2-28: "The Successor" - Pelle Sjoenell

Pelle-Sjoenell.jpg

"The Successor"

It’s hard to follow a legend. Sometimes because they’re unique. Sometimes because history is written by the winners and they write themselves that way.

John Hegarty - Sir John Hegarty - is the former. A true original thinker and the creative head of what - for a number of years - was one of the most creative companies of all time.

Following a legend is a challenge. Following a legend who is still a powerful presence in your industry requires a strong sense of self. You also need an understanding of what you can bring to the table.

Pelle Sjoenell has both. As the worldwide chief creative officer of Bartle Bogle Hegarty his job is to replace a legend. 

Doing that, he has learned, is not about taking credit, but about taking responsibility.

This episode is called, “The Successor”.


Three Takeaways

  • The desire to make a difference.

  • The ability to be human.

  • Caring about the impact you have on other people’s lives.


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-28: "The Successor" - Pelle Sjoenell

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

It’s hard to follow a legend. Sometimes because they’re unique. Sometimes because history is written by the winners and they write themselves that way.

John Hegarty - Sir John Hegarty - is the former. A true original thinker and the creative head of what - for a number of years - was one of the most creative companies of all time.

Following a legend is a challenge. Following a legend who is still a powerful presence in your industry requires a strong sense of self. You also need an understanding of what you can bring to the table.

Pelle Sjoenell has both. As the worldwide chief creative officer of Bartle Bogle Hegarty his job is to replace a legend. 

Doing that, he has learned, is not about taking credit, but about taking responsibility.

This episode is called, “The Successor”

“I think I am there to help take out the fear, add the bravery, and also I think, as a leader, it’s important that if it goes wrong, it's my fault.”

Leadership, done well, can turn ordinary people into legends. Icons, of whom stories are told around digital camp fires for generations to come. 

Some leaders are driven by that possibility. Every act becomes a Lego brick within the monument of fame they are constructing for themselves. These people are easy to spot - they are attracted to the lights, to the plaudits, to the glory.

Leaders need to lead - and there are times when you need to be front and center.

But the leader is not the story. What you’re trying to achieve is. Great leaders only care about that, and use their personal fame to bring the destination closer, faster.

If you’re making yourself more important than the destination, don’t worry, you’ll be remembered. 

But not for the reasons you hope.

Charles:

Pelle, welcome to Fearless. Thank you for joining me this morning. Here we are at the Majestic Barriere in Cannes, so the background noise you'll hear is that. Welcome, thanks for joining me.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Thank you. It is very majestic setting here, isn't it?

Charles:

It is very majestic indeed. Yes. What's your relationship with fear?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Great one. I don't have one. I think this is a maybe a flaw that I have, but I'm not afraid and sometimes it's... I thought earlier when I was younger that it was naivety, that you just don't know. But I think it's a very important question because it's so important in what we do and in working with creativity and leadership and all these things. But I have that and I have to be careful because I feel the most safe, in a way, when I don't know what I'm doing because then I know I'm onto something new and that fear is not... that fearlessness is something that I don't think...if you have it, you have to be careful because not everyone has it and you have to make sure that you don't hurt others by bringing them along the things that you think is okay and not a problem, not a worry when others...

So I think it's an important thing. It's something that I feel is a... There's some history to it, growing up in Sweden, where you can't get fired. I think there's a lot of fearlessness that comes out of that and there's a lot of creativity coming out of Sweden, both in what we do in music and in a lot of art forms and I think it's based on that security. So I think fear is closely related to, obviously, to bravery and if you, I think a leader's job nowadays especially, is to try to make people brave or make them feel safe. I think making people feel safe, get us to the place we need to go to because we're working on fragile matters as ideas and fear is the closest enemy to that.

Charles:

For sure.

Pelle Sjoenell:

That's the disease that they catch easy.

Charles:

Yeah, for sure.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yeah.

Charles:

In an environment in which you can't be fired and the security of that, how does that not turn into-

Pelle Sjoenell:

Laziness?

Charles:

And complacency?

