J. K. Rowling and the Magic of Fearless Branding

J. K. Rowling

Pete and Anne were both 18 when they met while on a train heading to Arbroath, Scotland from King’s Cross Station in London. It was 1964. That six-hour trip would result in a lifetime together. Within a year, the couple had married and welcomed their first child into the world. Joanne was born on 31 July, 1965 – her sister, Diane, was born two years later. 

Joanne contracted measles when she was four. Her dad would read to her from The Wind in the Willows, a children’s book whose characters included Mr. Toad, Mole, Badger and Ratty. That’s when Joanne became enamored with the magical world of books. By the time she was six-years-old, Joanne had written her own book which she titled Rabbit. By the age of ten, she was an enthusiastic student, a voracious reader, wore thick glasses and loved the world of make believe. 

When Joanne was fifteen her mother, Anne, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). As her disease progressed and Anne’s physical condition deteriorated, an air of depression enveloped the household. Pete began to drink, Anne continued her battle and Joanne would escape to the bars and music of Bristol with her friend Sean. 

Joanne would go on to study languages and graduate from the University of Exeter. Over the next several years, Joanne would hold a variety of jobs, begin writing two novels and discover a love for classical music. In 1990, returning to London by train after a weekend with her boyfriend, Joanne was struck with a concept for a book. The main character and the plot was immediately clear to her. She began writing enthusiastically, but things changed drastically when her mother died just six months later. Joanne’s life was turned upside down. 

Joanne’s relationship ended and she moved to Portugal to teach English. That is where met a man and began what would become a passionate, yet volatile, relationship. The two would marry after Joanne became pregnant, but after continued abuse, Joanne would take her daughter and move back to England.

Raising her daughter as a single parent presented Joanne with great challenges. After briefly staying with her sister and brother-in-law, Joanne moved to a flat arranged by social services. She also received very modest financial support. The turmoil and stress fueled depression which inhibited her writing. Counseling helped her through her depression and the story that lived inside of her began to be written.

Her greatest challenge came once her book was completed – finding a publisher. Twelve publishing houses rejected her manuscript before Bloomsbury agreed to give her a small advance and published the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Arthur Levine, the editorial director for American publisher, Scholastic Books, became enamored with the book. So enamored, in fact, that his company paid $100,000 for the American publishing rights. Scholastic Books changed the title slightly, publishing the book as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The Harry Potter franchise includes seven books and eight movies. The books have sold over 500 million copies, making it the top selling book series in history. The movie franchise is the second-highest grossing series of all time. To be accurate, the impact of Harry Potter must be measured beyond dollars. No other books have ignited such an enormous lift in reading by young adults. The impact the series has had on the imagination and creativity of people may never be quantifiable. All of this is the result of the efforts and talent of one fearless brand – J.K. Rowling.

Fearless Brands are driven by purpose and passion

J. K. Rowling learned at a very young age that becoming a writer was her purpose in life. When Harry Potter ‘appeared’ on that train ride, she discovered her passion. The result is a legacy which will live in perpetuity – actually two legacies – one of fictional character Harry Potter and another for his creator, J. K. Rowling.

While Rowling’s net worth is estimated to be well over $1 billion, her legacy will not be measured monetarily. Hers is a legacy of creating literary history and genius. Hers is a legacy of overcoming seemingly impossible odds to find success. Hers is a legacy of breaking gender barriers, expanding social responsibility, supporting those in need and blazing paths which countless people will follow. 

J. K. Rowling certainly welcomes her financial success but is more focused on continuing her writing – it is, after all, her life’s purpose. She has remarried and had two more children. She and her family live a quiet life in Scotland, with a second home in England. Rowling is an extremely active philanthropist both through her efforts and through her donations. Lumos is an international non-governmental, non-profit organization founded by Rowling to help the eight million disadvantaged children in orphanages around the world to be returned to their family or placed in a loving family environment.

When it comes to building a fearless brand and achieving stratospheric success, there is much to learn from J. K. Rowling.

Live with purpose – Being a writer has been at the core of J. K. Rowling’s life from a very early age. Regardless of challenges, hardships and detours, she has always clung to her life’s purpose. It’s that commitment to purpose which led to her success. Embracing her purpose has resulted in the tremendous impact she’s had in the world. Discover your purpose, embrace it, live it.

Have integrity – be committed to your values – When the time came to negotiate movie rights, Rowling insisted on total control over script, casting and production – sacrificing a much larger financial deal to do so. When Steven Spielberg wanted to combine the first two books into one movie and cast Haley Joel Osment as Harry Potter, Rowling said no. Each book would be its own movie and Harry would be played by a Brit. Spielberg dropped out of the running and Rowling’s vision remained pure. No one – NO ONE – will be as true to your vision as you will be. Value integrity.

Don’t forget where you came from – All too often people who achieve stratospheric success lose touch with their own heritage. Not J. K. Rowling. In her words “We should judge how civilized a society is not by what it prefers to call normal, but by how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Rowling’s philanthropic efforts are in sync with her beliefs. She’s very vocal as well. Many a person, from Presidents on down, have felt the bite of one of Rowling’s tweets when they’ve posted something at odds with her beliefs. Now that she is in a position to do so, she’s happy to give voice to those who can’t.

J. K. Rowling is uniquely gifted. Her blend of talent, passion and purpose defines a fearless brand. Most of us won’t ever realize the financial success or fame that she has. However, each of us can become a fearless brand. Ignite your passion. Engage your purpose. Enhance your world.


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Coach, International Speaker and Thought Partner - Bill’s mission is to add value to the world – one brand at a time. Bill guides individuals and companies alike in building what he refers to as a ‘fearless brand’. This is the process of discovering, embracing and delivering their greatest value – which allows them to realize greater profit. Read More

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