2-22: "The Transparent Leader" - Nancy Dubuc

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"The Transparent Leader"

Nancy Dubuc is the CEO of Vice Media. When she took over the job just under a year ago, she was inheriting two of the hardest circumstances for any leader. She was replacing the founder. And she was stepping into a crisis. Several, actually.

There were reports that there was a pattern of sexual harassment at Vice among senior male executives and that HR had been unsupportive about the complaints. The company had missed its revenue targets by more than $100 million. And New York Magazine published a story that claimed that Vice had been “built on a bluff”.

Taking over in that environment meant defining the future and providing hope. It meant keeping what was working and changing what was not.

Most of all, it meant bringing people together and establishing trust.

So, this episode is called, “The Transparent Leader”.


Three Takeaways

  • Become an enemy of the status quo. 

  • Back yourself. 

  • Encourage other points of view. 


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-22: "The Transparent Leader" - Nancy Dubuc

Hi. I’m Charles Day. And this is ‘Fearless’.

Nancy Dubuc is the CEO of Vice Media. When she took over the job just under a year ago, she was inheriting two of the hardest circumstances for any leader. She was replacing the founder. And she was stepping into a crisis. Several, actually.

There were reports that there was a pattern of sexual harassment at Vice among senior male executives and that HR had been unsupportive about the complaints. The company had missed its revenue targets by more than $100 million. And New York Magazine published a story that claimed that Vice had been “built on a bluff”.

Taking over in that environment meant defining the future and providing hope. It meant keeping what was working and changing what was not.

Most of all, it meant bringing people together and establishing trust.

So, this episode is called, “The Transparent Leader”.

“…there's the literal meaning of inclusion, which of course is paramount to certainly Vice and our culture, but where is transparency needed and where is decision-making and confidentiality needed? Walking that high high wire act I find in this day and age is challenging. But I tend to err on the transparency side and be really communicative and really clear with what the expectations are.”

Transparency is one of those characteristics that most leaders lay claim to. It’s not until you’ve been in serious leadership roles for a while that you realize you better be sure you mean it before you say it out loud. For Nancy, it’s an important part of how she leads. And being transparent is a considered choice for her.

In my life, this podcast and my work with leaders go hand-in-hand. Each informs and provokes the other. Over the last couple of years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that the very best leaders have one thing in common. They each have a clear leadership philosophy. A set of practices and values that they stick to and are guided by, in good times and bad.

They don’t always - or even often - think about it through that lens. Sometimes, on this podcast, you’ll hear me ask someone if they have a leadership philosophy and, most of the time, their instinctive answer is no. But when you can get them to think about the question some more, they start to describe how they inspire or guide or encourage or hold people to account or make decisions, and it suddenly becomes clear that they do have a set of values - a leadership philosophy. Even if they’ve never thought about it like that.

Having a leadership philosophy does a couple of things for a leader. It makes you more consistent in how you deal with situations - and that, in turn builds trust. And trust is the foundation of any agile, creative business.

And second, a leadership philosophy makes you more confident. Which means you’ll push the envelope faster and further. And speed and a higher bar defines the ceiling of your creative company.

Creativity thrives under all kinds of leaders. But the ones that are most successful are those who have done the work to discover and define their own set of values for how they lead. 

And then follow them.

Here’s Nancy Dubuc.

Charles:

Nancy, thank you so much for joining me on Fearless today. Welcome.

Nancy Dubuc:

My pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Charles:

Let me start with a slightly different question. What's your relationship with fear?

Nancy Dubuc:

Fear, that's a good question. I don't like a horror movie, I'll tell you that. I've never really been one to partake, although every once in a while, I will. Fear is … that's a good question. Literal fear, I don't like. I’m a ‘close your eyes, put your hands over your face, but keep the two fingers slightly spread so that you can see a little bit what's going on’. But I think that really when you get down to it, it's that tension that's created that probably is ... generates an emotion or an adrenaline driving feeling in me that I do gravitate to. In the raw sense of the word, literal horror-driving fear, I don't love, but the tension that fear creates is a motivating factor for me.

Charles:

And that gives you what? A sense that this is worth doing or--?