Pelle Sjoenell:

That's another great question. So the cultural context of Sweden is that we're remote from the rest of Europe. So if you can, like the Norway has oil, they're fine. Denmark is part of the continent. They're part of Europe, they're connected. Finland is also part of the continent, [inaudible]. Sweden is kind of stuck in the middle and what we're doing is like, “We're over here, please see us,” and we are so excited to, we're Francophiles, Anglophiles, Americanized where all these things, all influence come from outside and we want to be part of the world. We want to make an impact. Abba didn't invent disco. They saw it, cranked it and made maybe a better version of it, but it was because of the interest of a Swede being like seeing what goes on in the world. Ikea, same thing. H&M, same thing. You find these, look at what's out in the world and then you create a version that democratize it for everyone and with that, so saying that if you have the safety, but you also have the ambition, if you combine the two.

So if you're not, you can't get fired, but you also want to make an impact. You want to innovate, you want to do something that from this forgotten place up north, north of the wall, you want to be heard, you want to be seen. So the combination of those is not like, “How do I keep my job?” It's, “What can I do with it, what can I do?” It was the same thing working as when my clients can get fired either. It was fantastic, and you can see a lot of work coming out of there for that and that's something that I have taken with me that I know that I'm privileged to have come from. But I also know that safety is, to your exact question about fear, is something that is kind of at the very center of how I tried to do what I do or how I tried to lead or how I try to shape an environment for creativity.

Charles:

So the combination of having security and wanting to make a difference is the combination that makes this valuable, right? That's where the energy of original thinking is poured into and come from.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yeah, I think so. Yes, I think it's a very interesting business we're in where...it’s amazing. We're asked to come up with new things all the time. I work in Hollywood for a lot of reasons we can talk about, where it's the opposite. So if you have an idea in advertising that's already been done, you risk getting fired. If you’ve done that right, in Hollywood you're hired because there's already an audience for it. They go, "Great.” It's like “Finding Nemo” meets “Friends”, that's new, whatever. I'm not going to... I don't want to see that one.

But that's how you kind of get to it. In our world we get to innovate every time, which makes it more fragile, right? So because it hasn't been done and a lot of the things that's exciting talk about nowadays is also data. There is a security you need to have on our side and on the client side to know that this is very likely to work. At the same time, data is a consequence of something. Nothing starts with data. Data is a consequence of innovation, which means that whatever you're doing new, there isn't data on that. So you can use data to be inspired and led and you can figure out the theory, but you can never really fully prove it if you're asked to innovate. So I think that's part of it.

I think another exciting thing that's in our jobs is that we sell very expensive things every day that don't exist. If you sell a car, you can have someone test drive. It's an expensive buy because it’s expensive, you can even get to drive it before you buy it. With an ad campaign or an idea, you can't. So it's such a big, I mean, it's an enormous task actually what we do and especially on the buyer side, on the client side, to put your... They're not in Sweden, put your career on the line on something that hasn't been done before that cost a lot of money, that has an effect that secondary, right? So it's an effect it should then create. I think that's where fear can seep into this everywhere, right? Because it's naturally a risk. Every time is a risk and a pressure because the pressure is to obviously growth for the company, product or service and you're putting us bout to say, "Okay, I'm going to use creativity and communication and innovation to get those numbers," and it's kind of amazing path. Right?

Then we come and say, "Well, we can help you with that,” and there's an enormous trust that has to obviously around then and the fear of who are you working with? Are they in it for the right reasons? Are we treating them right? Are we treating... All these things is, and I think fear is... I don't think I would do this if it didn't have fear in the system though, because it makes it exciting. It is a tough thing to do and I think it's attractive because of that. I think we were fortunate to get very interesting people to our industry because of the mystical that it isn't just to come and do the product. You can't see the product. You take the job, but you don't know the product. That's very rare. You go there and have to come up with a product. You have to invent it every time.

Charles:

So how do you go about creating an environment in which people can succeed? Given [crosstalk] of challenge? I mean, I think it's interesting your perception, your reality that you're not afraid, but you're conscious of the fact that other people are both in terms of your clients, prospective clients, people that you're hiring, who didn't have the benefit of growing up in an environment in which there was no threat to losing their jobs. So you're dealing with people who are afraid.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes.

