2-3: "The Magnetic Leader" - Paul Venables

Paul_Venables_hero_alt_cmyk (1).jpg

"The Magnetic Leader"

Paul Venables is the co-founder of Venables, Bell and Partners. A San Francisco ad agency with self described ‘good intentions.’ Last year, VB+P, was named one of Fast Company’s most innovative companies and one of the top ten companies in media and advertising. So having good intentions is clearly working for them.

Which makes you wonder why more companies wouldn’t claim such apparently low hanging fruit. After all, it’s easy to claim ‘good intentions’ as your operating principle. Easy in the sense that no one knows what’s really in your heart - as a company or as a leader - except you.

Or do they?

Which is why this week’s theme is Leadership Values. 

You can read more about Leadership Values here.


Three Takeaways

  • The desire for other people to succeed.

  • Love the journey, and keep looking forward.

  • Live the values you have defined.


"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 2-3: "The Magnetic Leader" - Paul Venables

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

“Another phrase we use on integrity is, integrity is a business advantage. It's a competitive business advantage. And think about it in marketing and advertising where everybody is selling everybody a bill of goods, and the next trend, and the next vision, and the next thing you need, and the next set of FTEs you have to pay for, and the next capability that you must add on. It's a pretty powerful think to no no no, let's stick to what's real and what will matter in this business and only that.”

I called this episode “The Magnetic Leader”.

Not because Paul is the quintessential definition of what you would expect to encounter in someone who has earned that description. I suspect Paul himself would happily tell you there are personalities that burn brighter in the creativity firmament than he does. 

He is not trying to own the room when he walks in. He doesn’t need or want to be the star of the show. As you’ll hear, his career is defined by moments when he took on the stuff that no one else wanted to do, and by carrying a slight sense of surprise that he has accomplished and created all that he has. 

He is a generous man and a humble one. And those traits contribute to the fact that talented people - both staff and clients - are drawn to him and to his company magnetically.

Magnetic leadership is extraordinarily important - maybe even essential - in today’s business world. Today, to be a successful leader, you need influence much more than you need bureaucratic power. 

In fact, I’ll go further. If your authority depends on bureaucratic power - the kind of power that comes from where you sit in the org chart, then you’re not a leader, you’re a bureaucrat. A cog in a machine.

Which is where Leadership values come in.

It’s easy - so, so easy - to write down the values your leadership is built on.  It’s easy but it’s rare.

It’s even more rare to find leaders who judge themselves against those values on a regular basis.

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. You can say whatever you want. You can claim any values you like. 

But it is how you behave that defines whether you are being honest - either with those you seek to influence. Or with yourself.

So, not much at stake then.

Only your reputation. Your legacy. And your self respect.

So , what are your values? What do you stand for?

Here’s Paul Venables.



Charles:

Paul, welcome to Fearless, thank you for being here.

Paul Venables:

Thank you so much for having me, Charles. This is really an honor and a privilege.

Charles:

When did creativity first show up in your life? What's your first memory of something being creative?

Paul Venables:

I didn't call it that. I think when we're young we don't use that word, creativity. But in my house growing up, big house, a lot of brothers and sisters, I'm one of seven, and there were people who played music and I didn't really consider that creativity, and there were people who were singers, and there was a couple of people who could draw really well, and illustrator types. But it was my older brother who would literally play games of men, varying sizes and degrees of cowboys or army men type things, and the games got so interesting everyone else would stop playing and just watch him and his plot develop and play as if we were watching a movie. And I didn't call it creativity but I was like, wow. I knew something was going on there that was pretty phenomenal.

Charles:

Was he giving a voiceover?

Paul Venables:

Yeah, he would make them talk and act them out, and then bring in new characters. The characters were well defined and they were dimensional, they weren't flat note characters. And so it got to a point, I remember, I'm seven, eight, nine now and he's a little older, he's maybe about eight or nine years older, we would ask him, Danny can you play a game, so we could watch him play.

Charles:

We don't want to watch TV, we want to watch you play.

Paul Venables:

Isn't that phenomenal?

Charles:

What does he do now?

Paul Venables:

That's the kicker, he was a Math teacher.

Charles:

Really?

Paul Venables:

But he actually now is teaching the teachers, he's developing a program, written a few books on how to organize in schools and create change and the right environment for the right kind of teaching leadership. But for 20-something years he was just a Math teacher.