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. That I'm on an edge. That I'm pushing a limit. I'm pushing a boundary. I think fear and change for a lot of people are closely associated. I've never had an issue with change. I like sort of perpetual motion in my life. I like to be moving. I like to be doing different things. That's always something that ... for as much routine as I want, I think I want, I think that's the operative phrase, right? I think I want routine, I actually thrive on change and evolution and what's coming and what's around the corner.

Charles:

Are you looking to challenge yourself? What's the exploration that you're going through?

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. I'm definitely motivated by learning and curiosity. I think anyone in this environment these days if you're not, it's probably extra challenging. I think ambition, a healthy dose of ambition, is definitely in there, and always wondering what is it that I can do? What next level can I personally get to? A curiosity about myself, a curiosity about the world. I don't pretend to think I know much about either, and that there's a daily exploration and a monthly exploration and a yearly exploration of both. As I get older, and I'm not sure I'm getting wiser, but as I get older, there is this phase that you go through that you sort of allow yourself to look back a little bit, and really somewhat marvel at how much change the human is capable of overcoming and of enduring and of accomplishing.

Charles:

When you look back, which I think is a fantastic thing, too; not enough people take that moment to look back and --

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. I say that a lot.

Charles:

... say, "How far have we come?" It's really important reference point. When you look back, how do you measure progress for yourself and for the businesses that you're running?

Nancy Dubuc:

I mean, I think for the businesses it's a little easier, right? You can measure it numerically. You can measure it culturally. There's the art and the science of how you measure it; the double bottom line of, are you growing your revenue? Are you growing your profits? Are you growing employee satisfaction and morale and culture and all of those things that are doubly important here at Vice, and what is our purpose as a company. I think all of that, we've made a tremendous amount of progress in a pretty short period of time. So, I'm forcing a lot of change in a really condensed time frame here. Looking back on progress is something that ... Progress here versus progress in another environment or in my personal life might have a different measurement stick. Progress here might be a month, progress here might be six weeks, two months.

And I'm coming up on my year anniversary. So, there'll be a moment to say, "Hey, look what have we done in a year?" Which I think is fairly significant versus, personally, progress might be ... I have a son in high school now and it's not that long ago that I remember thinking about when is he going to go to sleep. Sort of going from that milestone of, how do you get your kid to go to sleep to, oh my gosh, I only have X number of days, years before, God willing, this child goes out into the world and has to figure out a heck of a lot more on their own. And so the yard stick in which we measure change, I think is different depending on the situation that you're looking at. I think age also brings the ability to look back in a way that I wasn’t always doing when I was younger.

Charles:

What do you expect of yourself when you look back?

Nancy Dubuc:

That's a good question. I think growth, and so your next question is going to be, ‘What does that look like?’ A certain amount of, maybe patience in myself, I think, giving of oneself to others, and finding that time and that space to figure out, ‘how do I do that?’ And what is it about this next chapter, right? I look at one's ... my life at least, and one's life and in chapters, and I had chapter one, which was, gathering my skills and learning the business and really being sort of a youngster in the business; and chapter two, fortunate enough to have had success in achieving those skills and doing a myriad of different jobs and getting to the pinnacle of some of those jobs and becoming an executive in the business with a leadership profile. And I really feel like this is chapter three. I wanted a chapter three, not everybody chooses to have a chapter three. So, I'm figuring out what that looks like right now, but I don't want it to look like chapter two.

Charles:

Do you think ahead about what you want the chapter --  

Nancy Dubuc:

I've never been very good at that. I think people make an assumption about leaders and make an assumption about people who've maybe made it to what they would perceive the top and made it to that level of being able to garner attention and headlines and media coverage, that they know where they're going and what they're doing. That's not always accurate.

Charles:

If ever, in fact.

Nancy Dubuc:

If ever, exactly. I think I'm in service of the employees that I manage and that I care for, and I'm in service of the shareholders. So, my attention is not always on myself. It's about what am I here to do right now and what is the 12-month, 24-month horizon look like for Vice and what I need to accomplish on behalf of the shareholders and the employees. So, I tend to be very focused on what that looks like. If I can see a horizon for that and I know where we're going, then that's my attention and span, in that I put a lot of faith and trust and the rest will work itself out. That's worked for me. I think that's where the selflessness of leadership has to come into play a little bit.