Charles:

How do you create the environment in which they can be successful, you can be successful for them and with them?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Well, one thing is... So my leadership role is to instill confidence and inspire and help us all feel like this is going to be great. I believe in positivity and support as opposed to fear and report. If I can take that off business structures. I don't feel like anyone reports to me; I feel like I support everyone as a leader. I'm there to help, as opposed to they are here to tell, report to me. So we have, if you look at the history of BBH, we have... literally had my predecessor who were fantastic, my mentor. We can talk about that later. Sir John Hegarty, literally a knight with a sword on the top of the pyramid of a created pyramid at a time when protecting things and being that one person who can make things happen was the way that it could be done.

There was no other way I think than having had it, and then as I took over his role, an impossible thing to do, I had to do something different and my natural space was to go to turn that pyramid upside down. I'm at the bottom, Swedish guy, supporting everyone instead of everyone reporting to the knight and that's how I think...that's a shift. I also think there's a shift in the times we live in where I think collaboration, I mean it's a buzzword, but I was born in it. I believe in it. I know how to create things with it. I know that that is...we have a saying in BBH, “None of us is as good as all of us,” and I really think that that is true and I think nowadays if you want to be part of anything really amazing, you will have to share that space with a lot of people to make it happen.

So to create that environment, I think I am there to help take out the fear, add the bravery, and also I think, as a leader, it’s important that if it goes wrong, it's my fault. I fall, I will take the... I think that's an important thing. It's not because other reporting systems and things, a supporting system is that I also take the blame and I think that's a really important part of a fearless leadership if you talk about it, is you take the fall clearly and be proud of it. I think that's because it's unfair, if I say “t's going to be fine,” like we're going into a dark room, “It's going to be fine, there's nothing there to worry, let's just jump in there and it's terrible in there.” It's my fault, right? I have to say, "Sorry guys, I didn't know how bad it would be in there. I thought it was going to be great.” If it is my...I can't trick people that way and say, "Okay, that's your problem. You didn't fix it.”

So I think responsibility-

Charles:

And do you worry that that affects your credibility over time, if you keep throwing yourself on the sword?

Pelle Sjoenell:

I think... I don't think my credibility as a leader would. I think my credibility as a success maybe. If I mess up over and over and over again, of course, I shouldn't have my job. But that's also that's the... Yeah, that's of course that's the effect. Hopefully that doesn't happen, but I just believe that if you preach something, you kind of have to live it too. You have to be and you can't instill untruthful safety.

Charles:

Yep.

Pelle Sjoenell:

It has to be safe.

Charles:

Yep. Why do you think Sir. John Hegarty picked you? I know that's an unfair question, but I'm curious.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Wow. I don't think I can ask that question. It is the most profound thing that's happened to me. He's my hero and mentor and I literally started advertising because I saw a Levi's advert when I was 13 and I decided to do and now I ended up with-

Charles:

Which one?

Pelle Sjoenell:

It was Launderette. I snuck to a cinema in Sweden. I was too young to see James Bond, but I saw it and I saw this thing and it changed me. I think it was... I've talked about it before, but I think I see it as when my parents heard Beatles for the first time. It's like, this is for my generation. This was made for me and I didn't really know fully what it was, but it... and then to have come to a place there where, Sir. John hands me the keys to a creative powerhouse. It's fantastic and I can't...have to ask him, I can only be profoundly humbled by this and do my best to make him proud.

Charles:

Do you worry about letting him down?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Of course. Yeah. There's something interesting with this, I think in mentorship that in a lot of other creative industries you take, well most of them...a restaurant. You have a chef, you study under a chef as a sous chef for years to then eventually maybe start your own restaurant or work in leadership. In our world, it's almost like old one out, new one in and I've been so fortunate to have a mentor, to have some, I've studied under John for years and I think that is special. I think it's very... Their obviously aren't many people like him and to be prepared for what I'm doing through that and I think we should have more mentorship in general in the creative part of our industry. Because the other parts strategy and account others are much more better organized than we are and have a lot of those kind of systems built in. I mean, I'm sure there are agencies that do this better, but I do think that that is something that is very special and where sometimes, this industry is just too fast to just out with the old, in with the new.

