Editor’s note: Billy Warden is a writer, marketing exec and multimedia producer based in the Research Triangle, where he co-founded the p.r. agency GBW Strategies.  He writes a column exclusively for WRAL TechWire which is published on Mondays.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Laurie Ruettimann was working in the belly of the corporate beast when she decided to carve her way out – sort of like a determined baby performing its own cesarean section.

And if that imagery shakes you a bit, well, that seems fitting for a column focused on the redoubtable author, speaker and recovering Fortune 500-exec who created the Punk Rock H.R.  podcast (which just celebrated its 200th episode).

Like punk provocateur Johnny Rotten, Raleigh-based Laurie knows how to get your attention. Like punk poet laureate Elvis Costello, she’s an astute reader of people and situations. And like take-no-crap Chrissie Hynde, she’s self-possessed and seemingly unstoppable.

Photo courtesy of Billy Warden

Bestselling futurist Daniel Pink praised her 2021 book, “Betting on You,” as, “indispensable reading for anyone seeking to improve their professional selves.” A fine blurb as far as it goes, but it doesn’t quite capture the largeness of Laurie’s ideas. So here she speaks for herself, starting with that aforementioned c-section:

  • Have you experienced a moment in your life/career that felt like a major turn in a movie or novel?:  

I had a breakdown in an airport between flights while on a business trip to lay off a bunch of people back in 2006. My life was messy—living out of a suitcase, rarely seeing my husband, eating Starburst and drinking Pepsi between flights. My well-being was terrible, and I was reading a copy of US Weekly and wondering why famous people always put themselves first. That’s when I asked myself, “Why not me? Why can’t I have a house in Malibu and a book deal?” It set me on a path to work on myself and get what I want. I’m still waiting for my oceanfront property, but the book deal came in 2020.

  • How does the Punk Rock HR moniker capture who you are and what you want to share w/ people?: 

When I was younger, I had a shaved head and piercings and tattoos. My boss said, “Who do you think you are? Punk Rock HR?” That insult became a driving force in helping me understand how I contribute to this world. Everybody has to work, but I take a counter-intuitive approach to happiness and engagement. I believe that our work is not our worth. We enjoy working more when we live big, bold, interesting lives outside of our jobs.

  • Characters who stand out w/ some kind of business application?:

I’ve worked my whole life trying to fight back against toxic business practices inspired by Gordon Gecko in Wall Street. It’s amazing how many MBA students imitate him without knowing it.

  • What does pop culture get WRONG about entrepreneurs, business and careers?:

I think pop culture is finally catching up to the fact that hustle culture is a lie and that flashy CEOs are often terrible people who make selfish choices. Whether it’s Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout or Adam Neumann in WeCrashed, Hollywood is finally showing you that billion-dollar valuations and miraculous company cultures are often nothing more than marketing strategies meant to line the pockets of founders—not the workers.

  • You’re an inspiring example of breaking out of conventions. But that sort of thing can be confusing and scary. Any topline advice for navigating radical change? 

I’m not someone who believes in a formal goal-setting process. However, you don’t undertake a radical journey in your life without exploring why it matters and what you’d like to accomplish. Yes, I’d like to fix work and help people enjoy their lives. I also want to retire and have a beach house.

  • Fave movie, novel, and/or TV show w/ an important business lesson to teach?:

My favorite movie is Defending Your Life with Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep. The characters die and have to defend their life choices to an angelic court before their souls are allowed to move forward. (Seriously, it’s a great comedy.) Even as a teenager, it made me wonder: Am I making brave choices? Do I live with purpose? Do I waste a lot of time?

  • Music, movies, novels, TV series, etc. from which you draw inspiration?:

I like the beatnik writers like Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs.

  • Any plots you’d like to see play out on a screen near you?:

Someone make a movie about Sara Blakely and the rise of Spanx! She’s one of the richest women on the planet, and I’d love to see her story on the big screen.

  • Music to get pumped to?: 

I have a few bands that I play before I speak to audiences: Spoon, Nine Inch Nails, and Beach Bunny.

  • Music to chill to?:   

I will turn on WCPE (the classical station) to relax.

  • Back to punk rock, any specific song lyrics that sum it all up for you?:

I like poetry more than song lyrics, and I love the final stanza of ‘How is Your Heart’ by Charles Bukowski. He writes:

What matters most

is how well you walk

through the fire.

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