Charles:

In the middle of those two very powerful pillars, shareholders and employees, obviously the decisions you make on a day-to-day basis, are guided by a third kind of variable, which is your own set of values and your own set of beliefs. Where did those come from in your life?

Nancy Dubuc:

I think they come ... you accumulate them along the way. They come from everything, from other leaders that you admire to grandparents, to your own trial and error along the way. There are some areas that you will not compromise on, and then there are some that you learn to compromise, through trial and error. I'm a big believer in that reputation is what you come to and what you must leave with. Reputation is what it's all about. I've worked hard at creating one for myself and, you don't ... you can't manufacture a reputation. You have to walk it. I mean, you can manufacture reputation, but holding onto it for 20 plus years is very difficult if it's been manufactured, because usually the jig is up eventually, that you'll come across too many people over too many different circumstances where it won't endure.

So you have to really think about what it is that you want, and you have to be true to yourself. Someone just recently ... I hosted a class of high school 10th graders, all girls actually, and someone asked, "You seem very true to yourself. Where did that come from?" It took me back, because I think as a woman we're never quite satisfied with who we are, and we never quite think that we're being true to ourself, because we have that woman, that really horrible roommate that lives with us, that voice in our head that's always telling us something different. So it's funny to live with that juxtaposition of the example that we're setting without realizing we're setting, for others.

Charles:

How do you see your own reputation?

Nancy Dubuc:

I know what's written about me. I know what I try and do. I'm a straight shooter. I'm pretty straightforward with my teams. Transparency is really, really important. Part of it came out of the need to just not waste time. I think that that’s a characteristic that, if I think about even when I started in the business, that doesn't seem ... that seems natural today and that seems like a characteristic that everyone's looking for in their leadership now. But 15 years ago, being a woman that did that, was fairly uncharacteristic. Even allowing myself to say that now is a new thing. I think that being able to have that fearlessness is what encourages more. We sort of started out talking about where you ask questions in a room. I mean, if I had a dollar for every time this happened, I wouldn't have to work anymore. But where you could use your naivete to your advantage and be the one that asks the question in the room that nobody else would ask.

And everybody in the room had the same question that you had. But you just got to play up the role of being slightly younger, being slightly new to your position X, Y, Z, and being able to have that data point early and see that everyone here is in the same boat. But for some reason we're all put in the stereotype of certain roles. But everybody wants to ask the question. They want to know, ‘That does this actually mean? What is the definition of this?’ We talk a lot about vocabulary here, that we're all trying to say the same thing but using different words, because we've come up through different parts of the business and different parts of the business use different vocabulary.

At some point, you get to an intersection, where all that gets jumbled and people are afraid to say they don't understand what's going on, but really you're all trying to say the same thing, just using different words. One of the things I did at A&E right before I left was, had the team work on literally a vocabulary exercise and my head of revenue rolled his eyes and said, "This is absurd." Lo and behold, I think we came up with four or five pages of words that everybody was using differently.

Charles:

That is a fascinating exploration.

Nancy Dubuc:

If you think about it, it's crazy.

Charles:

Yeah. But it also makes so much sense.

Nancy Dubuc:

Platform. Every department's using the word differently.

Charles:

Isn't that … that’s so interesting. I love language, and the power of one word versus another is everything. I mean, it literally changes somebody's perception about the certain circumstances.

Nancy Dubuc:

Now imagine you're 25 and you're coming into the business and you're trying to innovate and everyone's using different words differently. I mean, it's the characteristics of the times that we're in where the business is changing so quickly and technology is changing and programming. In the tech world, programming is different than in the production world.

It's basic, but it's also very fundamental.

Charles:

What a fascinating insight. Extraordinary insight actually, and liberating, I would imagine for people, once you get them through that process.

Nancy Dubuc:

Well, then it liberates everybody to ask what they perceive as the stupid question, but it's not. I find that nine out of ten times the stupid question yields the brilliant answer.