So I'm very fortunate that way and I think that's something that we should do a lot. I mentor, I saw that we want to propel the careers of female creative leaders. So I've mentor them to help propel their careers in LA and that's given me a lot. But I think that mentorship is part of leader. If you talk about leadership and fearlessness and you have to have someone who's had the falls or have seen the problems or seen part of making something great. We're very unprepared for leadership in our world. I'm going to continue on this, because I actually just reminded me, I'm doing a creative leadership school for BBH this summer in the UK, because of this exact thing, that there is no training to go from a creative to creative director.

And in a way what can happen, so our director, copywriter, successful career eventually, because of how our system works, it's almost like when is it time for me to be creative director? That's another job and we don't really think about it. It is obviously and it shouldn't be - you should be able to make more success, sticking to what you do or you can start leading.

But there is no transition, so sometimes what happens is, overnight we lose our best creatives and we win our worst leaders in the same promotion. And to try to fix that, I've done this creative leadership that I'm super excited about. Took years to create that's happening this summer, to have people from all over BBH, about 30 students, coming to UK, to learn about leadership.

Charles:

I think you're right, there is so little teaching done anymore in the creative industries. And people are supposed to pick it up by experience and osmosis in an environment which is moving faster and the risk is greater. And the tolerance for failure is lower and lower and all of that is utterly unconducive towards unlocking original thinking and innovation.

I want to come back to something you mentioned about developing women leaders, but before we get to that, just one last question on Hegarty. You mentioned obviously studying under him, being mentored by him. What did you learn from him? If you look back and think there were one or two lessons that absolutely were central to that experience, what would those be?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Well, there're lots of things, but I think some things that are profound and maybe this will be the clue to your question before on why enormous confidence ...

Charles:

That he had.

Pelle Sjoenell:

... I've never really seen anyone have such confidence. I think I also have that and it helped me not feel ashamed of my confidence so to speak, in a way. That he's fully, fully, fully convinced of the things that he believe in. And I think that is such an important thing in what we just talked about. About the fearlessness and to be that excited, clear, this is where we're going, this is the right thing to do, is what these organizations need.

But to do that, you have to have very good confidence and confidence comes out of fear. You should do one of these with him if you haven't, but it's fearlessness, it's full on. And what I learned from him, was to not be ashamed of my confidence in that way. Because like I said...I love problems. Like if there aren't problems, there's no need for creativity.

Charles:

Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

It's pointless.

Charles:

Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Right?

Charles:

Or wasted. Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

And somehow we're taught to avoid problems or that we're problem-solvers, so we want more problems. And I think that's the same thing with John, that he's a problem solver. Also I think his absolute attention to detail and craft, is that we can never forget how the difference between something great and something good is how well we executed it. I mean, he's got that amazing quote that “Advertising is 80% ID and 80% execution,” that's so true.

Charles:

Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

And I think that's him, that's really him. And what else have I learned from him? I mean, I think he's a very good man. He’s a big heart. And I think when to have someone to look up to also morally, someone who you want to be. I want to be a Sir John Hegarty. Okay. I admit it, but I think that's yeah, we have a very special relationship I think. I'm very proud of it and I'm very fond of him. And I think it's ...

Charles:

Where did your confidence come from? Where you were a risk taker as a kid, growing up?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Good question. I think I have a severe authority problem to start with. In second grade, my parents were called to the teacher and they said, "We need to talk a little bit about Pelle." And there was math problems, like some classic stupid things. So Eva has three apples, Thomas has three. Would you like to help them combine their fruit? And my answer was, “No, never.”

And it's because the question, well maybe I'm just a smart ass, I don't know. But like the question was do I want to combine their fruits? If they had just said ...

Charles:

Combine their fruit.

Pelle Sjoenell:

... Combining the fruit, fine I'll do it. But if you ask me, do you want to? No. And I think that the authority problem has to do with the same thing that creativity comes from, that I want to make the world a better place. I don't believe institutions and all these are right. I think there are more, we can optimize it, we can make it better. I think it's clear in the world that it's not done perfectly yet. And I think with that, comes the fearlessness of, I need to do my part, I need to do something great.