Charles:

So left and right brained.

Paul Venables:

Yeah, exactly, but phenomenal. And then I think another moment in time where I was like, wow that's interesting, is I was in some sort of sophomore year of high school writing class and I did a micro-story, not even short story something even smaller. And I had left it laying out, and my home was very wide open, everything was everywhere, no one had any privacy at all. And my dad for some reason picked up this thing I wrote and started reading it without me knowing it. He was never interested in our schoolwork, he was never interested in anything we did really, just that we weren't lazy good for nothings, that was what he cared about. Good, strong, disciplinarian type.

Paul Venables:

He got so pissed off about this thing I wrote that I remember thinking in my mind, this reaction is not in line with my effort. I did something on a page and he's incensed. And I didn't do it, I wrote about this thing. And I realized there was a power in that and then-

Charles:

How old were you?

Paul Venables:

I was a sophomore in high school. And again, I think then I started to go, this is creativity, this is the use of imagination, this is the use of language or what have you to create something, an emotion in somebody.

Charles:

What a powerful lesson that early. Extraordinary actually to realize the impact you can have through original thinking.

Paul Venables:

It was the only thing I ever did in school that he reacted to.

Charles:

My father reacted a lot to the things I didn't do in school actually, most of which was work, but that's a whole different story for a different day.

Paul Venables:

I had a bit of that, that was more mom for me.

Charles:

What did you study?

Paul Venables:

I went to the University of Connecticut, state school. State school boy, that's all I could really afford. I only applied to two schools. Went into the general pop and realized I could not be a Liberal Arts Major in the School of Liberal Arts because I'm a foreign language idiot and it required two or four semesters of foreign language study, and there was no way. I think I'm foreign language dyslexic, I can not. Cerveza por favor, that's it. So I was stuck. But then the business school, for whatever reason, didn't have a language requirement. But it was harder to get into, you had to have better grades. But I applied for that after two years and got in.

Paul Venables:

Then I found myself, and I'm taking classes like Management Organization, Cost Accounting, Behavioral Management Science, and I'm ready to blow my brains. Even the Marketing class I was like, this is bullshit, this is just fancy terms for common sense. The more you charge for something the demand will decrease proportionately. Yeah, of course, hello. I was miserable. I took one class senior year in advertising, now mind you this isn't an advertising savvy program at the time, late-80s. And I had this old crotchety professor and he never worked a day in advertising, but he was teaching advertising. And he described it in one sentence, advertising is the rock and roll of the corporate world. And I was like, that's it, I'm in. The new bar.

Charles:

Clearly he'd never spent a day in advertising.

Paul Venables:

Yeah, right. And so that just lit something for me to explore. And it was interesting, I was doing some writing, I was doing some journalism on the side, I was a minor in English, I had an English Minor, so it started to fit. And then I had no idea how to put a book together or anything, but luckily I lived an hour or so outside of New York City. I started training down in New York, interviewing. Of course all the interviews were typing tests. I failed them all, I can't type. I could do a solid 20 words a minute kind of thing.

Paul Venables:

But I failed all these typing tests and finally got a job at a small agency answering the telephone, because they didn't require a typing test, because any idiot can answer a telephone. But it was interesting being in reception. I could see different departments. I saddled up to the creative guys, I made friends, I asked questions, and that was the beginning of my career.

Charles:

So the rock and roll reference aside, what do you think it was that drew you to that particular medium?

Paul Venables:

I think the ability to be able to write. I was very interested in writing. I was doing some journalism, as I mentioned. So I could express, and write, and be creative in a defined scope and with parameters, solving a specific problem for a business. And all that added up to me. I don't think I'm nearly as effective or interesting a writer or creative thinker if I can do anything. I don't have a novel under my bed or screenplay.

Charles:

You need the problem.

Paul Venables:

I need the problem, and I realized that about myself. And even in journalism, you have a specific thing you're reporting on or commenting on or reacting to, and so I think it lined up in that way.

Charles:

How interesting. Where did you go after you had proved that you could answer the phone effectively?

Paul Venables:

You're assuming some things there. Side note, it was during Good Morning, Vietnam and every once in a while I would answer the phone, "Good morning". And at first people were charmed, and then after a while it was like, shut the hell up and put so-and-so on the line. A few said that to me. I was like, okay, all right, have a good day. Line two, you have a call. So I did that and then they came to me, the place was Tisch Communications, the day I got there it started shrinking. It was like 50 people-

Charles:

No correlation to that.

