Fearless - Ep 03: "The Intentioned Woman" - Heidi Hackemer / Wolf & Wilhelmine

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"The Intentioned Woman"

"I think of talent as a resource that needs to be protected and is the lifeblood of the business."

Heidi Hackemer is building a brand strategy business in her own unique image - purposeful, opinionated and conscious. The journey that brought her and her company to today covers thousands of miles of reflection and exploration. In this episode of Fearless, Heidi talks to me about why becoming a waitress was a critical career step, what she has learned is the single most important truth for every modern brand, and the very personal challenges of becoming a leader.


Three Takeaways

  • Listen to your inner voice
  • Say what you mean
  • Do what you say

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 3: Heidi Hackemer

Charles:                                   Hello, you're listening to Fearless. Where we explore the art and science of leading creativity, an unpredictable, amorphous, and invaluable resource critical to every modern business. Each week, we talk to leaders of the world's most disruptive companies. How they're jumping into the fire, crossing the chasm, and blowing up the status quo. Leaders have mastered the art of turning the impossible into the profitable. Stay tuned because in the next half hour, anything can happen.

Creativity comes in many forms and unlocking it in a business environment is challenging in part because some people fear its unpredictability. When I come across leaders who are having the greatest impact, it's inevitably because they're clear about the problem they want creativity to solve for their business. Wolf and Wilhelmina is a brand strategy company based in Brooklyn but born on the back roads and prairies of America. You'll see what I mean as you listen to the show. They describe themselves as provocative, brave, and smart. Their clients, who are as diverse as Nike, Bacardi, and the Obama White House would undoubtedly agree. Their founder, Heidi Hackemer is a fierce advocate for living in leading consciously and with intent. She is a disruptor, an evangelist, and a change agent.

I sat down with Heidi on a rainy day in Manhattan to talk about her intensely personal journey, the company she's building, about the future of brands, and about what matters most to her. Heidi, welcome.

Heidi Hackemer:               Thank you so much for having me, Charles.

Charles:                                   It's great to have you here. Wolf and Wilhelmina is a distinctively different kind of company and lots and lots of different ways. Talk to us before we jump into that about your past and what was the point at which you decided you wanted to build so disruptively different a business?

Heidi Hackemer:               I think the most important thing to note in my past is the fact that I waitressed for two years. I moved to New York City about two weeks before September 11th with my creative portfolio because I thought I was going to be a copywriter and I thought I was going to be the most amazing copywriter in the world and then be the most amazing creative director in the world and so on and so forth. I hit New York and then New York got hit and the industry collapsed. Staying in New York, I truly had to wait tables for two years. It was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me because I realized that, in that moment, even if I was off the linear path I would be okay. I don't think I would've had that sense of assuredness around that had I immediately gotten my first job out of college.

Charles:                                   What were you like as a waitress?

Heidi Hackemer:               When you're a waitress, you just have to turn off a part of your personality. Any part of your personality that has pride or a sense of self-worth, you just got to turn that off and smile and say, "Let me check on that for you."

Charles:                                   That came naturally for you?

Heidi Hackemer:               Oh, absolutely. I mean, I was an okay waitress. I was good. You could put me on a floor, on a busy floor but I don't think it's my life calling.

Charles:                                   From there, what took place next?

Heidi Hackemer:               Nancy Martin at FCB called me out of the blue. I interviewed for the job two years earlier. They had had a hiring freeze for two years. She said, "We just unfroze. Do you want to, be a copywriter at FCB?" At the time, I almost said no because I didn't know if I wanted-

Charles:                                   Because you loved waitressing so much, why would you want and go and be a copywriter at an ad agency?

Heidi Hackemer:               It was a pay cut and I actually worked nights at the restaurant my first year as a copywriter. I wasn't quite sure. Two years, you sit there and think about what you want to do with your life and I wasn't quite sure that advertising was still it. I figured it was better than waitressing at the time, and I could still get shifts and I could make up in the pay gap. If I get out of work at 4 o'clock on any day, which was rare, I'd rush over to the restaurant and get a shift in, or I'd work on the weekends. I did that. Did copywriting for two years. Terrible copywriter. I mean, oh my God. I mean, I wasn't terrible but it was never going to be the thing. That was the first place that I intersected with brand planning. I never had realized that it existed before. Christophe Becker was the ECD and the chairman of FCB. He was really kind and said, "You go try planning for three months or six months and if it doesn't work, you can have your job back as a copywriter," which was a really generous thing for him to do.

I did and that's where I met Pelé Cortiz [inaudible 00:04:53] who is still my mentor today. I was so lucky that I found my mentor right away. It all just took off from there.

Charles:                                   What an extraordinary sideways jump to have made from waitressing. Also, you learned two very important things a very young. That you were just an okay waitress and an okay copywriter so just knocking down things you aren't going to do.

Heidi Hackemer:               Which is great. Which is great.

Charles:                                   Which is great actually. It was a big part of the journey actually discovering what you're not going to do.

Heidi Hackemer:               Also being able to let go. I had thought I was going to be a copywriter. I had interned at Leo Burnett in Chicago, which coming from the Midwest, that was like "Oh, you're in Chicago interning in a creative department there," that was a big deal. Just being able to let go and say, "You know what, that's actually not what I want to do," was kind of cool to be able to do that.

Charles:                                   From FCB, you went where?

Heidi Hackemer:               I to Fallon London to go get my butt kicked by British [inaudible 00:05:39] planning and also at the time, Fallon London was so hot. That was right when Sony Balls had come out, Cadbury Gorilla released while I was there. I was working on the Sony account, I was working on BBC youth account. It was a really amazing place to be and the interesting thing was at FCB I learned systems. I learned Coca-Cola systems. I learned Kraft systems, I learned big client systems which was invaluable to me, now, that I'm running my own business. I'm so glad that I got that system learning. At Fallon I learned about creativity and how do you be a strategist that supports bleeding-edge creativity in the industry. That was an awesome lesson.

Charles:                                   How long were you there?

Heidi Hackemer:               I was only there for a year and a half because I really hated London to live in. I love London to visit. I love visiting London. I go there many times a year but it was not my time to live in. Then came back to ... Kind of melded it all together and BBH in New York. The British agency in America that deals with big system clients but also was quite obsessed with this idea of creativity. It's, like you could see the pieces coming together BBH New York.

Charles:                                   What was about London that didn't fit? I'm curious.

