “I think most human beings, at our best, can achieve real change locally.”
A knack for storytelling, a love for movies
Growing up, Greenhill was surrounded by lawyers. His grandfather, Joe Greenhill, was chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court. His father, Bill Greenhill, and two of his three uncles worked as lawyers.
While one of his two brothers followed the family tradition, Greenhill was never interested in law. He described himself as a curious, sensitive and mischievous child. And he loved telling stories.
“I used to constantly just tell stories, some of them true – some of them fabricated,” Greenhill said.
When he worked for a summer camp, he said, he was famous for his stories. He also loved movies. His favorites as a child were “The Princess Bride” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window.”
Greenhill went to film school at Columbia University after working as a journalist at KEYE-TV in Austin and working in political advertising in D.C. He didn’t want to be the next Steven Spielberg, like many other students. Film fascinated him, but he wanted to do something different.
“I think I was at an age where I wanted to take a risk and do something unexpected,” he said.
‘A long love affair’
A penchant for risk and a deep understanding of people is required to be a good strategic communicator and advertiser, Greenhill said. He uses those skills to use storytelling for advertising purposes. After film school, he produced and marketed a feature film, then went into advertising for luxury brands.
Greenhill’s love for stories is no surprise to Becky Delaune, his middle school teacher and a lifelong family friend. He directed, casted and acted in the lead role in the school’s musical.
The storytelling abilities might come from his passion and love for movies, Delaune said.
“It’s been a lifelong love affair for him,” Delaune said.
Delaune and Greenhill went to the movies as Greenhill grew up. They still go to movies together today. She said Greenhill will make Fort Worth a better place because he brings heart and passion to whatever he commits to.
Greenhill is relentless when he wants something, Delaune said, and supports his students.
“If he saw something in a student, he would be a dog with a bone about it,” Delaune said.
Jillian Apatow, a copywriter and former student of Greenhill’s, said he supported students like no other professor while earning her master’s degree at the Savannah College of Art and Design. He challenged students by assigning “sprints” to solve problems creatively in an hour. Normally, the advertising industry gives employees a couple weeks to resolve a problem. But Apatow said the exercise pushed students to be better.
She said Greenhill is one of the most interesting people she’s met because of his magnetic quality where he makes everybody feel heard and takes time to listen.
“It means the world to have somebody understand what you’re trying to achieve with your work and see the potential for it,” Apatow said.
At Rogue Water, Greenhill said, he is working on selling a documentary series that tells stories about communities struggling to access clean water.
“Our belief is that through storytelling, we can generate an emotional response in the context of water and get people to care about something that doesn’t matter to them yet, but will matter to them a great deal in very short order if something isn’t done,” Greenhill said.
Greenhill enjoys his hometown. He admires the thirst that the city has to become a center for the arts — evident by its wide array of museums. Now he hopes to be a part of a community that is striving for change.
“And I love that about it now,” Greenhill said. “The sort of bravery of a huge community to say, ‘OK, this is what we want to be. Let’s go, let’s make it happen.’”
Duke Greenhill bio:
Birthplace: Fort Worth
Moved to Fort Worth: Moved to Austin for five years, then D.C. (five years), Manhattan (12 years); returned briefly to Fort Worth (three years), then Savannah, Georgia, (three years), and now in Fort Worth.
Family: Ann Greenhill (mom, former executive director of The WARM Place then executive director of Komen Tarrant County); Bill Greenhill (dad, Haynes & Boone attorney and Tarrant County College trustee); Joe Greenhill (brother, partner at Kelly Hart & Hallman)
Education: Bachelor’s degree in communication (UT-Austin), master’s in film (Columbia University, NYC)
Work experience: Instructor at Texas Christian University; chief marketing officer, Rogue Water; chief creative officer, strategist and communications officer and founder, Greenhill + Partners; chair, advertising and branding and graphic design and visual experience, Savannah College of Art and Design; vice president, creative and strategy (integrated), JODesign, LLC; senior producer, R/GA; curriculum developer and writer, The New School; assistant instructor, Columbia University; production manager / creative producer, Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm; assignments editor and producer, CBS News.
Volunteer experience: Board member, MHA; communications committee, MHC; board member, Gladney Center
First job: Selling lemon chills at Fort Worth Zoo
Advice for someone learning to be a leader: Start with your “why” and “eat last.”
Best advice ever received: Fear is the only thing that can stop you. Remember, you don’t have to see the whole staircase; you only have to take the first step.
Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.