Paul Venables:

No.

Charles:

You arrive and it's shrinking.

Paul Venables:

I don't think so.

Charles:

Trying to leave.

Paul Venables:

All the calls were answered, Charles. Maybe not.

Charles:

Don't call over there, [inaudible].

Paul Venables:

Exactly. It was shrinking and they came to me and they said, at this point they knew I wanted to be a writer and I was going to visual arts at night and trying to put a portfolio together, taking night classes. And they said, we know you want to be a writer in the Creative Department, but we also know you hate the phones. And so there's an opening as an Account Coordinator, do you want it? And I was like, yeah absolutely, to get off the phones. So I actually moved over to the account side, and then by the end of the full shrinkage of that place, all the hemorrhaging over, was three people. And I was doing a little media, a little new business, a little creative, a little account work. How valuable to somebody to own your own agency.

Charles:

Absolutely.

Paul Venables:

I learned a lot at that. But I learned a lot of what not to do, which is equally important in our life's journey to pick up notes on.

Charles:

What were those lessons at that point?

Paul Venables:

The management was pretty brutal. There was a lot of ... today we say transparency, but back then it was manipulation and misinformation. And I don't want to cite the agency specifically, I think it was the culture in Manhattan in the '80s, the late-80s. It was like, you don't need to know, and so we're going to tell you whatever we want to tell you and you can put your head down and do your job. And so there was a lot of that going on. There was not an understanding of the power of creativity and how it could really help and solve problems. It was a lot of, do whatever the client says and we get to cash the check at the end of the day.

Paul Venables:

So you realize, is that why I'm in business, to cash the check? Because my mom always told me to be a lawyer and maybe I would have made more money, or go down to Wall Street. If money is the point, what am I doing? And so now I knew I wanted the creativity, and harness that, and have an impact through that would be more important than the other things, and how would you structure an agency if that were the goal?

Paul Venables:

I knew, this is a true story, in the beginning I would train in from Connecticut on the Metro North line, and I met a girl.

Charles:

On the train?

Paul Venables:

On the train, 6:00 AM, I was working it hard. She thought I was the loud guy keeping her from sleeping, glancing at me wanting to kill me. And I think she'd digging me, she's looking at me, she's listening to this, I was talking to somebody else. And so eventually we ended up becoming train commuting buddies and I told her, as a receptionist, someday I want to own my own agency. I don't know why I said it, I don't know why I felt it, but I did. And she didn't laugh at me and she didn't spit her coffee out, she married me. And so 30 years later, still by my side. She's still training me, by the way, but that was part of the story.

Charles:

So you have no idea where the instinct came from to own your own business?

Paul Venables:

I don't. I think it was, back then in New York City particularly, actually all over the country, I used to study the one show, the big thick annual who's doing what. And it was all Angotti, Thomas Hedge, oh gosh so many great agencies, Grace and Rothschild, and Scali, McCabe, Sloves. And then Goodby Silverstein popped up, then White and Kennedy, Shia Day. And it felt like these people, these creative forces, were what the business was about. And that's where you could have that kind of impact and you can do that and create a reputation. So I thought that was the path. So okay, if I'm good that's the step, that's where you have to go otherwise you're a 45 or 50 year old copywriter in the corner, that's doesn't sound like fun.

Charles:

So creating an identity for yourself became important as an individual reflection of the industry that you wanted it to be.

Paul Venables:

Not an identity in the sense that I sculpted my image, but in the fact that I was a believer. One old salty dog put it as a member of the tribe, people who believed in creativity to move a business forward. And a lot of people in advertising don't get that. They think put it in a formula and let the GRPs pound away, and take advantage, and make things happen. And that can happen if you have a huge hammer, a meaty hammer. So believing in creative ... being somebody that lived in that world and became maybe known for that. And through good work obviously, reinforce that.

Charles:

So did you, as you moved through your career from that point given that kind of clarity that you wanted to own your own agency one day, were you walking into jobs conscious? Were you looking for the lessons you could learn in order to build your own agency? Did you have that much intention around it?

Paul Venables:

No, but what it did was it made every shitty job still worthwhile.

