Lindsay Pattison on being interested and interesting

Lindsay Pattison was named Worldwide CEO of Maxus in October 2014. The youngest ever CEO within GroupM of the WPP network. Her career started in media at Young & Rubicam and has followed a progressive track through the client-side ranks of Ericsson and then at PHD. She is also President of WACL (Women in Advertising and Communications London), a 92 year-old organization set up to support women in reaching the highest levels of their field in areas of marketing, advertising and communications. I had the pleasure of talking to Lindsay over Skype in early April and was interested to learn about her strong work ethic and belief in the power of self-confidence.

Lindsay Pattison at Maxus

Lindsay Pattison at Maxus

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Throughout my childhood I was a keen competitive swimmer. I trained all the time and that was really my focus. I had my heart set on swimming for England.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Hillary Clinton would be fascinating. I admire her for all she has accomplished and I hope she will be the first female President of the United States.

Allied to the same theme, I would also love to have Margaret Thatcher. Someone who was unpopular at times but still drove forward – a conviction-led politician who steered the country into economic growth. 

I would also invite Graham Norton who is an Irish comedian. He would be inappropriately funny, make lots of innuendo jokes and lighten the mood. 

And George Clooney because, well, I say that in the nicest sense because he is incredibly gorgeous but he’s also fascinating as he is so politically motivated and has used his fame to campaign in the issues he is passionate about.

What single book had the greatest impact on you?
I'm sure it's a cliché now but I do think Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg was an amazing book because it helped to give lots of empirical evidence to issues that I think women talk about and know.

On a more personal level, the book that opened my eyes to the brilliance of writing in general is Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. The perspective of cultures changing and shifting truly captured me. The book transported my mind into the world of magic realism and made me think really differently. I could read it over and over again.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
It varies so much because I travel a lot but my ideal would be to get 8 or 9 hours sleep a night. So if I'm not out and if my husband's away, I will sneak to bed at 9pm and I won’t get up until 7 or 7:30am. Four nights a week I am out, generally with work things. I would normally get to bed at about 11:30pm and be up between 6:30 and 7am. When I'm travelling I can get away with 3 or 4 hours sleep but I would then try and make it up when I get back on the weekend and I would certainly go for 12 hours sleep.

I would love to invent a sleep bank. It would allow me to store up extra hours. If at the weekend I can get 12 hours sleep I can store them, and then on a night when I'm only going to get 3 or 4 I can recoup my hours from the sleep bank and I'll be on top form again. I do obsess about sleep quite a lot, in case that's not obvious!

What is your favorite time of the working week?
I genuinely do like Monday mornings because on a Monday I tend to have most of my internal sessions. I have my one-to-one catch ups with my top team, internal reviews and then the whole week gets set and I'm full of energy.

I also quite like Thursday evenings because by then we've hopefully had a good week and we tend to have a fun night out with clients, with media owners or with the team. So Thursday night is always a big night socially.

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I started at Young and Rubican as a graduate trainee in 1998 when it was a full service agency. I started in the media planning and buying department. I loved being in a full-service environment because I could work closely with the planners, the account team and the creatives.

One of my clients at the time was Ericsson [mobile phones] and they poached me to go and work client-side as Advertising Manager. So I did three and a half years with the agency and then three and a half years with Ericsson. Suddenly Y&R were my media and creative agency, which was a bit of a shock for them because the Media Planner was suddenly approving or not approving creative work!

Then my role evolved into Marketing Manager so I got involved in the disciplines of PR and Sponsorship and worked very closely with the sales guys.

I moved to New Zealand briefly – my ex-boyfriend was a professional rugby player. I worked out there for a year but in a smaller agency. When I returned to London I joined PHD.

I spent about six years at PHD working up from a Media Director to Managing Partner and I loved my time there. I also met my husband – he was the CEO at the time. From PHD I was approached about a new role at Maxus. In 2008 Martin Sorrell decided there was room in the world for another Group M Media agency. They already had Mindshare, MEC and Mediacom. Kelly Clarke who was my global CEO, went around the world selecting key markets to put in place strong local CEOs and the UK was one of those lead markets. The opportunity was to run a team here of 50-60 people with big emphasis on new business.  What enticed me about the opportunity was joining a start-up culture but having a heavy backing from WPP. It was a brilliant opportunity to come in, test myself, make my own mark, create an agency and drive growth. 

I've been at Maxus now for five and a half years. I did three years as the UK CEO and then got an additional role as Chief Strategy Officer for Maxus globally. In October 2014, five years after joining Maxus I got the Global CEO role.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your industry?
My biggest lesson or obstacle was understanding the power of the individual. By that I mean appreciating the value of what I brought to the party, rather than, in the work that I was producing like a brilliant deck or a media plan. What clients actually buy into and what your team buys into, is how you are delivering the work. So I can deliver a deck and a plan or someone else can deliver exactly the same work but somebody will buy it from me. When you're more junior you don't realize the power of the individual in terms of selling. Clients buy into the confidence of the individual, the passion and the amount you care as an individual about the work.

What motivates you?
Working with brilliant people who care about their job. There's nothing that frustrates me more than people who just rock up to do a nine to five job and literally clock in and clock out. What motivates me is the opposite of that. People who come into work with a smile on their face that are really energized, that are fascinated and care about media, that want to create meaningful work for clients, who are interested in how media can move businesses forward and create engagement to make a real difference. Positive force from other people: Radiators not Drains. 