I think the world of advertising is also, it's not a great, beautiful ... like no one loves ads, but to be able to make something great in a world of shit, is a blessing to go there and try to make it better.

Charles:

Well, to your point, I mean, your connection to your agency and to Hegarty came through an ad. I mean, right, people don't love ads, but there are some ads that we do love.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes. I don't think I would have been as excited about advertising if it was all good.

Charles:

Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

I don't think it would attract all the interesting people that come to our industry if it wasn't that, this is a bit of a societal problem that can be made better. So I think fearlessness comes from that. It's also weird to talk about yourself as fearless, because it feels like you're hooting your own horn somehow. But I think I'm saying it also as, I do know it's a bit of a flaw. I have a-

Charles:

A flaw in you?

Pelle Sjoenell:

On me. Yeah. I'm missing a part. I can't see the problem. But I can solve the problem, but I can’t see the hurdles. And sometimes that's what actually makes things happen too, is that, it's like amazing producers. If they actually sat and thought about how to make things, it wouldn't seem possible, right? But then you go, "We're going to make it, it's going to work. It's going to be on time."

And I think if you have that naivety of thinking that, this is going be great. And half the room says, "This is not going to work." I love it. That's where I'll go, "Now I know we're doing something interesting here." Right? Where this can’t be done. Let's do it. Yeah. But where does it come from? I mean, I do think the Swedish background has to it. I had a very strange incident that tested me a bit on this.

There was a shooting in Sweden, believe it or not, in Stureplan, which is central Stockholm where there's a club called Sture Company. And so someone with a machine gun came and I was going to do a vengeance and something on a bouncer. And I was standing with a friend right in the doorway, where there were bullets bouncing around the whole staircase.

Charles:

You're standing there as the guys are pulling the trigger?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yeah. And people were dying all around me and it was obviously terrifying, right? This was five in the morning in Stockholm, everyone is having a good time and all of a sudden, like, it was complete dead quiet. First we thought it was fireworks, I was like laughing. And then me and my friend, we just ran into the men's room and locked ourselves in a toilet stall. And we were like, "What was that, what happened?"

And then as we walked out, you could see over the street and there was blood stains or someone who had jumped with shot foot and was lying on the bus station across the street. And we were like, "What do we do?" So this is where the fear came in. So my friend had done military service as a nurse. My father’s a doctor and we were like, “We need to help people.” So we went straight away to go and solve the problem. So we found people, I even put my thumb into someone's to stop blood wounds.

It was crazy, but I was calm. We knew we had a job to do. We helped people get blankets. We were waiting for the police, for the ambulance. And I had friends who were dancing in the club who went to psychotherapy for years after the fear of that night. I had no problem at all. Like nothing. And I think it was because I did something about it. I went straight to acting and I almost felt like-

Charles:

You weren't a victim, in fact?

Pelle Sjoenell:

I was not a victim. I could help, but also this complete madness of a terrifying situation calmed me down to do the job at hand, somehow. And I think...I don't obviously feel like that when I do work every day, but there's a part of me that goes, when things are getting more stressful and more things that I calm down. And so there's something around that, that I think is ... and then actually I met years later, my wife and I were in Stockholm buying paint for our apartment, and I met the guy who I had...so he came up to me and he showed his arm and said, "Remember you stop the blood?"

It was amazing to see him, fantastic. I think that, I mean that's a big story for me, but I have taken away from that, there is something around the calm in the face of fear that somehow works on me, that I can operate a little bit. Either gave me confidence, but also I think it's, yeah, I connect them somehow. I don't know how connected is to work. I don't want everyone to think that I'm good at what I do, because I've been in a shooting or something. I just meant that it's the same feeling of how to work with fear that, yeah.

Charles:

And the notion of, or the feeling of, let me solve this problem [crosstalk].

Pelle Sjoenell:

Exactly, so the solving is part of how to [crosstalk]. And that is a creative process.

Charles:

How you deal with the emotion of it. Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

That is needed. Something needs to be done. Something can make a situation better. That's my calling. That's what I'm going to do.