Charles:

Because you felt you were learning stuff.

Paul Venables:

I would still learn something. My intention was to get out of answering the phones initially, and I did that. And then my intention was to get out of the sinking agency and get a job as ... my goal was to get my job title to by Copywriter, nothing else, not all these other 100 things I was doing. That happened at Corey Kay and Partners, which was a small creative shop, still around. A lot of good people have come through there. And I had a chance to do some really good book pieces and create that portfolio. So it was always about, how do I establish myself as a good creative person. And then whatever job I'm in, I'm going to learn on what to do and what not to do.

Charles:

What an interesting perspective. So you moved out West sooner rather than later, right?

Paul Venables:

I was at Corey Kay a year and a half. And true story again, my wife and I are married now and we're like, we love New York, we lived at 16th and 5th, Flatiron, right in this neighborhood. And we thought, the only other city we'd consider was San Francisco. Goodby Silverstein was the hottest agency in the world at the time and my wife said, why don't you put your book together, send it to them, see what they think. At least you'll know the best agency in the world was interested or they were not. And I had that book with the FedEx label on the portfolio in my living room ready to go, but before I sent it Jeff Goodby called me.

Paul Venables:

And I thought it was my friends playing a joke because they had gotten wind of this plan of mine. No, it was Jeff Goodby calling me out of the blue and saying, you should come to San Francisco, check it out. And I was like, wow. Came out to San Francisco.

Charles:

That's incredible.

Paul Venables:

It's incredible. A couple of days out there. He had seen a piece of work I had done, it was-

Charles:

Well Jeff, I don't know, I'm not sure if I really want to do that.

Paul Venables:

It's just really, Jeff, there's-

Charles:

By the way, did you get the FedEx I just sent you?

Paul Venables:

It's still in my living room.

Charles:

What an extraordinary thing.

Paul Venables:

He saved me the postage. And then he said, fly your wife out, make sure you like the city. They really welcomed me and [inaudible]. All our family ... that's my wife's name, obviously ... is back East and still centered back East here in Connecticut and where thereabouts. We said, we'll give it two years. You'll go do some good work for Goodby, then you can go anywhere in the world you want. Of course it's 23 years later and we're still in San Francisco, raised our kids there, it was amazing.

Charles:

Was he what you thought when you met him?

Paul Venables:

Absolutely. I feel like I was starting to do decent work. We worked for Comedy Central in New York and did some award winning work, and that's what he noticed and called me out there. And then I remember the first couple of meetings with clients, it was like the scales fell from my eyes. And the difference in the mode. In New York it was like, don't admit anything to the client, smoke and mirrors, sell them a bill of goods, try to get one by them. That was the creative mentality. They wanted work, we're going to sneak a good idea by them.

Paul Venables:

And on the West Coast it was like, oh no, they expect a good idea. And then they would grill Jeff with questions and he would literally say, I don't know, we should maybe test that or talk to consumers. Wow, he was just honest and transparent. Like, yeah let's find out if that's the right answer. And I was like, what, you're not selling them a bill of goods? Sell the idea and run, Jeff. Close the door, quick. No, he was honest and straightforward, and same with Silverstein. They had a passion for doing their work and they had a track record to be able to go to clients. No look, when you do work that's interesting you can get a Got Milk?. And it was like, wow this is the way it's supposed to be.

Charles:

And do you think that mentality attracted a certain kind of person?

Paul Venables:

Yeah, absolutely.

Charles:

So you were surrounded by people who had the same kind of value set?

Paul Venables:

They're very open, very creative, very confident in their creativity. See, that's what happens when you get really creative and you have actual ability, you are willing to say things like, I don't know, or I got nothing, or maybe your idea's better.

Charles:

Could you spot the people who were out of sync with that?

Paul Venables:

Yeah, you can because they're clinging to ego and they're clinging to ... they had their one good idea. Everybody has an initial couple of good ideas, and then they cling to it because they're afraid they're not going to have another one if that one dies, whether the Creative Director kills it or the client kills it. And you see them, and it's kind of desperate, and you can feel it.

Paul Venables:

The other thing, and I don't know if this is true anymore, but back in the day, I'm in San Francisco in '95 is when I first arrived. Back in the day there was a direct improportional correlation between how creative you looked and how creative you were. You know what I mean? And the guys wearing sweats and flannel shirts were geniuses, and the guys that looked the part were like, okay they spend all their creativity on their wardrobe. I don't know, maybe it still holds to some degree in our hipster world.