What advice would you give to someone at the start of their career?
Keep saying yes until you feel you have to say no because you have too much on and you're going to do a bad job. Put your hand up for things outside of your comfort zone. Don't just put your head down and try to get your work done. Look for opportunities outside of your day job. Put your hand up for pitches, put your hand up to organize the social events, be on the charity committee and do something that shows you're contributing.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I hope I haven't had it yet. But to date, it's being made Global CEO. It's a big deal. There aren't any other females who've been a Global CEO at Group M. There aren't that many in our industry full stop. It's not just about being female but also being young.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
On my twitter handle I say: be interested and interesting.

Everything can be interesting. People often think they want to work on a sexy account like Apple or Levis, but actually car insurance can be really interesting and toilet cleaner can be really interesting. You need to be interested in consumers and products and try to be interested in everything.

In terms of being interesting, when you show up for a meeting, there's a phrase to "take a gift". I don't mean take a bribe. I mean take something to the meeting that a client doesn't expect. It might be a piece of information that you've discovered about their business or a fact you've uncovered in the supermarket or something that your Mom's told you. Take something so that every time a client sees you in a meeting they almost always wonder what you're going to bring. 

I’ve always been hugely collaborative. I don't think it's all about me, I think it's all about the team. You play a part in the team. That part will change and you need to be able to play different roles. I'm never afraid to ask people for advice and I think lots of other people have got much more experience and more interesting opinions. The world would be really boring if everyone agreed with me. 

I love my job. I'm passionate about it and I think people can tell. I think clients have confidence in me because they know I really care about the quality of work that we deliver for them.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
You are in charge of your own happiness. Too many people don't realize that they’re the only person that can change how they feel about themselves and their situation. You need to take responsibility for your own happiness.

I was in Hong Kong recently and someone asked me how I keep a smile on my face and how I keep my energy levels up and seem so positive. I kind of don't have a choice. Yes, it's how I naturally am but what would be the value of me coming to an office looking stressed and miserable? If you feel that way, you can't let it show. You know if you stick a smile on your face, the rest of your body and mind will catch up. 

What do you believe are the personality traits of great leaders?
There are very different types of leaders but I believe what makes a great one is someone who has courage. Courage, conviction, self-confidence. Those things are related.

You can only be a leader if people want to follow you. People will only want to follow you if they feel you have the courage to stand up with a vision, you have the courage in your conviction, you are confident in what you're saying and you would only ask people to do things that you yourself would do. 

When you show up to work you need to have great energy because people thrive off it.  It comes back to: Are you radiating energy or are you a drain on energy? 

What do you believe to be the secret to rising up to the top?
Without self-confidence it's very hard to rise to the top. That self-confidence may be quiet in a steel of self-confidence or it might be more extrovert “show off” self-confidence that can be labeled as ambition. If you haven't got self-confidence or you have no idea of what you want and the person you are, a real idea of self, then I believe you will struggle to be successful.

Mentoring can help you get that if you don't naturally have it. I always naturally had confidence. My parents instilled it in me. I always talk about being the youngest of four children and perhaps I was the spoilt one in my family, but my siblings would run around and get things for me and carry me around. I was a delegator at age two. I got used to having power!

Swimming competitively provided an element of discipline that was helpful because I had to manage training and school time and learn to compete. It also helped me appreciate that competing is a positive thing. Winning was always a positive thing, it got rewarded with a medal or a chocolate bar.

The idea of being generous, collaborative and good at your job will mean you get sponsors. You don't necessarily realize you've got sponsors but they are the people who support you behind the scenes and help you progress quicker.

What you don't realize when you're younger, but it becomes more and more true, is that your reputation is the thing that drives you through your career, less so than that deck or document. The reputation that you garner makes a huge difference.

Who do you turn to when the going gets tough?
There are three people I turn to.

I have an executive coach who I've used in the time that I've been CEO at Maxus in the UK and on the Global level. I don't use her all the time but I will use her quite intensively for six sessions over a 3 or 4 month period when I'm making a step change and I have a very difficult thing to overcome. She is brilliant because she understands me, she challenges me and she makes me think really hard. Sometimes there'll be moments of real silence in our session, just because my brain is being forced to think in a really interesting way. I admire her for that. Coaching is hard, it forces you to figure out the answer. The answers are deep within you, but with a coach who is totally objective, they help surface the answers. She's incredibly helpful to me and I would encourage anyone senior to have a coach.

I often turn to my husband. He was worldwide CEO of PHD so he's done my job before. I try to limit how much advice I ask him for because otherwise our home life would be incredibly boring for him. It is helpful to have someone who's been in the industry, years older than me and has a longer term perspective on things.

I have a really close group of friends. Specifically three close friends and we get together at least once a month and that's where we debrief and vent. We have the conversations that I would never let myself have professionally. 

I’m lucky to have a good balance of people to turn to but my friends are incredibly important to me. They are friends I've known a very long time. Two are from school and one from my first job at Y&R.

What's next?
I've only been in the global CEO role for five months. I believe it will take a number of years to make a real success of it. Maxus has been a great place but I think it's time for us to mature and move from being a teenager to being a young adult, so I’m working out what that looks like. I need to reorganize my senior team and we need to win some new business. The industry is changing at such a rapid pace, there is always stuff to learn.  Getting ahead in the tech, digital and data space is the priority for us right now.

My WACL Presidency comes to an end in July which I will be gutted about because I've loved it but I will stay on as an exec. It provides an opportunity because it will free up a lot of time outside of my core work so I might look at taking on a non-executive director position if there's an interesting opportunity out there. 

Whenever I'm slightly frustrated I write a blog on Huffington Post in the UK. If you were to google me you would find an article about me on The Guardian where I'm quoted as saying My next job will be my boss' job. The quote keeps following me around. So when I'm asked what's next for me, I joke and say my boss' job and then Sorrell's job. Why not!

As told to Caroline Hugall over Skype on Wednesday 1st April 2015. Lindsay splits her time between London and New York.