Charles:

In those early days when you were asking that question in the room full of people, did you feel that sort of intake of breath? What was your kind of emotional feeling about --

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah, I think that my ... I got to hide behind the ... I was so much younger, and so I used that to my advantage, in a way. I was very fortunate to have the positive reinforcement almost right away that everybody else wanted to ask the question too. So I just kept doing it.

Charles:

Nevertheless, it's an act of courage in an environment like that for anybody to step forward. I think your point earlier about women having this alter ego that sits on their shoulder and holds them back and says, "You're not ready, and you shouldn't do that and tick the boxes first." That's a lot to overcome. I mean, that doesn't come naturally, I think, to most leaders.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. Look, it doesn't mean it all worked out either. You have to be willing to stand back up and do it again when it doesn't. I definitely had my detractors, and the guys in the room that thought I was asking too many questions, and just because I was asking questions, wanted to be star of the show, and for some reason, even wanting to be star of the show was wrong.

Charles:

Did you want to be star of the show?

Nancy Dubuc:

I don’t think … I didn't want to early on. It was other people in my career that sort of held out the idea for me that, "Hey, you could do this." I didn't have the confidence to actually want to be star of the show. I just wanted to be in control of my own destiny. I'm not sure those two things are the same thing.

Charles:

No, I don't think they are. Do you still have that feeling?

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. I think it's a childhood thing. I want to be in control of my own life.

Charles:

Have you always felt that way?

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah, from pretty early on. My parents divorced when I was pretty young, and perfectly happy marriage, happy post-divorce, but there's something about that, that planted a seed of like, "I'm going to stay in control now." I think that that probably took me 20 years to figure that out. But I do think that that was probably what created this like, "I must have order, and I will do everything I can to keep control over everything."

Charles:

I will step in if that's what it takes to do things.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah.

Charles:

Yeah. That makes total sense. Talk about creativity for a second. When did creativity first show up in your life? What's your first memory of something being creative?

Nancy Dubuc:

We used to live in this ... I grew up in Rhode Island, and this particular house was actually on the border of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. We had a great backyard that was just like endless make-believe play. You didn't have phones certainly. You didn't even have push-button phones, kids. We were just outside all the time. It was that era of come home when the street lights are on. I was an only child, and growing up, until I was a teenager, and had to really just occupy myself. I think those endless hours of creating worlds under a tree, and packing my lunch and going off and sort of figuring things out, and bike rides, and off in the woods.

It feels very fairytale-ish now. But looking back, it was a great childhood, and it was a great experience. But you had to tell yourself stories, and make up worlds, and it was cold, and it wasn't always ideal. But I think just that like, get out, and do stuff, and figure out how to make things, and if you were creating a house under a tree, you had to figure out how to build a kitchen, and how to build a bedroom, and how to ... It wasn't built for me, and I think it wasn't built for any kid that grew up in that sort of suburban environment of, ‘Get outside and go figure it out.’ I think that is missing today --

Charles:

For sure.

Nancy Dubuc:

... and that worries me.

Charles:

What drew you to television?

Nancy Dubuc:

I think it was a little bit more process of elimination. You know?

Charles:

How often that's the case.

Nancy Dubuc:

I'm a more street-smart than book-smart kid, and I started to identify with that pretty young. Not necessarily television per se, but just the sight of a law book, I could tell you very young I was never going to read a lot of those. I loved television. We watched a lot of television growing up, and Sunday dinners, and watching a movie as a family at my grandparents was always sort of a ritual. And arguing, or me listening to everybody argue about what movie it was going to be, and the idea that it was a very fast-moving situation, and very fast-moving industry, and always different. If I wasn't going to go the science route, and I wasn't going to go the law route, and you start to eliminate things, and media really did seem very attractive to me. I had read an article in high school, I think it was in Glamour magazine actually, about a news booker. It just seemed like, "Wow. That seems like the coolest job ever. You get to meet cool people, and it's different every day." Lo and behold, I started to go down that avenue and went to BU, and found my way into College of Communications. But in high school, I worked on the yearbook, and it was just a slow and steady started to tick the boxes. At BU, worked at the Daily Free Press, and entered comm, and did my internships at NBC News. It was the day after graduating college, I went to work.