Heidi Hackemer:               I think ... I realized when I moved to London that I am an American. I never realized that before. I'm first-generation. I grew up eating weird food and dressing in strange clothes for family holidays. First-generation, there's always this thing of am I American or am I this other nationality, where do I fit? I never really felt wholly American, growing up. Then I go to London, I realized I'm optimistic, I have a very can-do attitude, I have a very big personality that's loud. It was like, oh, no, no I'm totally American. I think there's part of that. It was the optimism that I missed. London has such a critical, cynical culture, which is great. I mean, that's why they are so intellectually ... There such a prowess, intellectually, in London. But I miss people being like, "Yeah, let's do it, let's try." I just didn't find that energy in London. I think the other thing that was hard for me with London is, in New York, you just ping around.

t's a city that grew up, vertically. If you want to get from Harlem to downtown, you're talking not that much time. London, if you want to navigate across that city, you're talking an hour, two hours to get where you want to go. The tube stops, so you have to sleep over at a friends house on Saturday night. I'm like, you know what, I'm almost 30 years old. I want to sleep in my own bed. It just wasn't my pace.

Charles:                            Yeah, I totally understand. I grew up in London and recognize-

Heidi Hackemer:               I still like you.

Charles:                             Thank you, and I still like you. But I recognize a lot of those characteristics. I actually went to school on the other side of London from where I live, where my parents lived. To go back now, it was an hour long commute and then back in the 70s. To do that commute now would probably take two and a half hours each way. It would be impossible. There's literally no way you can do it. It has changed a lot in the last 20, 25 years. I can see how, knowing you and knowing it, how that might not be the world's greatest chemistry.

Heidi Hackemer:              No, it's a nice place to visit.

Charles:                            Yes, it is. You come back from London and what happens then?

Heidi Hackemer:               I'm at BBH New York for about three years. BBH is where I really felt like I felt like I really found a home and I really hit my stride. I had enough experience at that point where I was starting to really understand what I was doing. Got on some really cool accounts. I was working on the Axe business for a couple of years. We had an amazing team that was running that. Just this family team. You know, that happens sometimes. Then flipped over and was working on the Google account. We worked on the global launch of Chrome. That was just a remarkable experience working with Calla and Pella, Chanel, Colleen [inaudible 00:09:17] who is now the head of coms and engage in planning over at [inaudible 00:09:19]. The team was just this superstar team. It was awesome.

Charles:                                   I can imagine. Having been around that kind of talent must have just emulated you like crazy.

Heidi Hackemer:               It was great. You walk into work every day and everyone's just brilliant. We actually sat clustered. I sat next to Calla who was the creative director. Colleen set across from me. Jesse [inaudible 00:09:40], who was one of our main creative set across from Calla, the account guy sat right there. It was like we were all in this cluster said there was none of this bullshit that you find where I have to walk down the hall to see if I can get some time with Calla so I can talk to her about something. It was just constant singing and talking all day. No ego, no walls, it was like let's just get it done. I really have a lack of patience around people that don't operate that way. Whenever I get back into big systems, now, where you have to really play politics hard ... You always have to play politics but there's good politics and there's bad politics. When you get into bad politicking, silos, all that kind of stuff, I have a hard time with those types of situations.

Charles:                                   How did you see yourself at this point?

Heidi Hackemer:               At this point, we were fucking amazing, man. We were running the Google account. This was one of the first times that Google ever really did advertising. Now, every agency has Google on their roster but this was the first time that really went out. They trusted us to do that. We had fun every day. Everyone was so good at what they did. It was just hard-core. It was professional grade advertising. It doesn't get more pro league than that team was. I mean, that was pretty amazing.

Charles:                                   It then what happened?

Heidi Hackemer:               I totally burned out. Working on the Google account , at that time especially, was a 24/7 job. Client never turned off and therefore we never turned off. At the time, I loved it. It was like you couldn't ping me enough. I really felt important doing this. I was on lots of airplanes, I was in lots of meetings. Then I decided to quit. This voice pops in my head one day, and I know this sounds crazy but it's true, and said, "Buy a truck, drive around America."

Charles:                             Literally happened one day?

Heidi Hackemer:               One day. I mean, I can remember. I can remember it was-

Charles:                              It wasn't a text, it was voice of your head.

Heidi Hackemer:               Voice in my head. I can still feel the environment around me, I can still go back to that moment when it happened. A month later, I was on the road.

Charles:                                   Had anything changed in your life right around the same time?

Heidi Hackemer:               I mean, I knew it was time for me to leave BBH. I'd been at BBH for three years. The Chrome launch was a massive accomplishment but it was time to leave the company. I was looking around and I couldn't figure out ... I was seeing other people getting big jobs. I would actually think to myself, what if your name was in that article? It just a click. It didn't feel right. There was a little bit of that questioning going on but it hadn't gotten to existential angst questioning, yet. It was just a murmuring questioning that was happening. Then the voice just came in and it was like go for it, and I did.

Charles:                             How long before you acted on the voice?

Heidi Hackemer:               I was gone in a month.

Charles:                             A month?

Heidi Hackemer:               Quit my job, packed my apartment, bought a truck, kitted the truck out, on the road. I actually stopped by BBH right before I left, to say goodbye to Pella. Because Pella at this point had started BBH in LA and he just happened to be in town the day I was leaving New York. I swung by, he took a picture of me on the truck and then I went up the FDR and I was gone.

Charles:                                   It is one of the very few limitations of podcast that we can't show you the picture of you on the truck, actually I will get it from you and put it up on the website, because I think the imagery around it, actually, is pretty startling. There is a picture, a couple of pictures that you shared with me actually, of the truck in the middle of the desert for instance. That was quite a journey that you took. You were on the road for how long?

Heidi Hackemer:               On and off for two years. I would run out of money sometimes, so I'd go back and freelance. Really, what it was, one part was being on the road and the exposure and the journey of being on the road and living out of truck stops and living off of campgrounds and understanding that system. You always have to have quarters on you because a lot of showers in America take only quarters to make them run. I always had quarters. There was that existence. Then there was also the existence of coming back and working when I would need money. Being in this space where I knew I wasn't going to go back in to the ... I wasn't going to come back in and be a CSO somewhere. Being really comfortable with that detachment, which was weird. Because at BBH, I was so ... I felt embedded in the walls of that place. I cared about everything. I care about who is doing what. Hires, fires [inaudible 00:13:53] I was so engrossed in the mechanisms of that company. Then, freelance where I could literally just go in and work 10:00 to 5:00 and get so much work done. It was so productive. Not really caring. Just clocking in at clocking out. Doing really good work, because you have to as a freelancer, but otherwise not really caring.

Charles:                               When you are on this road, how did you decide where to go next? What was the journey guided by?

