Take care of your people and the profits will take care of themselves

June 16, 20204 Minutes

Seventeen years ago I was brainstorming with a fellow Creative Director about the agency I wanted to establish upon resigning from FutureBrand. How it should be positioned, which clients to target and so on. We really weren’t getting anywhere until I asked myself “How do I want it to be for someone working there?” It was a defining moment. I could never have imagined then how much my little studio would grow but answering that question would turn out to be fundamental to its future achievements. And they are impressive. Perhaps 10.000 projects completed for 500 brands in over thirty countries from Hong Kong to Brasil. I say that with great pride but also humility and gratitude, knowing full well that I didn’t do it alone. Although I’m the one that took the risk to create it, others have built it. The talented people that have shared my idea and joined me over the years have all contributed to what Smith Lumen is today. Many of them started their careers here. Some have moved on to build their own agencies with the skills they perfected here. I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to do that and I can’t express how good it feels to have the best of them still by my side. The secret of my success, to paraphrase Lee Iacocca, was to surround myself with people much brighter than me and get out of their way. I realised this late one night when I was finalising a presentation alone in the offices of Gio Rossi where I had recently taken over as CD. I took a break and browsed through the work I found on the desks of my designers. I picked up a sketch done by an intern that I had either ignored or hadn’t seen.

It lacked the refined execution that comes from experience but there was a great idea behind it and I realised that I would have never come up with it. That moment changed me.

Most Creative Directors are in that role because they have demonstrated that they can consistently produce creative solutions for clients. What usually happens is that after years of doing it they tend to become dictatorial and egoistic. It’s understandable. They have to get the job done profitably and they know what works. But there is a downside. It is the risk of using the same associations they’ve always applied with success at the expense of innovation and the professional development of the ones they lead. Conceptual thinking is like any other cognitive skill. The more you do it, the better you get at it. But creativity is the territory of the young and those who manage them have an obligation to give them the room to grow. Delegating isn’t easy but not doing it denies others the chance to reach their potential and contribute to the group. Our first employee was a secretary. After several years she revealed to me that she’d always dreamt of being a Copywriter. I paid for her courses and the talent she revealed became a great asset for many years. Everyone is capable of doing much more than they currently do. If you believe in people, they start to believe in themselves and their empowerment energises everyone. I think it’s the reason why, even in isolation my people have been able to work so well together throughout this crisis. Thanks guys, vi voglio bene.