Charles:

Were you always interested in ... Was it journalism? Was it storytelling? Was it --

Nancy Dubuc:

Storytelling, I think. I was always interested in, every day I was going to be doing something different. I was always fascinated with creating something and seeing something from beginning to end. That was very satisfying to me. I loved the newsroom of beginning to end was the same day. I loved the scripted journey of beginning to end of “Hatfields and McCoys”, or something like that, was over two years, and then everything in between. But really being able to see something come from idea to cultural banter on a subway. There's just nothing more exciting than that.  And then being able to really shape what people are thinking, and talking about, and saying. Not everything you do does that obviously. A small fraction, if you're lucky, of what you do, does that. But it really was a journey. It wasn't overnight. I think when you reach success, there's this leap that people make that, "Oh. You just got here," and they forget the 20 years --

Charles:

All the work. Right.

Nancy Dubuc:

... the 15 years of I was a post-production supervisor. I was a PA. I was an AP. I was a director of programming. I was 85 other jobs before I got here, and they want to know how you got here.

Charles:

Yes. The overnight success after 20 years, right?

Nancy Dubuc:

Exactly.

Charles:

Yes. They've just discovered you, so you must've only arrived yesterday.

Nancy Dubuc:

Exactly. You must have done one thing that just plopped you in the chair.

Charles:

That's right.

Nancy Dubuc:

So how do I do that one thing?

Charles:

That's right.

Nancy Dubuc:

You start by getting coffee.

Charles:

That's right. And make sure you get it right.

Nancy Dubuc:

Make sure you get it right.

Charles:

What drew you to A&E?

Nancy Dubuc:

Abbe Raven, who was at the time, head of programming at the History Channel. History was about five years old when I joined, and it was already a really powerful brand. I had had some experience working at PBS, and just thought to myself, "Wow. This little brand that's only five years old is getting an awful lot of attention," and imagining what it could be. At that time, at that point, I had never worked for a woman, but I had gone to an all-girls school, and I had thought, "I'd like to do this. I'd like to give this a shot." I had been in production up until that point, so I had spent 10 years really out in the field, or in an edit room, for about a decade, and hadn't ever been inside a corporation. So I had been receiving the notes, never giving the notes. She offered me a job. This was the time when everybody wanted to have a magazine show. I had been working on a science magazine show for the Discovery Network, and History wanted a magazine show. So they went to their archenemy, the Discovery Channel, and found the showrunner on that side of the fence so to speak. The rest is history, no pun intended. I went to work for Abbe, and we had an incredible run together. She's the one that really put out that first carrot and said, "You know you could be a general manager one day." I just really had an aspiration to be an executive producer of a show. I didn't ever dare to think much bigger than that.

So, I think it's that person that you find in your life that ... and I've said this before. Some of the most important things and lessons that I've lived by is, "Pick your boss, not your title." Title doesn't really mean a heck of a lot, but a person will advocate for you, and if necessary, change your title over time. But the "pick your boss" is something I've lived by and has really, really benefited me tremendously. From the person I interned for first at NBC, where I could have been one of eight interns on the Today show or one of one in public relations. Now, I didn't have any desire to necessarily go into the PR field, but I knew that the PR intern got to go to all the shows. So just making some of those early strategic decisions, I think, were key, and it was based on that person, that boss, knowing I'd have one boss and one person looking over me who I really connected to, made sense at NBC. That led to a great person, which led to a great person, which led to a great person. I think you really need to think a lot about that when you're ... Not just the company that you're working for, but the person that you're working for.

Charles:

I think that's so right. I'm struck so often by how many leaders I come across who have defined themselves entirely by their title, somehow assuming that that will never change, or if it does, it will change on their terms. Then they were separated from that title in some way, and they are suddenly irrelevant because they've never defined themselves through any other lens.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah, and also now especially in the marketing, and partnership, and sales worlds, where the industry is so upside down, the titles don't make any sense anymore.

Charles:

That's right.

Nancy Dubuc:

And in some ways, tech's done a great service where they've --

Charles:

Blown it up.