Heidi Hackemer:               Weather, mostly. How cold do I want to be? I had all the kit to be quite cold if I wanted to. Cold is hard. Cold's hard. And avoiding rain. Rain is very hard in a truck, because you just don't have a lot of space where you can drive something out or be protected from the rain. It gets claustrophobic. I had a weather app on my phone and I would just stay away from the rain. That was it.

Charles:                             Where you mostly in the South? Did you go-

Heidi Hackemer:               Oh, no, I went everywhere.

Charles:                             You went everywhere.

Heidi Hackemer:               Everywhere. I did Yellowstone in late fall, that was cold. I did Glacier National Park, which was great. Then I also went south a lot, too. I did 30,000 miles. I basically went everywhere.

Charles:                             Yeah, I'll say. Did you feel threatened?

Heidi Hackemer:               No.

Charles:                             At any point?

Heidi Hackemer:               No, and that's the question people always had. See, I was out during the Obama Romney election and, this is cute now, at the time that felt very divisive. Like there was a huge divide between red and blue. There were a lot of people in my life that were afraid of me going into red America. My father encouraged me to take guns with me. I grew up with guns. I declined taking guns with me when I went. There was a couple of rules I would follow. Don't drink on the road, a woman alone. Pretty much have camp set up by sundown not setting up in a weird place. You scope where you are. If you ever get a bad feeling, you just leave. It's fine. Most of all, what I found across the country is an incredible generosity and kindness. It really made me question our media system, our political system, because what I was finding on the road were people that would laugh a little bit and be like, "Oh, you're one of those New Yorkers, and then invite me to have dinner with them.

Or help me check my oil. I actually got quite angry because I found that there's this macro narrative in the country that is designed to tear us apart. So we can get better ratings, so the advertisers will pay the networks the money and then there is this reality of America that, when I experienced it in 2012, was actually quite embracing and warm. I've been on the road, since. I do all my vacations road tripping since. I still find it over and over again. I really thought, especially last year, I rode my motorcycle across country right in the height of when Trump was surging in the polls and I'm like what's it going to be like now. Is there going to be a wall? I do think there is a little bit more of a wall now than there used to be. You can still penetrate the wall. You can still crack through and find common ground with people even if they are the most fervent Trump supporter.

Charles:                                   It was fascinating, actually. There was a piece I picked up, I think last night on the web for a few minutes, about a woman who describes herself as one of the founders of the Tea Party talking about how to talk about climate change to conservatives. She is a conservationist. She believes that we are damaging the planet, threatening the planet, wants to change people's behavior and she made the very simple point that if you keep going in and talking about climate change to conservatives, you lose. You need to talk about energy choice and innovation and things that they're excited by. I think the point you're making is absolutely right. We get stuck in this language, a lot of which is given to us, and when we stop and think about the other side of the argument as a human being, and start to think about how do you talk to them in ways that they can hear you, it suddenly becomes a different conversation.

Heidi Hackemer:               Absolutely. Absolutely. I remember my brother-in-law is quite conservative. He runs a series of gas stations in Wisconsin. I'm pretty confident he's voted differently than I have and I remember, at one point, he said, "Oh, I'm putting solar panels on the gas station." I was like what? Like you are the last person that I would expect to put solar panels on. He said, "You know, that's to save money." I'm like what if we just reframe clean energy in an economic sense as opposed to talking about the moral thing to do, the right thing to do? I do think that the left has had an issue with framing. We aren't being empathetic in our framing and we could do a much better job of that.

Charles:                                   There's a poll out, the last few days I think, that said that 67% of America think the Democrats don't understand their issues.

Heidi Hackemer:               That doesn't surprise me. Let's put it that way.

Charles:                                   We'll come back to messaging in a moment. You spend two years on the road discovering, I'm sure, incredible things about yourself.

Heidi Hackemer:               Total strip-down. Literally this whole idea of career was gone. In the beginning, I didn't know how to talk about myself, which is really embarrassing because I realized I had completely framed my own narrative around my job and I didn't know how to just be a human without saying ... In the beginning, I was kind of pathetic. I would say I used to work on this account, I used to have this job. I couldn't just talk about me today. It was a complete stripped-down of all of that ego, all of that sensible you are and what's important. It's very difficult. There was a lot of crying. I'm not going to lie. There was a lot of crying and there was a lot of like, "Oh my God." You know when sometimes you have a memory and it hurts your jaw because your life, "Oh my God, did I actually say that," or did I actually do that. A lot of that, a lot of processing.

Charles:                                   What made you decide you wanted to reenter society on a more regular way?

Heidi Hackemer:               These things brew. It wasn't an ah-ha decision, it was more of a slide. I think the only ah-ha that has happened to me in the last six years was this original voice coming in my head and saying do the truck. Besides that, everything else has been quite iterative. When I was hiking one day I realized, God, I haven't felt created in a long time so really started researching creativity and what the studies said about that. Which I didn't know why I was doing it. Now I do. Now all of that gets applied to W and W. Just following this instinct and gut. I'm a big believer in a few give the universe space, it's going to talk to you, it's going to tell you where you need to go next and I had so much space on the road. Something was telling me to research creativity so I did that. Don't know why I was doing it at the time. I was freelancing for Anomaly. One of the clients was Regina Dugan who was running Motorola Advanced Technology and Projects group, at the time, which then got absorbed into Google.

Regina and I hit it off, Regina said, "Why don't you come work for me, directly?" Because of some weird legal stuff, I had to incorporate on the backend so she could pay the people that were doing brand and marketing. That's how W and W got incorporated. It wasn't a, I'm going to start a company. It was, I need a legal entity and I may as well name it something that I like because maybe, knows, I might use it in the future. it was very like, yeah, whatever. Then three months later, I decided that actually I needed to use that entity and said why don't I give it a try.

Charles:                                   Where did the name come from?

Heidi Hackemer:               Wilhelmina's my grandmother. Always wanted to name something after her. She's a deity in my family, I think is a good way of saying it. Wilhelmina's also the name of a modeling agency. Had to put something else around it. Wolf is, I think I'm the fourth generation in my family that's had a pet wolf. They're trendy right now but I do think it is my spirit animal. The more I read about wolves, that's me. It feels right.

Charles:                                   Yeah, they are incredible. I was at a wolf sanctuary a couple of years ago and was just struck by-

Heidi Hackemer:               They're the coolest things.

Charles:                                   Yeah. Just remarkable species in so many ways. And so connected. When one of them starts howling and they all go, you get this sense of community unlike anything else that I've been a part of.

Heidi Hackemer:               Do you know why they howl?

Charles:                             I don't know why they howl, why do they howl?

Heidi Hackemer:               To tell each other they love each other.

Charles:                             Is that right?