Charles:

Yeah, maybe it might be worth running a survey on that.

Paul Venables:

Yeah, exactly.

Charles:

The physical affectations of creative people who would like to appear to be creative but in fact are not.

Paul Venables:

I've ran into more than one director, really brilliant film director, Academy Award winning directors, who wear the same clothes. They're clean, they have 58 white shirts and 58 same pair of jeans, they wear it every day because they want to eliminate the decision. I know another famous director who had his wife pick out his clothes, she was kind of into fashion and I think she did some wardrobe work. He didn't want to think about.

Charles:

Steve Jobs built his whole thing around his wardrobe, right? In fact, I think I read something that Barack Obama had 20 suits that were within one shade of each other because he said, the last thing I need is a decision about what I'm wearing today.

Paul Venables:

Exactly, you eliminate that, it's liberating. I haven't gotten there yet. I'm caught in that no man's land between I should care and I don't.

Charles:

So as you were going-

Paul Venables:

I'm glad this is a podcast.

Charles:

I am too. Every time I record a conversation I'm glad it's a podcast. What was the trigger for you to leave the robustness of the agency world and a successful career and decide, okay now is the time I'm going to start?

Paul Venables:

Interesting. I'm there six, seven years, and I have a client that I'm slowly rising up the ranks. And one of the things that I'm really-

Charles:

During the six or seven years, I'm sorry to interrupt, during the six or seven years did you ever lose sight of the fact you wanted to start your own agency?

Paul Venables:

Yes.

Charles:

You did lose sight of it?

Paul Venables:

Yes. I am there and I actually appreciate this immensely, and it's more a reflection on my bosses and leaders, I was there six or seven years and I never asked for a promotion or a title or a raise once, they just came. I was of the Cal Ripken mindset, put your head down and show up every day, do a good job. And they rewarded that, so good for them. And leaders listening out there, that's what you do.

Paul Venables:

And so I was doing that and I got to a point where it was my Shangri La. I was pretty thrilled. I was Associate Partner, I was running the whole creative agency with Steve Simpson. For the first time in Jeff and Rich's whole career they took Creative Director off their titles and became co-Chairmen, and we ran the Creative Department. Since, I think they've added Creative Director back on, you'd have to check that, I don't know.

Paul Venables:

But I was really, really happy, but I had that niggling thing. Actually I had this client that I was in the trenches with, blood, sweat, and tears, difficult account. We had done great work, we turned it around. Pac Bell, phone company, tough business to do advertising in. And she approached me and was like, would you ever open? And I was like, no I'm pretty happy. I actually held her off, but about a year later she came back and she said she moved on. She went to Ultimate TV down with Microsoft, it was a TiVo competitor. And she's like, I have a big agency and I need to fire them, and I'm willing to hire you guys. And I was like, wow you would really ... me and my partner Greg Bell. And she's like, are you ready to move? And I was like, you know what it's time. She came knocking.

Paul Venables:

So we opened with a big account, an account enough to pay the bills. Which was a beautiful thing at the time, particularly because this is 2001. So in March 2001, the dot com meltdown decimates the city. There were so many Gold Rush diggers that came out. Martin Agency had an office, Ogilvy expanded their office. There are so many agencies that came West, westward ho, for The Gold Rush. They all were shuttering and closing. And in fact the day we opened, we were the headline of the New York Times, below were three agencies closing in San Francisco.

Charles:

I remember that. We had a film editing company and we were thinking about ... we were in LA and we were thinking about ... and Chicago, and New York, and London, thinking about should we go into San Francisco. And my view of San Francisco would have been through that lens of Levi's, and amazing work, and extraordinary stuff in Silicon Valley as it was beginning. And we went up there on a wreck you trip, and it felt like a ghost town, like it was dying.

Paul Venables:

But office space was cheap.

Charles:

Super cheap. It was like, can we move our LA office up here? It's a commute, but. No, it was amazing how fast it went south.

Paul Venables:

That was so quick. That was March, was the bubble really burst. We opened in June '01, and then in September 9/11 happens and the global economy goes into a tailspin.

Charles:

And the advertising industry goes into a depression. Not just a recession, but a depression. It was awful.