Nancy Dubuc:

... rebased the titles, but we haven't done a great job of catching up with that. I couldn't agree more. I mean, there's a complete disconnect to what titles should be, and really what people's jobs really are, versus what people are doing. And it should be about the work. It shouldn't be about what's on the business card. I don't know the last time that I've actually gone and revisited the business cards that people actually give me. I don't know about you but-

Charles:

No. I mean, I think to your point, you're engaged with a human being right on the other side.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. What's the impression that you make, that I make on you, and that you make on me, and can I remember your first name? Like that's what it’s about.

Charles:

Right, exactly. And why should I listen to you? Increasingly importantly.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah.

Charles:

So the move to Vice. What made you decide that this was the thing you wanted to do now?

Nancy Dubuc:

I think creativity is at the heart of the decision, and the freedom to build, and be as creative as possible. The creativity, I think, is in the soul of my DNA, and is, I think, part of what helped me be so successful at A&E for the almost 20 years that I was there, and that I'm a builder. That's what I've been known for, and I've done over, and over, and over again. This is an opportunity to build something at the right time, in the right moment.

I think that it needed me, and as I like to say, "I needed it," and I was on the board, so there was a familiarity. Shane and I have a long relationship and a long history together. I think that trust is at the core of every great creative partnership. There was a moment there where it was probably just ... It was only going to be me, and it was only going to be him, because of that trust and the special time in which I was coming to the table, and he was needing someone to come to the table. I can't imagine what it's like for a founder to have to turn their baby over to somebody.

Charles:

Yeah. I've been struck by that part of the story actually, because in my experience, most of them don't either consciously or subconsciously. It sounds like in this case he really has.

Nancy Dubuc:

He really has, and I probably don't thank him enough for that. I will, in time. But it's incredibly hard. I know how hard it is for me to let go of a show, let go of a brand I built. I know that little pangs in my heart I feel walking away from some of the last things I green-lit, or did, or impacted at A&E, and I would never take those away from the programmers who are there and who have that. But it hurts. This is a company and a brand that he built. It's not being taken away from him. It's his, but he has stepped away. He's my business, and my brain, and my creative partner every day. We talk all the time, but he needs me to run it. He says that all of the time.

When I call for counsel, his first instinct is usually, "Whatever you think," sometimes when I want him to think. I say that in the best possible way. But he's a special dude who had a vision that a lot of people didn't believe in. I think that this is a special place, and that when you look forward in the world with the kind of consolidation that we've seen, and you see where the world is going, and you see what's happening to information, and to news, and social platforms, we need Vice. We need a place that's willing to tell the stories that we tell. You need a place that audiences trust. Audiences do trust this brand, and there is an authenticity to this brand that most media companies can't claim, and you need a disruptor, you need an agitator out there in an environment which has a tremendous amount of corporate consolidation going on.

Charles:

I think that's really well-said. It strikes me, I don't know whether you would agree with this, but you mentioned when you came in, that this was about building a brand, building a business. Largely it was, it was equally rebuilding, right? There's this tremendous amount of rebuilding. In fact, I was reading about the Notre Dame fire this morning on the way here, and part of the challenge that … now they realize the thing hadn't burned down, which clearly was a risk at some point early this week. They're now trying to figure out what they do now to put it back together, and the underlying weaknesses that might exist and so on. And I'm struck by the fact that there are some similarities actually, between the challenge that they've got of deciding what is intact and what can we keep and how do we salvage that, and then what do we change when we put this thing together in a way that's relevant for the future. Do you see this company through to that kind of like, because you had to decide what is Vice at its core that we have to have intact, and what do I have to change because it's not tenable or scalable or sustainable.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yeah. Well I haven't thought about us in the lens of Notre Dame yet, but you know definitely the church advice is an altar that many here pray at. Definitely, what we cannot change is our people and our culture. You know, there are parts of our culture that clearly had to change, but what our culture is at our core is our people, and that we've all worked at companies where you're trying to ignite passion and if the passion isn't there, it is very hard. It can be an operating machine, but if there isn't creative passion there, I've yet to come across an exercise or a mission that you can instill that generates that passion, that raw, “I must, I must, I must”. And there is an “I must” here. And that's what is so invigorating and exciting.