Heidi Hackemer:               There's actually really no reason. They communicate in other ways when they're tracking and hunting and other things like that. The howling is a pure community act of, "I'm here, I love you."

Charles:                                   I love you. That's amazing. I'll be more understanding when my dogs start barking. Although I'm not sure-

Heidi Hackemer:               Not barking, that's a howl.

Charles:                                   That's what they're saying. They do tend to howl from time to time. This business forms almost by accident but at some point it transitions to something that has real intention and real thought behind it. What was that transition like?

Heidi Hackemer:               In the beginning I always knew that I didn't want to go back into the system of advertising. It always had that resistance to that. One thing I say is that W and W is birthed from pain and love. Love of brand strategy and a belief that brand strategy, when applied, can really change companies and if you can change companies you can changethe world. A real belief in the power of brand strategy. It also was birthed from pain. What we did, I just started making lists of things that hated doing in my past jobs. Systems that I thought were dumb, client relationships that I thought were broken, things like that. We just started knocking them off. What if we don't email after seven o'clock at night? What if we take real vacations as opposed to being on call on a vacation? What if we just don't plan weekends into our work schedules and what if we decide that we're only going to do projects because AOR always turns into some weird master slave relationship, right?

It's a weird ... Master slave might be too far a way of saying it but AOR is when clients feel like they can call you at Friday at four o'clock and say, "I have meeting on Monday at noon and I need a deck by then." When you do project-based work and you have the scope, whereas his this is our deliverables and this is the schedule, you can't. Like that. We just started knocking off the pain points. When you start to knock out the pain points and you don't just accept the norm, the company changes. The company become something that isn't what we're seeing in the past in the industry. One of the best things I did is that I heard a lot of people that didn't work in advertising. Lauren, for example, was my head of operations, head ops and culture right now, I remember her looking at one way we were getting paid by client and she had come from the world of production and she's like, "Why are you getting paid like this?" I said, "That's how client pay, it's just how it works."

She's like, "That's not how it works in production. You get upfronts out of them to cover costs. Why did you complete an entire eight week project and not even have one payment from the client, yet." Lauren was always really interesting because she would question everything. She like, "Why do you do it this way? What's up?" About half the people inside of W and W have more traditional backgrounds in advertising and brand and half of them don't. The half that don't are great because they challenge us all the time. Even as much is I broke away, there still institutionalization that I am a subject of. It's really good to have people say why do you do that.

Charles:                                   Is that an ongoing part of your daily process, this challenging the status quo, challenging even now you've established new norms, are you constantly challenging as well?

Heidi Hackemer:               Yes. We have an intense culture of reflection and we do postmortems on every project to talk about what went wrong and how can we change it. It took us about two years to get our scope language right to really align with our values. Because every time a client would figure out the loophole, we have to close the loophole. We constantly were doing these postmortems so we can close loopholes to get it to a place to where we were protecting the talent. What W and W is all about is protecting the talent. If you want us to do amazing work for your company, I have to treat my talent a certain way. I think the way that the industry has treated talent for as long as I've been in it is that talent, especially young talent, is a commodity. You can just flip in the next person. You can just churn through people as quickly as possible. The churn at companies is amazing. I don't think of talent that way. I think of talent as a resource that needs to be protected and is the lifeblood of my business. If I allow clients to abuse my talent, the client are actually damaging my business in the long term.

Why would I allow that to happen? The work that we do so premium, I can't just flip people in and out. I can't. I train them, I educate them, I take care of them and, if I lose one of them, it's a hole and I have to retrain somebody and that might take an entire year. I want to protect that person as much as I can. I mean, they're going to leave because that's the workforce today but let me keep them in my system as long as I can.

Charles:                                   Well, and to your point I think it's a fundamental flaw of the business model itself. When media became disconnected from the creative side, the agency business for sure, what was left was a group of creative people and people trying to figure out how do we charge for this because we used to make our money charging commission on media. Now we have to figure out a way to charge for this thing called creativity. The mistake, I think, that was made back then was that they decided to charge on an hourly basis. On a rate basis of some kind. Hourly, daily, doesn't really matter. I think, in many ways, a lot of agencies have become, essentially, employment agencies. Where there business structure is or their business model is, let's find talent, let's mark it up, and then let's find people to buy as much of that as we possibly can. Capacity utilization becomes the thing. Focus on selling stuff that maybe the client needs, maybe the client doesn't.

I know that that's become an important part of W and W because you don't talk about the output necessarily being communication. It could be a lot of things, right?

Heidi Hackemer:               Yeah. The output, really, is helping people figure out their brand. The way we look at it is that there are so many different types of output that a brand has now, whether that's retail or communications or product itself or whatever that, if you don't have the brand sorted out first and the framework for decision-making, which I think a brand is ... I think a brand is a narrative which causes a framework for decision-making. The narrative and framework for decision-making has to your company so that everyone who is operating in your company knows how to make decisions. That's what brand is, really. That is anywhere from finance to HR to people that are working your social media account all have to align with what this business believes. That's what we deliver at W and W, is that belief system and that decision-making framework and that infusion inside of the company. Then, if they want us to work with an agency to get some coms out the door or go work with their innovation group to make sure that the innovation's aligning with the brand, cool.

We'll do that but for us, there is so much inefficiency in business if you don't have your brand sorted out.

Charles:                                   You've talked to me, in the past, but the inherent tension of great brands. What do you mean by that?

Heidi Hackemer:               Tension's interesting. It's like finding out pain. We really lean into pain. Find pain in the world, whether people find you as a brand painful or the category painful for some human needs it's not being fulfilled that's pain and then also find love. Find things of real passion. Founders are like this a lot. We work with a lot of startups and a founder will be like, "Oh, I just had this idea and boom, it was off." When you find that, as a brand person you need to hold onto that. You need to hold onto that and that on a pedestal. So much of brand gets complicated and it's just find that pure pain and find the pure love and then figure out the tension between that and figure out how the brand becomes a hero in that tension space. That's were really cool stuff starts happening with brands. A big believer in that.

Charles:                             How do you get into that when you're working with a brand?

Heidi Hackemer:               We do a lot of investigation. Sometimes some of our clients feel like what we do is corporate brand therapy. We've had clients cry. It's totally common to have clients cry. It's totally common for us to have client walk out of a session with us and the like, "Wow, can you guys come back next week because I really want to talk about this. I want to keep talking to you." It's just really digging in, having human conversations. Yea, when we start working with the client, we'll do a survey so we have some quantitative data about what's going on inside the company. You really find the stuff by just talking to people both inside the company, talking to audiences, just feeling it. Feeling it. Everything we do does have a data underpinning but there is no substitution for the conversation that you can have with people.