Paul Venables:

It was absolutely a depression. I always comment that were those depression-era grannies. We know the value of a hard day's work and a dollar.

Charles:

It's interesting because we started our business at a very similar time, we reached a scaling point right then as well. We did our deal, it was supposed to be on 9/15 and of course it got moved to later. But I've often thought and said that I think growing a business during that year was extraordinarily helpful in fact, because you learnt how to build a really tight business. Is this really valuable to somebody? Because getting a dollar out of somebody right now is impossible.

Paul Venables:

Exactly true, it was a blessing. And in fact, the Microsoft client pulled me aside in the beginning and said listen, if you read the papers this is out there in the publicity, we may sell this thing and it may become and ingredient brand for one of the big players, Dish Network was one of the people they were talking to at the time. So we said, you might want to pitch right out of the gate and build up your business. You might have about an eight month runway. So this horrible economic climate and we have an eight month runway to basically double in size, knowing that we're going to halve, we're going to lose the first half. And we did, by the skin of our teeth.

Paul Venables:

He was very generous too. On the exit clause he gave us an extra month or something baked into the thing. We were doing some work so it was legitimate, but it was a generous ... he didn't have to, some pay for that kind of transition. And we survived, barely. But we went just enough business to basically double and then halve. So we weren't hiring, but like you say you're smart about every dollar, you're efficient. You hone your sales pitch because you've got to hit. There's no taking anything for granted. You work your tail off even for the smallest accounts because they could grow, and organic growth could be a way you make it. So we just always had that mentality.

Charles:

Yeah you got so disciplined and so intentioned, it was extraordinary actually. Tragic obviously, the reason that we ended up there, but a massive learning opportunity. I want to go back to something you said a little earlier, I'm struck by this. I work with a lot of very senior women leaders and you made a comment that said, I just decided I was going to put my head down and people recognized that. Most of the women that I know, and most of the women that I've listened to, would tell you that that hasn't worked for them as a woman. That putting their head down, which I think is much more sort of a female orientation, if I do a good job, if I work hard, if I tick the boxes I'll be recognized, and that hasn't happened. Why do you think it worked for you and it doesn't work for them?

Paul Venables:

First of all, what a shame. And I agree, and I see it, and I've seen it in my career. And it an absolute shame. And I think that's one of the things, if we talk to leadership and if people that are in leadership positions are tuning in and listening, is you have to find those people who believe in that ethos of do a good job and you will get rewarded. Find them and reward them, go out of your way, surprise them with a bonus, surprise them with a promotion. Don't wait for the, they got an offer and they're leaving. It's bad business anyway, it's going to cost you more because now you're competing with somebody else out there in the market. Take care of your own. I preach that inside the agency. It's a shame, it's awful.

Paul Venables:

And I think that world is crumbling around us, which is a beautiful thing, whether it's through the Me Too movement or Time's Up. The glass ceiling is starting to get exploded, which is wonderful and beautiful. I can only hope that we all work together to evolve and make that not the case, because that's a crime. If you have a high performer that is not a squeaky wheel, that's what you want. I teach my kids, attitude and effort. But attitude's a big part of that. As you're making that effort, you're not grumbling about it. You have a positive attitude, you're optimistic, and you're collaborative, and all those things. And if we don't reward that, wow that's bad on us.

Charles:

What's your advice to women who work for you, specifically who work for you, in terms of asking for recognition sooner?

Paul Venables:

You know, it's funny, I think whether they work for me or not maybe a good strategy, and I'm making this up on the fly, would be to go to a boss and say, listen I'm the type of person, and this is what I want to do. I want to put my head down, I want to do a damn good job, and I want you to come and acknowledge that. I don't want to be a squeaky wheel, we all hate complainers, we hate the people that go and they're upset every six months, the sky is falling and they want a new raise or promotions. I'm going to do it. Maybe if you have confidence in yourself you could predict it.

Charles:

I think that's very powerful. Increasingly over the last 12 or 15 months I've started with some people I work with, advising them to develop what you might describe as a leadership contract, which is actually a public statement. And I saw this, this is not original to me. Somebody I read about how done this and they said they had reached the point where they understood themselves well enough as leaders to say, this is fundamentally who I am. I show up this way. This is how I work best. This is the situations in which I am best as a boss. And they put that together on a single piece of paper and stuck it up on their office door.