And so the challenge for me, is to give the “I must” enough structure and enough support around the base and underneath that it can thrive. And one of the most satisfying and gratifying experiences going through the process of coming in was the very first thing I did was listen. And after my listening phase was to really pressure test the individual businesses and figure out, how do you explain Vice? Because I think that was the narrative of it was one of the hardest things for people on the outside to understand. And even on the inside, like what is it? There's a lot of assumptions made, and we're in five pretty distinct lines of business and, are all of the businesses sound and are all of the businesses viable? And I was expecting one of them or two of them even to come back as, you know, maybe we should consider not doing this and that's not what happened.

And so we're truly a diversified media company that's been characterized as a digital media company. But when you look at what we do and how to describe ourselves, we're in the news business, obviously. We're in the digital business, which is digital publishing on social platforms and on our ONO, the news business is also on digital platforms but is on HBO and also on Hulu. And then we're on the television business. We have a cable channel and that's also global, international, as is the digital business. We have the agency business through Virtue. So the direct to brands, branded content, brand strategy. And that is also expressed digitally through Vice Plus where we provide services to brands. But Virtue is completely independent  of Vice, where we're working with brands outside of the Vice ecosystem. And then we have Global Studios where we were doing movies direct to series productions for SVOD.

We did Fire Festival on Netflix, which actually just yesterday in their earnings call was given a shout-out for I think a little over 20 million views. And Amazon bought our movie “The Report” in this past Sundance. So those are five real businesses, and we've never described ourselves that way and they can all work in harmony because we're not so big yet that the brick walls haven't gone up between them, and so when they can work together in unique ways, that's where we get sort of the one Vice and that's what I've been calling the one Vice. And what we've been doing is sort of rebuilding the base of the company where when and where there can be shared services there need to be. But where there need to be distinct creative voices and cultures independently as the individual lines of business, there should be.

And so organizing around the lines of business, not organizing around countries and regions. That's been quite successful so far, and I think it's an easier way to understand the company and it's an easier way to also control some of the focus because any great creative organization needs a tremendous amount of focus. I've always believed that creatives love a task. I'm a creative, so I can speak from a little bit of that, but that just to say, “The world is your oyster, do anything,” it's debilitating. People don't operate well and function well in that environment, but if you … creative people are incredibly brilliant problem solvers, and I think a lot of times business people don't trust creative people to solve problems.

Charles:

Or set them the right problems.

Nancy Dubuc:

Yes, exactly. They just call them “The Creatives”.

I find that if you give them a really specific problem, they're going to come back with three really specific answers and we need to trust them more to innovate around those things.

Charles:

Yeah, I think that's really well said too. I couldn't agree with you more. I think there's not enough expectation placed on creative people. We should set higher goals, clearer ambition, clear intention. Here's the problem. Here are the rules within which you have to operate. Now solve. And they will.

Nancy Dubuc:

Somewhere along the way, us creatives got a bad reputation for not wanting structure. But we actually want it. But it's the opposite. And I don't know how that happened or how that came to be, but I'm out to change that here.

Charles:

Good for you. I know we're pressed for time. So let me ask you two final questions. How do you lead?

Nancy Dubuc:

I try and lead by example. Some days I get it better than others. I lead by inclusion. I like to think … I think one of the challenges today and with a really young organization is that, what does that mean to everybody? Some people would think, well, that means by you know, leading with 500 people around the table. I can't do that. And so I'm trying to find where, where that line is. What is … there's the literal meaning of inclusion, which of course is paramount to certainly Vice and our culture, but where is transparency needed and where is decision-making and confidentiality needed? Walking that high high wire act I find in this day and age is challenging. But I tend to err on the transparency side and be really communicative and really clear with what the expectations are.