Charles:                                   I want to come back and talk about brands more in a couple of minutes but first, there's a couple of aspects of W and W that I think are really worth talking about. You've touched on some of the values that you have. The notion of no email after seven o'clock, the vacation as vacation. Talk to us about some of the other values and then talk about how you are building a company, how you are hiring people, how you are teaching people internally so that you can actually live by a pretty demanding set of values, actually. These are not easy to live by because the pressure of business gets in the way of most other companies willingness or their ability to do these kinds of things.

Heidi Hackemer:               Let me start with the first part, what are some of the values that we have that we're building in. It really comes back to our brand purpose which is do great work, live great lives. We really believe that the quality of the work on the quality of the people's lives that are working for you are inextricably linked. If someone really hates coming to work and they are getting overworked and they're burned-out, the work is going to suffer. Then our relationships with clients change. If you create really great work, clients will adhere to your rules of operating. The instant our quality of work starts to slip, we have to be online after seven o'clock. We have to scramble on weekend to fix something. I tell this to people all the time. I'm like, "W and W is a really great place to work." We have a growth benefit. Everyone gets a certain amount of money here basically they can just go to concerts if they want to. Good do your thing.

To do that, when you show up at work, you got to show up at work. Because the responsibility. There is a value exchange that happens there. We're really serious about that value exchange. That's the tension of W and W. Our tension is the ferocity of work and the humanness of the way that we do it. There's times when those things can come into conflict. We try to be really good about that. Usually, when they come into conflict, that is me picking up the phone to a client and saying, "Remember during the proposal process when I told you that we don't do certain things. We really don't do certain things, so I need you to stop getting mad at my team because they didn't get on a phone call after seven o'clock three days in a row." Obviously, there's flex. We have West Coast clients. If the West Coast client's like, "Hey guys, my day is terrible, eight o'clock, is that okay?"

Yes, that's okay. We're not assholes about our rules but we can't have the client put in an eight o'clock call every week. That doesn't work. A lot of times, it's me going up to the forefront of it and having to have the conversation with the clients and be willing to have the conversations with clients. That's where I think a lot of agencies fall down. You see a lot of agencies leadership talking about the importance of taking care of the talent, the importance of work-life balance, but are you willing to put it on the line? Are you willing to make a phone call to client and say, "You're behaving badly." Even more so, are you willing to not even engage with client if you get a bad juju during the pitch process? I will never forget, early days W and W. It was August of our first year and we were only four months out of [inaudible 00:33:42].

We had nothing in our pipeline. Nothing. I was like, "Fuck." A potential client came through and I knew that if we took this client on that it would fundamentally change W and W. We would not be able to stick with our rules. We would become an ad agency. I knew that this would happen if we took this client on but it was a huge client and it was a shit ton of money. I was in South Dakota at my brother's house in the middle of the prairie and just having one of these moments where you want to be a responsible business owner and you want to take care of your people and you don't want to be a victim of hubris, of your own pride, but knowing that this was so incongruous with our values, that this would really messes up as a company. I was really stressing about this. I called Paul Malmstrom who's an old friend of mine who started Mother in New York.

I will never forget this advice and this is a mantra that we do all the time when it comes to new business. Paul said to me, "Heidi," he's like, "in order for the right things to come in, you have to make space for those things to come in. If you take the wrong thing, the right things won't have room to come in." I was like okay. I called the client and I told them with total full of respect, it's just not the right assignment for us, we can't engage in this pitch process. The cool thing was my team totally had my back. They're like, if this means that W and W is closed in two months, that's okay, we're all going to be fine. Then next week, the phone rang and everything was fine. There has been several times where we have walked away from really big contracts because we get bad juju from the client, because we know the assignment itself doesn't align with who we are and our values.

There has been multiple times, because small business cash flow is always an issue, there have been multiple times when we have stepped away from clients where the money's going to run out in a few months. The thing I give credit to, I give credit to Paul for that clear advice we always reflect on now. It has become a mantra in the company and I give a lot of credit to my team where my team has said it's okay. Huge and make this decision, we stand behind you 100%. There have been times it has been terrifying to make that decision and I'm really grateful and proud that we have been brave enough to do it and I hope that we continue to. One thing that I worry about is the company size getting too big where you just start to have to take on clients because you have mouths to feed. I'm actually trying to keep W and W small because I don't want to get to the point where we are becoming bitches to bad clients.

Charles:                                   That story really strikes me on two levels. One is that I've seen myself, over and over again, the companies who I think the most successful by everybody's definition are the ones who are willing to stand up and be counted and say what they mean and mean what they say. It's a consistent truth, I find. They are willing, I'm not saying they're unafraid. I think everybody is conscious of the implications but they are totally willing to define their terms and to explain to clients when this isn't working for them. I think that's really powerful. I think the other thing is that creative people, and I think you and I have a similar definition of creative people, people who are original thinkers, not simply artists but the original in the way they think about the world, because they are instinctive problems, the thing that I find that they miss estimate is that they think they can fall almost any problem.

In many cases, they probably can but that doesn't mean every problem is worth solving and the opportunity cost jumping in, just as you said, to the wrong thing, whether it's the wrong piece of business, or trying to solve the wrong question is one of the biggest challenges, I think, that really talented people have. Taking a step back, as you did, and saying what's really important to us, where do I really want to spend my time? Just because you can doesn't mean you should I think is really, really important advice for anybody who's an original thinker to hold onto.

Heidi Hackemer:               That's good. I like that.

Charles:                             You're welcome, it's yours to use with that as you will.

Heidi Hackemer:               Thank you, I'm going to steal it.

Charles:                              As you've built this company, what have you found are the biggest challenges?

Heidi Hackemer:               Leading the company, personally, is just, hi, let me take all my clothes off and run down the street. It's so exposing. Every single fault you have gets magnified. If you have a temper, your temper now affects 20 people as opposed to just your partner. I mean, it's crazy. The whole self thing has just been nuts going through. Also just getting used to being a leader. I find leadership is tough. You have to make hard calls and I'm learning that, and I don't mean this in a bad way but, it's lonely. You build this company and you walk in and you feel a little lonely when you walk in the door because no one's inviting you to drinks after work and you don't really know the inside jokes anymore. Actually, that's all okay. I actually don't want to be in invited to drinks. If anyone from my team is listening to this, it's okay. It's cool. Totally fine. It's this weird thing of you build this thing and all of a sudden it becomes its own thing.

Charles:                                   It's a hard lesson, isn't it. It is hard on an emotional level to go through that and realize you've crossed that line. You can't be part of that because you have to have a different conversation with them in the future that one or the other is going to be undermined by.