Charles:

If there's a problem here and I can apply this ability to solve it.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes.

Charles:

It's an incredible story.

Pelle Sjoenell:

I haven't talked about much, but it is, yeah, it is a very ... I listened next to another podcast from Swedish radio, about the whole case and it was weird. I went through it again emotionally to hear the whole thing. Yeah. It's crazy.

Charles:

I’m sure. Jumping forward, let's pick up the conversation about helping develop women leadership.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes.

Charles:

And I know that's a very important topic and issue for you and I know you spend a lot of time and are very involved in doing that.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yeah.

Charles:

Beyond the obvious, why is that so important to you?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Two things. To create better work and to create better leadership in the world as a whole, in our industry, everywhere. We've had the same leadership structure of white men for very long time. Can guess how that's going to be?

Charles:

Yeah. It's working well, don't you think?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Well. No, but I want to see the other. I want to see another way, I want to see balance. I want to see ...

Charles:

I actually would really like to live in a world that is led by women before I die.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Absolutely. I can't wait. I really hope we don't have to wait. That's why in what we do, I mean BBH is...we're black sheep. We believe in difference. Diversity is 100% tied to, if we're going to have a more interesting output, we're going to have to have different people to do it. And diversity goes beyond gender. I mean it's class, it's disability, it's race. It's so many things that we need to embrace and learn from as an industry.

So I grew up, again, I'm going back to Sweden again. I grew up in a site that it's not perfect, but it was closer to perfect. And where I am now in the US these days, can you imagine? And I was grown up in a place that where it was much more of a balance, gender balance, it's not perfect. We're not done yet there either. But I came from that and I came to another society and I realize, this is not good. You can feel it.

And I felt that I wanted to do something. I think there's a fundamental connection between democracy and gender balance. So the first division of humanity was gender. It's the first thing that made, you make two different ones no matter how it was, right? And if you can't solve that one, we can’t as well have a little hope for all the other ones. Also I think that, that is the first division where you can have two opinions, which is basically democracy. If one is going to be less heard, then we haven't solved it.

So, obviously strongly believe there is hope for democracy still. I think it's being questioned. I think it's stuck, but I think this is part of the process to perfect democracy.

We don't have enough female leaders in politics all over the world, and therefore we haven't fully really seen the balance of leadership or what a democratized global society would look like. I also think there is an interesting thing as being working in communication where feminism had the wrong advertising agency, because feminism... If I ask any of my friends, most of my male friends would say that they're not against diversity. I actually haven't met one or seen anyone say that they really, really don't believe in equality.

But if you ask them if they're feminist, they take a pause and say, "Yes, I should, or maybe," because it's not established enough that feminism is about balance, it's about equality. It's not one is better than the other, and I think that makes it a bit of uphill and I want to help with that, to see how... Because that, I believe that we all need to, we all want to get to balance.

Charles:

Well, I think it's such an important point because getting to balance, often I think means, for groups that are being repressed, and women are certainly being repressed, right, for centuries, there is a notion getting to balance that somewhere along the line there has to be retribution before there can be balanced. There has to be... We need to win now in order for us to get to the point where it is equal. I've got friends, colleagues, who are very involved in developing women leadership and bringing, giving women a voice.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes.

Charles:

And I think for me, who cares passionately about women having at least an equal voice and perhaps even beyond that, the thing that I sometimes struggle with myself is listening to typically women leaders of organizations and groups that want to empower women and the tone they bring tends to alienate men in many cases. And part of my counsel to them is, "Can we do this together? I would like to help you."

Pelle Sjoenell:

It has to be together if it's... So, to reach equality, the effort there has to be equal. So if men don't push as hard for this, we won't get the result that we're hoping for.

Charles:

That's right.

Pelle Sjoenell:

You can't passively sit and wait until there's a time that it’s solved because I don't think that equality is something that you can check off one day. It's not like you reach a certain number.

Charles:

No. It's like a marriage, right, which you have to work on it every day.

