SD: You made it to the top possibly faster than any other Canadian ever has. Three reasons why?
DB: Not sure that I would say that I had made it to the top but I definitely feel like I have had a rewarding career. I think that has happened because I've always had an insatiable curiosity to pursue the new and different. Even though I am a 'suit', I love to invent and create so I have always pursued opportunities that way versus worrying about what level or title I might have. Having said that, I do think a few other philosophies and decisions have truly helped.
Firstly, I've always been struck by why people always want to join successful companies and then expect to make a ton of money and get rapid promotions. I've always seen opportunity in chaos, in companies that have great potential but have not yet achieved success, or companies that have had great success but are about to embark on a completely new phase of growth. (That's the case with my role at CP&B. It's arguably one of the most successful agencies in the US but my role is to build CP&B Europe, where we have a small presence and track record.) There are two reasons for this: One, it is where you can add a lot of value if you have talent. Two, it is about taking risk and there's often a lot more reward if there is risk.
Secondly, I do think it has helped that I have gone international. I spent the first seven years in Canada at Leo Burnett, an amazing place to learn the trade. I then spent 12 years in the US and another four in Europe (Paris and then London). We all know the world is increasingly flat. But culture still has nuance. Having worked in four countries has caused me to engage in those different cultures and has made me better for it.
SD: You're now in the UK running Europe at Crispin. What's the biggest difference been for you? Contrast business in Europe versus North America.
DB: The US is truly a melting pot. Three hundred million people who share a lot in common. And, while Canada does have a lot of culturally distinct elements, it still has a strong understanding of the US, shares a lot of media and, for the most part, the same language. Europe, in contrast, is not a melting pot. Every country has its own culture, language, news media. There is scale but not anywhere near the scale that NA can have.
In addition, the US is a country that does live, economically speaking, closer to the edge. As a result, I think the US tends to be a place where clients take more business risk which leads to a lot of product innovation. But, ironically, Europe tends to have more liberal social values, so it is a place that takes more creative risk.
In the end, the cool thing is to bring the best of both worlds to bear for our clients.
SD: How did you onboard yourself in the role?
DB: I was living in Paris leading Razorfish Europe when I agreed to join CP&B. I had mentioned that it would great if I came to Boulder for four to six weeks to get to know the guys before starting my role in London. They called back and asked if I could spend six months instead as they needed some help on a global account due to a medical leave. I agreed and it turned into nine months. It was probably the best nine months I could have invested because I got to really know the leadership team in the US and build strong relationships. CP&B does amazing work because it is an organization that is fearless, that takes risk. To do that, you need trust. And it's still hard to build trust with people when you don't really know them.
SD: You're running several offices, not just one. How is that different than a one office leadership job. What are the pressure points?
DB: We have two offices in Europe (London, UK and Gothenburg, Sweden). To be honest, it's not that complicated. Sweden was an acquisition and they are really talented and collaborative so they have made it easy to run as one. In addition, CP&B functions as 'one agency' sharing resources around the world without P&L issues getting in the way. So right now it's about pitching, winning and delivering.
With Razorfish in Europe it was a little more challenging. We had five offices (four acquisitions) across four countries. In that case, my role was a little more of a diplomat, helping the leadership of each office work together to become Razorfish, grow as leaders in their own right, and pursue pan-European accounts as 'one'.
I've always been comfortable changing gears, or playing many roles on the field so to speak.
SD: You have a bunch of direct reports. How much time is left to manage up and be with clients?
DB: At least half my time is spent with clients. I am an account guy at my core and helping clients solve their business problems in highly creative and innovative ways is my biggest passion. The key is to hire really talented but humble people, sit in a completely open environment and communicate constantly.
SD: What does a Cannes Lion mean to you? Happy with the performance thus far? How do you maintain the standards of the brand in that market?
DB: We truly do care more about delivering outrageous business results for our clients but I would be lying if I didn't say that Cannes Lions are great. Years ago, when I was at Leo Burnett, there was a study that showed a strong correlation between award winning work and business results. I truly believe that.
We've done pretty well this year and in most cases, we've won on the work that has been really innovative. The Titanium lion for Kraft Mac and Cheese is a great example of that. The quality of the work comes from the core philosophy we have that it is easier to change culture than reposition a brand. To change culture, you need to challenge conventional thinking and when you do that, you find tension. Releasing that tension engages people and leads to amazing work.
Stefan Danis, reporting for Adnews.com, is CEO of Mandrake and NEXCareer and has published Gobi Runner, a book about overcoming adversity, available at Amazon.