Heidi Hackemer:               Right and also just for me personally because I'm an introvert, I can't spend 16 hours a day with my company and the people in my company or else I'll get worn out. I need my own time to rejuvenate and that's been a big lesson. It's funny. When I was younger, I was a highly competitive athlete where the decision was towards performance. How many hours I slept, when I ate, every single run I did. For the first time in over 20 years I am back in the performance mentality. It's very important to me how much I sleep. I can't eat certain things during the day because I get tired later on and then I'll start making bad decisions. I can't go drink the way I used to drink. I can't show up hungover and I really do feel the sense of mission and the sense of I'm building this thing, it has values, I have a lot of ambition for where I want it to go and I have to keep myself tight in doing that.

Other lessons I've learned, there's so many. There are so many but when it comes to team and culture, one is that you can't change people. You can only work with the raw material that an employee brings to you. I think in the beginning of W and W, for the first couple of years, I always thought, "Well, maybe if I can get this person to be like this or if I can just change it in this way, everything is going to be great." You have to realize that great is now and what is that employee bringing to you and how do you work with that material the employees bringing to you.

Charles:                                   I think that is such a hard lesson and such an important one. When I was building our film editing company, I walked in with a very similar view that you've just despised, which is everybody's capable of everything. That was my belief.

Heidi Hackemer:               Yeah, totally, totally.

Charles:                                   If I just give them the opportunity, they'll all rise. Over time, you realize that's just not true and you have to set the standards of the company at a certain level and then encourage people, help people, but ultimately require people to get to those standards, otherwise you're undermining everybody else's efforts.

Heidi Hackemer:               Absolutely.

Charles:                                   I had a number of partners, actually, at various points of building that business and one of them is a quote machine. He said to me, a guy called Rick Lawley, he said to me one day, we were talking about this issue and we had somebody is actually very senior in the company at the time that we realize the company was outgrowing. They just couldn't give us what we needed. Rick said to me one day, he said, "The air gets thinner up here." That's true. As the company becomes more successful, you have to be willing to accept the fact that only certain people can perform at that level in certain places and if you don't hold that standard in place, I think you really undermine the efforts of everybody else. When I'm working with leaders, it's one of those lessons that I try to impart pretty early on. Because I think most people are generous of spirit and they want people to be successful.

They think, "I should say it differently if I did it a different way, if I led them, they'd get it. It's my fault." At some point, you realize no, it doesn't matter how you provide it. At the end of the day, you've got to be clear about what you need. If they can't do it, then you have to make a change.

Heidi Hackemer:               Then one other lesson just on top of that, just going to client because there's personal, team, client. Client lesson for me is that the clients are just as tired with the system as we are. They're so hungry for company to come to them and say, "Let's try it differently but let's keep it really smart, but let's try it differently." There's this really interesting balance. We always say that to break the rules, you have to know the rules. What we show clients is intelligent ways of breaking rules. We're not asking them to leap out into the ocean with no raft but we're taking them out the ocean and they have the right gear but they only have the gear that they need. Not the gear that we all think we should have. I was shocked, especially in the beginning of W and W. I didn't know if you do get people to pay for brand strategy without creative. That was the thing at BBH. How do you get people just to pay for the brand strategy and not get them to pay for the creative output.

A lot of people told me that was impossible. That clients wouldn't pay for that. I was like, "I don't know they're going to pay for this stuff." What I found is that clients are just as fatigued with the system as agency people are and it's almost like lunatics in the asylum. Someone just has to say, "Wait a minute, let's go over here because everyone's tired." That was a big ah-ha moment in W and W. Clients want to be treated like people and they wanted partners and they want people that aren't trying to sell them ship that they don't need. Cool, let's just have a conversation. Talk to me about what you need, talk to me about the budget, we' tell you what we can do in that, we' tell you what we can't do in that. Let's just have an honest conversation. I'm not going to bait and switch teams on you. I'm not going to have a different new business team and have a different project team. Like the team that's talking to you from the beginning is going to be your team.

Just simple things like that. Where we have these ass hole-y norms in the industry and it's like, I don't know. Let's just have a conversation. Let's just talk.

Charles:                                   That's a technical term, I believe.

Heidi Hackemer:               I think it is, I think it is. I'm going to trademark that.

Charles:                                   Trademark that, yeah exactly. Perfect segue to talking about the work that you do that you believe is important for brands to go through. This notion of brand as an operating system. Describe that for us?

Heidi Hackemer:               It's like what I was talking about before. It's this idea that a brand ... Back in the day, when we only had a couple of knee outlets, the brand was the ad campaign. That was it. It made perfect sense that brand strategy came up through advertising agencies because, really, the only manifestation of brand was going to be a couple of ads and a few billboards and that was it. Now, digital revolution blows everything up. Consumers are examining companies much more holistically and the touch points have exploded. We have a lot of different ways that we are engaging with people. In that system, you can't control brand just down to a commercial anymore. Brand is a much more sprawling enterprise and brand is completely reflective of what your company is. I think we see this in Uber right now. The way that that company has been operating is really affecting their relationship with audiences.

That's really what a brand is. A brand is a method of relating to audiences. When we talk about brand as an operating system, what we mean by that is that a brand is the reason why you exist. It's that narrative. Why the world needs you right now and the framework of decision-making that everyone in your company adheres to that is driven by the beliefs of the people that are running the company. A lot of companies know this in their bones but founders, a lot of times, have a hard time articulating this in a way that's clear and actionable. Sometimes they have a issue seeing the power of their on brand. Actually, you are sitting on a cultural gold mine here. You're only thinking about this in the competitive space but actually have a cultural role to play. What we do is we get in there and we help them fully realize this is what super powerful about what you're doing right now.

This is why you need to exist. In speaking with you, here are the beliefs that are driving your actions and here's why these beliefs are really interesting to audiences, so you need to have these beliefs. Then this is how you start to make decisions against these beliefs. That's what we mean by brand as operating system. Is actually the code that drives all the decision-making in the company. If you can get that down, everything gets way more efficient as a company. This is exactly what workers are looking for, now. They're looking for believe driven places to work. I think recruitment and retention gets highly improved in this. I think speed ... You cannot have CMOs that are checking every single suite anymore. No one has the capacity to check everything anymore. You have to have people that are empowered. If you want to grow as a company, you have to be able to diffuse that decision-making throughout your company.

Charles:                                   Because, to your point, brands have to be able to operate in real-time.

Heidi Hackemer:               Exactly. Exactly. Do you remember when it used to be like, "You have 18 months to make this ad campaign?"