Pelle Sjoenell:

It's a way of behaving. It's a way of being in a meeting, in an office, wherever you are. So I think that's what's so unfair is this classic thing of minority groups, oppressed, getting louder. They do the hard work and they're the ones who are unfairly treated. I know, again... I can do so much more with my position because I have the keys, so I have to. It's my responsibility to solve this. That's also, I think, part of your question is, I feel obligation because I can do it, and I think it's unfair that those who are...the suffering are the ones that are doing the hard work.

Charles:

It's also, there's an interesting, this is a small point but I think a relevant one. I have focused hard in developing this podcasts on trying to maintain a 50/50 balance in terms of gender. It's pretty close to 50/50. I have to work much, much, much harder to find women to come on the show than I do men. I get solicited, I get requests from people on behalf of men, I get men asking to come on the show all the time. Relatively rarely do women come forward to appear. And so, A) this is to say to people listening, if there are successful, prominent female leaders of creative businesses or creative leaders themselves who want to come on, reach out and let me know, because it's important.

But I think in general it's one of the issues that the genders face, which is that men are just more willing to thrust themselves forward into situations whether they are qualified or not, and women who are massively qualified tend to hold back. This podcast is a sort of a small microcosm of that. And I think that, to your point, as people who have a voice in our industries and have some degree of influence in our industries, we do have a responsibility to create an environment in which women and men can contribute each of their strengths and do so at least equally, as you and I were saying before, ideally... Let's see what happens if women actually rule the world for a while.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes. Yes. Yes, please.

Charles:

What are the conditions that have to be in place and what kind of practices have you found work best in terms of empowering developing women in leadership?

Pelle Sjoenell:

So, I think mentorship we talked about, I think when you look for, when you hire, you just have to make sure that you have equal or more women to look at, making sure that women meet women when they interview. I mean, there's so many... which is great. There's so many things that we can do better on this as an industry, but I think it's not more complex in a way than you make your mind up that you are going to fix this, and all the things that goes into that decision-making is to... Yeah. So I think that's, you know, talk about fear.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pelle Sjoenell:

You have to go fearlessly into solving this problem. But I think what's great, there’s lot of great organizations, 3 Percent Conference, the Free The Bid, there's lots of great...

Charles:

Time's Up.

Pelle Sjoenell:

... and I think what, the Time's Up, yeah, what they all do, I think, is helping us with tools and helping us keep the agenda front and center, and I think more of us men, more men should get involved in it because otherwise we won't get to equality if we don't get there on the way.

Charles:

Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

But yes, there's lots to be done and lots you can do.

Charles:

Before we wrap, I'm conscious of the time, there's just a couple of quick areas from a leading creativity standpoint I'd just like to touch on. What are the characteristics you look for when you're hiring people? What are the attributes that you find best fit into a modern, creative business?

Pelle Sjoenell:

All right. So we have a rule that really works at BBH. I’ll tell you - it's to hire good and nice. It sounds very throwaway like that, but it actually really works because if you're really good and not nice, it's not going to work. You're not going to find a way to work, you're going to be isolated... it's just not going to work. If you're really, really nice but not good enough, you can't work at BBH with the ambitions that we have, but it's the combination that makes really, really nice, professional, good people, and it's something I'm proud of is, when people come to BBH or new clients or anyone visiting saying like, "These people are so nice here."

And I think sometimes niceness is taken as, in society, as a weakness, but it is the sharpest damn weapon you can have nowadays, because to make things happen and to make all these things that we talked about, all the hurdles and things against things, if you... if you want to win, if you want it to work, that extra little effort of niceness, of being a good person is going to make things happen more than if you're not a good person. And so I think that it's a secret weapon somehow, and I think the good and nice for me is real. But when you ask, like, "What are you looking for?" I'm looking for... to go beyond that, I'm looking for those who want to help build the future.

I think that's the gamechangers, people who are not satisfied with what we have done or what they have done, who want to create new things. I mean, that's the cool, amazing spirit of this industry is that the new young ones coming in and telling us off, we're all wrong and there's something new. That's the best, you know. That is what is fantastic with our industry. We do really put our young talent front and center, and we admire them, we celebrate them, and this show here has a lot of ways to celebrate that, and that's what I'm most excited about, I think.

