TOWERING ACHIEVEMENT: Sean Kenney with his LEGO version of Chicago’s Tribune Tower, a 4-foot-tall, 27,000-piece structure featuring incredible detail, such as Tribune lettering and window shades
Unless your name is Peter Pan, life inexorably forces most of us to trade in childish things in exchange for soul-sucking stints on company hamster wheels, perhaps leavened from time to time by games of corporate bingo played furtively during brain-numbing meetings.
Then there’s Sean Kenney, who apparently never got the memo.
In what arguably could be considered the mother of all career U-turns, Kenney abruptly decided one day to chuck a six-?figure job at a global financial-services company to find his career muse, which turned out to be playing with LEGO blocks. Every day. For a living. Seriously.
Not exactly a page from the Career Management 101 handbook; definitely more Deepak Chopra than Peter Drucker. But so far, it’s worked out pretty darned well for the 36-year-old Brooklyn resident. In fact, in LEGO circles (or is it rectangles?), Kenney is an A-list celeb — one of just 13 LEGO Certified Professionals in the world.
Granted, it’s not a paying gig from the LEGO Group, the company that annually churns out 22 billion of the ubiquitous interlocking pieces, which Fortune
named the “Toy of the Century” in 1999. He doesn’t even get a volume discount. But he does boffo business on commissioned artwork, from sculptures to portraits to corporate logos. And he’s allowed to buy blocks in bulk, direct from the manufacturer in Denmark. Moreover, one also surmises he gets ?ushered to the front of a long checkout line at FAO Schwarz quicker than you can say, “LEGO DUPLO.”
If you think all this sounds a bit like a reverse version of Big, writ large on a lifetime supply of LEGO blocks, you’d be correct. But Kenney, a self-described “big kid,” never rolled a coin into Zoltar’s mouth; he just played with LEGOs all his life like it was, well, his job. The result: a cosmic convergence of passionate hobby and coolest profession ever, based on a heartfelt kinship with little plastic blocks. Go figure.
“My mother is a preschool teacher and my father’s hobby is model railroading, so put those together and you get a guy who plays with LEGOs for a living,” quips the amiable Kenney. “I’ve always felt like I need to exercise both sides of my brain, be technical and creative, or one half gets stagnant and bored. That’s what’s so great about LEGOs — you can create something from nothing, but it’s also logical and regimented.
“To me, LEGOs are almost like family,” Kenney adds. “They’ve always been there, and I can’t imagine life without them. It’s geeky sounding, I guess, but it’s true.”