Charles:                                   Yeah, with a 16 week production schedule. Multiple trips to LA to location scout and seven casting callbacks. You're thinking, "Wow, we really did it that way then." Now it's like 20 minutes. Okay, fine I'll figure it out. "Could I have 25?"

Heidi Hackemer:               We can't do that anymore. We have to move fast and when you have to move fast, many more people in your organization have to be empowered. That's what brand gives them. It gives them an empowerment framework, it gives them decision-making, it gives them beliefs and it kind of keeps everyone on track.

Charles:                                   I think, as the world has evolved, one of the things that's become clearer is that we, as consumers, measure success, performance, based not just on the category that we're engaging in. We don't look at the world of automobiles through our experience just with carmakers. We look at it through, if you're a high-end car company, and you're saying, "We are the Four Seasons," our perspective of that brand is measured through our experience at a Four Seasons, not a BMW dealership. They have to match each other. The quality aspects of how brands have to show up has become much more demanding and much more challenging.

Heidi Hackemer:               Absolutely. Katie [inaudible 00:48:07] who works over at Nike calls this transference. When we have a experience with Amazon that's amazing, of course we expect to have that experience with Nike or with another company. You're right, because people aren't saying, "Oh, we're in the category now, so therefore the rules change."

Charles:                                   We're safe now.

Heidi Hackemer:               No, no.

Charles:                                   You gave me, and one point, a really valuable lesson. I think, just for the people listening to this, and might be interesting. Some of this you've touched on but I think just as a way to consolidate this, the first element of great strategy, you said to me, was don't be boring.

Heidi Hackemer:               I mean, just don't be boring in life.

Charles:                             Is that a request or a directive?

Heidi Hackemer:               I mean, it looks you only have one chance at this thing. I don't know. May as well live it. There's so many brands. If you're boring?

Charles:                                   Don't do that.

Heidi Hackemer:               Yeah, and this is just groupthink type of stuff and this happens at big companies a lot. Where the edges get rounded off. It's like why, why would you spend all this money marketing with the edges rounded off? Just seems dumb.

Charles:                                   It's interesting, actually I was talking to somebody was pretty connected with the Clinton campaign. They said one of the problems with that campaign was groupthink. That they just kept rounding the edges. Anything that was disruptive to the way that they wanted to see the world just got rounded out and data-ized and eliminated. Consequences of that were fairly obvious in the end. It can have big implications. Number two, be brave with love.

Heidi Hackemer:               Yeah, that's what we were talking about before. That tension conversation. Let love rule. If there something you love is a founder, or an audience loves, leaning into that really hard.

Charles:                                   Number three, be brave with pain.

Heidi Hackemer:               Same thing. Pain is really looking in the mirror, this is Michael Jackson, I'm looking at the man in the mirror. It's like, look ... I remember working on Chrome and one of the pain points that we had to deal with is that nobody gives a shit about browsers. We're walking into the halls of Google with people who are obsessed with browsers and say, "Hey guys, you want to be the biggest browsing brand in the world, you want housewives in Kansas to go through the download process, they don't know what a browser is, nor do they care. Your life's work, they don't care about." I give Google a lot of credit, they said, "you're right." I think if they wouldn't have said you're right, we would have had a much more geek to geek campaign that would never have had the effect that it had. Just being brave with that.

Charles:                                   Number four, be brave with truth.

Heidi Hackemer:               I think the days of us lipstick on pig, this is what this whatever's going to do for you. It's done. It's done. Brand strategists have to be the most culpable for this because we, especially if you are articulating it into a coms campaign, we are the first step. If we start writing bullshit into our briefs, if we start coming back with bullshit insights that we are sugarcoating things, it's just this ripple effect down the process. We have to hold our clients' feet to the fire and be like this is what's up, this is what we're operating with. How do we solve this problem as opposed to how do we create some sort of sugarcoating that is so irrelevant because we're talking to ourselves?

Charles:                                   Number five, find wicked tensions.

Heidi Hackemer:               It's what we talked about before. Tension, pain, these things are uncomfortable. These things will make some audiences love you and other audiences not love you and that's okay. This is where things get interesting. This is where you get people were extremely loyal to you. Just lean into the fact that there's love, there's pain, there's tension between those things, and just relish the tension. At least you have it.

Charles:                                   I was watching an Aaron Sorkin master class a couple of months ago. I like to say I was taking it but that would be a euphemism because taking requires you actually do something, as opposed to watching just means I'm observing. He said something really interesting. Which is he believes that great story is the result of a really simple tension equation between irresistible intention an insurmountable opposition. If you put those two pieces together in that somebody is desperately trying to make something happen ... It can be as small as a snail trying to get to the end of a path. If the obstacle is insurmountable, somebody standing in front of him, how are you going to solve this, what's going to happen, was going to win, what will the outcome the? If you don't have those two elements in any story, you have nothing in the tension of that is what draws us as human beings towards what's going to happen next.

Heidi Hackemer:               It's so interesting when you start thinking about brand like that. It almost gets simple. You have all these ingredients around you. What's the thing that hurts, what's the thing that's hard to get over, what are we passionate about that helps us get over it? That's it. In some ways it's just laughably simple. I think we complicate things too much in the brand world.

Charles:                                   20% off is probably not the answer.

Heidi Hackemer:               Not usually, no.

Charles:                                   To that point, number six is tell your story, which obviously we've just talked about. Number seven is, and you mentioned this as well, find your purpose. Understand what that mission is.

Heidi Hackemer:               You just have to now. Especially if you're ... Not even especially, the brand, now, has to have a purpose.

Charles:                                   Having watched you do that with some companies and having been part of that process, myself, at other companies, it's easily the hardest thing for a company to do, I think. It's incredibly difficult work to extract what is that single message in words that make sense to people. Especially when you got companies that are, in some cases, are pretty established were very established never thought about that through that lens.

Heidi Hackemer:               Right, and also thinking about it, we are going through an incredible societal shift right now. Let's not underestimate what the rise of digital is doing to us. I think we forget about it, sometimes. We are like fish in the ocean. We didn't all have smart phones in our hands until 2007, 2008. That's when iPhone first ... That was the first generation. That's only 10 years. We're 10 years, only 10 years, into this massive societal shift that's happening. I think that every brand has to be reoriented. Not only did we have iPhones hit in 2007, 2008, we also have the great recession happening. These two huge things. Every brand has to rethink it. I think 2008 is one of those milestone years where it's like everything changed after 2008.

