Product Management Lessons From The Life Of Jack Rebney, Winnebago Man
Jack Rebney, aka “Winnebago Man”, aka “The World’s Angriest Man”, passed away recently at the age of 93.
Rebney is probably the most famous person you’ve never heard of, but you have likely heard his voice. He was a former RV salesman whose hysterical, explosive, profanity-laced outbursts circulated on VHS tapes in the 1990s and then became one of the web’s first viral sensations in the early 2000s.
In 2009, a documentary crew caught up with Rebney and helped viewers get to know the man behind the cursing montage.
Filmmaker Ben Steinbauer discovered Rebney living alone, on top of a mountain, unaware of his fame. And we meet a man who is far smarter and lovable than you’d expect based on his on-the-job meltdown.
Upon Rebney’s passing, Steinbauer told Entertainment Weekly:
“Jack was the holy grail of VHS heroes we wanted to meet but we were nervous he’d hate us or throw a punch. Instead, when we met him at a show and he saw how much joy his hilarious outtakes brought people, he actually hugged us at the end of the night! And keep in mind, this is a man who called a fly a ‘[expletive] jackass.’ We’ve all had frustrating days at work but none of us has expressed it as colorfully or eloquently as Jack Rebney. He will be missed.”– Ben Steinbauer
I will admit: I’ve watched the viral clips of Rebney multiple times over the last 15 years and I laugh out loud every time as if it is the first time I’ve seen them.
Of course, I’m laughing at Rebney’s explosive reactions to the heat, to the flies, to his own inability to remember the script that he wrote himself.
But I’m also laughing at myself, because – like Steinbauer commented — I can absolutely relate.
I’ve certainly had frustrating days at work or in life and I have failed to life up to the high expectations that I’ve set for myself or that others have set for me.
Maybe not so colorfully in terms of language, but still.
As I consider the legacy of Jack Rebney to me, I see two important lessons for product managers.
One positive lesson we can take away from Rebney’s viral fame is the importance of authentic, memorable messaging.
On a regular basis, I remember and chuckle at some of Rebney’s catchphrases:
- Will you do me a kindness?
- We’ve got flies comin’ for us!
- You’re disturbing what’s left of my brain!
- I don’t want any more [expletive] any time, during the day, from anyone — and that includes me!
- NO MORE!
And his catchphrases have popped up in various Hollywood productions ranging from Crazy Stupid Love to SpongeBob SquarePants.
In product management, creating memorable and compelling messaging is key to capturing the attention of your target audience.
Memorable slogans or catchphrases can help you build brand recognition and foster a loyal following — for your product, but also for yourself as a product manager.
I am not suggesting expletives are the right brand strategy.
But cultivating an authentic brand for your product and for yourself as a product manager is essential to success on multiple levels, so don’t dismiss it as marketing fluff or internal politics.
One negative lesson we can take away from Rebney’s viral fame is the importance of not letting our anger define us or damage our careers.
When Winnebago found out about Rebney’s outbursts, they let him go.
In product management, there may be times where anger is absolutely the correct response to a given situation.
In my career, I’ve sometimes squashed that anger down or bottled it up. But I think a more healthy response is to harness that emotion and change it into something more productive.
Here are some steps I recommend:
- When anger arises, take a moment to assess the root cause. Getting clarity on the true trigger helps start the process of redirecting that energy in a positive way.
- As part of that process, remember to breathe. Pause. Keep your composure. Don’t react, respond.
- Reframe the anger as motivation. If the sales team is failing you, don’t lash out. Embrace the mindset that challenges are opportunities in disguise and use that to propel you forward.
- Use your new motivation to seek constructive solutions. Understand the true problem. Communicate. Work collaboratively to solve that problem to the extent that you can.
- Prioritize self-care. Product managers have fun, interesting, challenging jobs. But they are also stressful jobs. So engage in activities that relax and recharge you, so you have the resilience and mental clarity required to channel anger into productive outcomes.
Death is terrible, and this pain and suffering we endure on earth is not how it’s supposed to be. Jack was an unintended celebrity with a small circle of people he would actually consider friends. I didn’t know him personally or what he believed about God, but I know Jesus loved us enough to live and die for us so that anyone who trusts in him and believes God raised him from the dead would be reconciled with God and adopted into his family. I hope Jack is making people laugh out loud in heaven right now with his colorful way with words and that their laughter echoes into eternity.
Rebney shares his thoughts on cursing. Golly whompers!
A few years ago, Rebney’s small circle of friends surprised him for his 87th birthday and it’s very touching.