And then people can make their own decisions that you either want to be here or you don't want to be here. That I like a lot of inputs in the room. People don't tend to love that. That frustrates people who like hierarchies, I’m a flatter organization type person. I go to where I know I can get the answer, so I don't follow the rules of, I have to tell everybody's bosses who I'm talking to, you know? And I think that that creates a sense of inclusion because people know I'll just come to the source, but you need to know that about me, if you're going to work for me, that I may forget to tell you I went and asked one of your employees something. I don't feel like that … that feels very big company, corporate America to me that I have to check the boxes of ... I don't have the time and I didn't have the formal training to do that. And so it's never out of ill intent, ill will either. It's just, look, “We’ve got to get through the day, my fix it list is long as is everybody's, let's just fix it.” And so I think, I want people to do their best. I want to celebrate, I care more about people trying things then not trying things. And that fear of failure is something that I really struggle with because I look around and say, well, like show me examples of things that people who've gotten fired for taking a big swing. And it doesn't happen that often. Usually the big creative swing is not why you get fired, you get fired for doing nothing. You get fired for being asked for creative ideas and innovation and strategies over and over again, and really staying stagnant. And I think that that's something that people don't want to reconcile.

Charles:

Yeah. It's easy to say, “Take a risk, don't be afraid of failure,” but most leaders are actually terrified of failure and do everything they can. So I think what you're describing is powerful.

Nancy Dubuc:

It's not even leaders. I think it's employees. Everyone leans on that crutch. The “fear of failure” phrase is something that's unfortunately just gotten, it's made its way into common vernacular too much. When high school kids are talking about it, it's like, where did this come from? And a little bit of it is I think the like culture as well that social media where everything has got to be liked and endorsed is not helping our culture's ability to experiment creatively. If from a very young age, you're experimenting with an image or an expression or a phrase or something creative, and you're putting it up and it's not liked, you're getting that behavior trained out of you very young. And I think that if the resource that we need for this country to thrive going forward, if one of the most important things that our young people need to have going into the workforce 10 years from now is creativity, which is what we all hear over and over again, then I think we need to take a look at that.

Charles:

What are you afraid of?

Nancy Dubuc:

What am I afraid of? I'm probably a little afraid of failing, but it doesn't mean that I'm afraid to try. So none of us like failing, but you know, it stinks. We don't set out to, “Let's fail today, kids.” But afraid of not wanting to, wanting to try anymore. That's probably a good answer. That's probably right. As long as I've got the fight in me, I'll keep fighting. But the day I don't want to do it, I'm probably more unnerved about that because I'm not sure what I'll do.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three themes that I've heard that I think contribute to your success. So let me throw these at you.

One is you're clearly an enemy of the status quo, which I think is a very powerful place to start from a leadership standpoint. I think, to your earlier point, too many leaders are looking to create some version of today, and that's not likely to be successful for anybody. Two is I think you're always willing to back yourself in that journey to the future, that you're willing to take on the challenge, even if it's nerve-wracking, intimidating, frightening, makes you apprehensive, but you clearly have confidence and trust that you'll figure out a way to figure it out. Which I think is, again, is powerful. And then third I think is your willingness to listen to people and to take in information from lots of places and then be able to make a decision based on lots of inputs. I think a lot of leaders shut down conversation because they just want to be validated. It strikes me that you're interested in the points of view because you might learn something that will help you make a better decision. How do those strike you?

Nancy Dubuc:

That's pretty good. Wow. You're a good listener. You must have done some homework. I think, yeah, that was quite impressive. You know, I was fortunate and remain fortunate enough to spend a lot of time talking to leaders that we all admire and we put on pedestals and I was fascinated at a young and not-so-young age to listen to them all repeat the same problems over and over again. You know, succession planning, this, that, but nobody was doing anything about it, and they all have the power to do something about it.

Charles:

They all do, don't they?

Nancy Dubuc:

And I just never understood like, what are you all doing complaining about the same problem, but not doing anything about it?

Charles:

Yeah. Nobody has more influence than the leader.

Nancy Dubuc:

And so, I feel like if culture is something that we need to fix in a lot of companies, then I have the power to come here and fix it for Shane. So let's put my money where my mouth is and walk the talk. So I'm thrilled to be here.

Charles:

Thank you so much for joining me today. This has been fantastic.

Nancy Dubuc:

Thank you very much.