Charles:                                   I think that's right. I read an amazing article a few weeks ago. Maureen Dowd wrote in Vanity Fair about the future of artificial intelligence, and described in detail the spectrum of thinking of everybody from Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg and how some of them are terrified. One of the reasons that Elon Musk is trying to get us to go to Mars is because he believes that, at some point, AI will actually wipe out the human race if we're sitting here and we need to beat them to Mars to pull up the drawbridge to get away from them. Whereas other people are like, "No, no I want this stuff implanted in my brain as soon as it's possible. I want to become a member of the Borg. I think to your point, that's obviously creativity in all of its forms but this notion of how do we manage that, how do we purpose it, how fast is the world going to change is going to become a bigger and bigger, not just question, but a bigger and bigger reality. Your last point around strategy has always struck me as really powerful. You said to me once strategy is sacrifice.

Heidi Hackemer:               It is. Strategy is sacrifice. You need to get as close to the pain and love and tension and try to de-clutter everything else out of there. How clean can you make that narrative? How clean can you make that purpose and that's really hard for a lot of strategists, it's really hard for a lot of clients because they have to let go of their little pet babies that are over the place. If you can just take that scalpel and just keep cutting away until you get to that fundamental emotion ... W and W, we talk about primal a lot. It's funny talking about AI and primal. I just got back last night from hiking out in the wilderness for three days. Totally off the grid off-line. I do this quite regularly because I like to remind myself that I'm an animal and that people lived in a time without these damned devices at them all the time. There is something in me that you cannot quantify and you cannot rebuild into a code.

There something in me that sees the stars and feels the heat and gets the grit in my ears that is just unbottle-able you can't bottle that up. That's why I think love and pain is so important in W and W. I don't want us to ever forget that we're talking to humans and that, since the beginning of time, we have told one another stories and that's how we've connected and we can't lose that. As much as I'm somebody that's worth a lot in the future space, there's something about this hyper technofuture that freaks me out because I don't want to lose the feeling that I have. Like when we were out, we didn't take tens so we were sleeping under the stars. Literally I'd wake up in the middle of the night and just the most amazing thing. I don't want to lose that. I love opera. I sit in opera houses where there is no connection and you're just immersed in this story and there's something about that where your brain thrums at a different energy level.

There's this deep energy thrum that comes in experiences that I think we're wiping out as a society. I think that all the pings ... I'm totally guilty, I participate. There's a quick hit to dopamine that Instagram gives me there is nothing like being underneath stars, nothing. We're wiping away the stars. Do I think brand strategy's going to bring the stars back, no, I don't but I want to W and W brand strategy to honor the fact that despite the fact that we are living in a very advanced space and my company's very comfortable living in that space and helping companies navigate that space I also want us never to forget, as my own company and as the clients we work with, that we are humans. We are working in emotion and emotion is good. We have to embrace the emotion just as much as we embrace the data just as much as we embrace the technology.

Charles:                             What now? What next?

Heidi Hackemer:               Well ...

Charles:                             What, if anything, are you afraid of?

Heidi Hackemer:               I'm afraid of getting caged in. That's why am not building W and W to sell it. Never say never, you never know what's going to happen but the intent of the company is not to be building to sell. Never has been. I'm very protective of my company, and very protective of the people that work for me. I think we built something pretty special. I don't know if other people can understand it or operate it the way that we do. One thing I am afraid of is that we lose our humanity and the work gets bad. I want mediocre work coming out of W and W, I always want us to push forward. I think that's what I'm afraid of is that caging in that happens. What's next is I would like to build an ecosystem. I don't want W and W to get too big. To my point earlier about. I went to a lot of founders and I said, "What's the size where you have to start taking on the clients you don't want to take on to keep the lights on?"

Most people said 50 or 60. So I've said we're capping W and W at 25. I don't want to do that. I would like to experiment with is starting other companies that are almost in an ecosystem and a bunch of nodes of companies that are trying different things. We're actually working on our second company right now and we have a third one that's baking. They're experiments, same as W and W was an experiment. W and W started with my savings, two computers, and a membership to grind. You can start a company like that. You don't need to start with all these offices and all this big hires and things like that. That's how I intend to continue to grow the ecosystem of W and W is let's try some experiments in other spaces and see if one of them catches the way that W and W caught and build that out. That's what I'm thinking. You never know. That's the cool thing.

Five years ago, when I think about how much my life is changed in five years, five years ago I was literally living in a truck. There's been so much change in the last five years. I have no clue what the next five years are going to look like but I do hope that I maintain the principles by which I live by. I hope that's the constant, not the actual manifestation of those principles.

Charles:                                   There are three things in listening to you that really strike me as underlying truths for the journey that you're on. One is listen to the inner voice and the power that that can have if you allow yourself to be open to that and respond to that as you so vividly did. I think the other two are linked. One is to say what you mean and be clear about that and then related to that is to mean what you say. If you said it, to live on that basis. I thank you very much for coming today for sharing this. It's, as always, and inspiring and affirming story. It's great talking to you and thanks for being here.

Heidi Hackemer:               Thanks for having me it's super fun.

Charles:                             That wraps up this episode of fearless. Join us next time as we delve further into the art and science of leaving some of the most disruptive businesses and unlocking the power of creativity to change ourselves and the world. Thanks for joining us.


Show Notes

“You can still penetrate the wall — find common ground with people — even if they are a fervent Trump supporter.”

“The clients are just as tired of traditional systems as we are.”

“As the company gets more successful, you have to be willing to accept only certain people can perform at that level.”

[2:15] Why did Heidi become an entrepreneur and build an innovative company?

[6:55] When Heidi first went to London, she realized really quickly she was too American!

[11:00] Despite loving her job, Heidi got burned out at BBH, and one day she quit, out of the blue, and went to buy a truck so she could travel throughout the United States!

[16:35] Heidi still travels. She rode her motorcycle across country last year and was worried about the political climate. However, the people she met, no matter what their beliefs, she could always find common ground with them.

[19:00] In the beginning of Heidi’s travels on the road, she realized she didn’t even know how to talk about herself, or even be human, because so much of her identity was in her career.

[20:45] How did Wolf & Wilhelmine get started, and what problem does it solve?

[30:45] How does Heidi train people to live by the values of the company?

[36:15] Heidi is worried about too much company growth. She wants her client list small, to focus on quality.

[41:30] As the company grows rapidly, there is only a certain type of person that can really perform to the level that you need. Sometimes the company outgrows its people.

[42:10] Clients are tired of the traditional systems we put in place, too.

[42:25] Heidi shows clients intelligent ways on how to break the rules and stand out.

[46:55] Since brands have to work in real time, you have to diffuse senior decision making throughout the company.

[48:10] How quickly we have to produce quality has become much more demanding.

[48:35] What are some of the elements of a great strategy?

[52:15] Great stories begin from irresistible intention and insurmountable opposition.

[55:35] “Strategy is sacrifice.” What does Heidi mean by this?