But that good and nice thing, I think it's an important... I think values, integrity, in our world of... where, basically seen as this overpaid car salesman or women, and to balance up that is to be really dedicated to what you do, to take care of the people around you and make great things in a great way. I think, sadly, we kind of surprise the world when we do that, but that's also... I love that.

Charles:

How do you lead?

Pelle Sjoenell:

How do I lead? I think that's a little bit of what we talked about in the beginning, but I lead by instilling safety, I think. Inspire. Believe, believe in it. Believe in what we're doing and where we're going to go and that it's going to work. And believe in the people. I don't believe in doing other people's jobs. Again, I'm supporting. I have the best creative people in the world. Why would I... it would be dumb to do their job, you know, the worse thing I could do. But to help support them and help if there's anything that I can do to make it better. If I can contribute, I think that's how I lead.

Charles:

I would normally ask you here what are you afraid of, and since you've already told me you're not, would you... do...

Pelle Sjoenell:

Okay, there are some things that I have to fix though-

Charles:

Tell me about what you're afraid of.

Pelle Sjoenell:

... we've just talked about that. I'm afraid of us talking about the subject of diversity in a couple of years and still not be there. I'm not afraid of AIs taking our jobs but I'm afraid of... God, I can't even get to it. I don't know. What am I afraid of? I really don't think I am. I don't... It feels so dorky to...almost, like, "I'm not afraid of anything." But if I come up with something my brain just goes, "That can be fixed. That can be fixed. That can be fixed," and because of that I have some natural defense against that hurdle.

Charles:

Yeah.

Pelle Sjoenell:

It just... you know, I-

Charles:

Yeah. When you reduce everything to a problem, and you have the capacity to see, to imagine solutions to those problems.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes. And we can... that can be self-defense. It could be my way of protecting my own fears, but it just works that way for me. It just...

Charles:

It evidently can.

Pelle Sjoenell:

I could have been afraid of sitting here talking to you, but I wasn't, you know.

Charles:

No, it didn't appear you were.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yeah.

Charles:

At all, actually. I wrap up every episode with three themes that I've heard, so-

Pelle Sjoenell:

Sorry?

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three themes, three take-aways that I could-

Pelle Sjoenell:

Great. Okay.

Charles:

... that I think contribute to your success as a leader, so, let me put these to you and you can-

Pelle Sjoenell:

Oh, wow.

Charles:

... tell me whether these make you afraid. Let me put these to you and you can tell me what you think of these.

So, first is, you clearly want to make a difference. You've talked a number of times through a number of different lenses about having an impact and making a difference, so I think that is very much a guiding principle for you.

Two is, I think, you do that through a lens of really wanting to really being human, right. There's a really humanity focus to you. The way that people come together, and I think tied to that, third, is that you care a lot about the impact on other people that you have, and wanting to help other people maximize their lives and their ability to contribute. How do those resonate with you?

Pelle Sjoenell:

Yes. I agree a hundred percent and I was... I'll take it. I'm super proud of that. That's fantastic. I do think it's two things in that that I thought we were going to talk about. I just want to add those.

One is that empathy, is kind of what you described, is the most important talent in this industry to have because it's the ability to become the audience of the message or of a service, or to feel what it's like to be the receiver of something. That is basically what we do. We create ideas that has a certain effect on the audience, and that's empathy, to understand the other, not just what I like. What they will.

And then I think that leadership is about creating followership. It's not about having, being the strongest or being given a title to lead. It's about everyone wanting you to lead, and to your point then around what you said about me caring about, that's me trying to see if they want me to lead them, as well. That's the only way that I can do what I do, is if they believe in me, and I actually did talk to some... When people come and say, "Can I have a promotion?" And I say, "Basically, it's not yours or my call, it's them. If they believe it, it will happen. If they want you to lead, you will lead." But it's not about getting a permission to lead. It's about getting the... to create followership, somehow.

So I think that those are tightly connected, both the way how we can lead in our job but also what the work is. The work is about empathy for the others, understanding what they... It's the same talent, somehow, and it's underestimated.

Charles:

Massively. I couldn't agree with you more. Pelle, thank you so much for being here today. What a great conversation.

Pelle Sjoenell:

Thank you. It's great. An honor.