Paul Venables:

Operating manual.

Charles:

Right, and said this is who I am.

Paul Venables:

Yeah, that's great, that helps.

Charles:

You want to get the best out of me, want me to help you, these are the things that I know will help and these are things that tend to get in my way.

Paul Venables:

Yeah, I know a whole organization that had, because I heard a guy speak at a New York Times conference, where they have an operating manual for every single person in leadership, and how to work with me, and how to get the best out of me. That's healthy stuff. We do a thing called Colors, which is kind of one of those personality test type things. But knowing the difference between a blue, which is a real people person and a real emotive person, a person that wants that feedback, and a green who's a scientist, just knowing that when you're dealing with them is helpful. You might not use different tactics entirely, but having that sense.

Paul Venables:

Another way to do it is occurring to me. One of the things I did, and maybe this is a reason why I felt like I could live that way, do a good job and know they would reward me, is I saw at one point Jeff and Rich were struggling as they grew with some tough accounts, and that's how I ended up with the phone company. They were thinking about asking me to take it over, I had pitched and won a different phone company, Southwestern Bell, and we did amazing work right out of the gate. And then they absorbed Pac Bell and that was a little bit more challenging. It was kind of a headache, but it was a good paying account. And it was at Goodby Silverstein, so if you're at a good agency that has to show good work, there's no excuses.

Paul Venables:

At Venables and Bell we don't have skeletons in the closet. We do good work on these two accounts, and shitty work and pay the bills on these eight. Uh-uh (negative). Every account has to do both, when it can, if it can, and pay the bills.

Paul Venables:

So I went into them and I said, listen I know Pac Bell's a headache. Give it to me. Give me your headache. I will turn it around. Here's what I think I need: I need a dedicated team, I need a new strategist on it, and I need you to leave me alone. I need you to let me run with it because if I have to keep checking in, this thing's fast moving, I'm not going to get anywhere. I'm going to get caught in the fire, that's what I've seen happen. So let me run with it and I will take it away off your plate as a headache.

Paul Venables:

And the unspoken part was, and you'll appreciate that and reward me. It was this contract, like you're saying. And they said, yeah please, take it. I said, okay. You're going to show us work? I was like, yeah you're going to see it on air. And they were like, okay. And it was the first time they took the leap, and God bless them they took the leap. And took me about a year, turned it around. At the end of the year we had won an award at Cannes. And this was the worst account in the building. All the jaded creatives in the beginning were like, what are you stupid taking on the phone company? I'm working on Nike, I'm working on Bud. I was like, yeah whatever. And then by the end of that year they're like, hey if you've got a Pac Bell assignment, I wouldn't mind.

Charles:

Did you see that as risky?

Paul Venables:

Yeah, I did.

Charles:

Were you afraid of that?

Paul Venables:

I wasn't afraid. I felt like ... you've got to back yourself. You've got to believe in yourself. And I felt like I had a sense of the client, I could see the misfire. The client was saying this, the creative leadership at the time was not in sync. And I was like, they're saying this, but I can do good work on that. It wasn't that they were anti-good work.

Charles:

So you heard them in a different way?

Paul Venables:

Yeah, I heard them in a different way. And then I had some faith. Then I wanted to work with young creatives and train them. I hired a few too, fresh out of school, and put them on this. And we were a little SWAT team and they grew up. Some of those people now are world class creatives and they have been for years. It was gratifying to mentor, it was gratifying to wrangle this account, it was gratifying to turn it from bad to good work. Then I did it again on Discover Card, which was another tough account at the time. So that became a little bit of our agency spiel when we opened, give us your tired, and your poor, and your oppressed, and we'll work with you and we'll turn it into something great. You've got to be open to that though obviously, you've got to want that.

Charles:

Most people would have run a million miles away from that, right?

Paul Venables:

They all did. Yes, they ran away.

Charles:

What do you think allowed you to run into the fire?

Paul Venables:

I don't know, something more. I didn't want to just wait around for the next good assignment, I wanted to have a little control of my destiny. I wanted to learn how to manage, and steer, and pioneer, and challenge myself. I just had that other. And not everybody has that, that's fine. Just sit in the corner and be a genius creative person, you're always going to work if you can do that.

Charles:

There's an expression that I've seen that you talk about as a foundational philosophy with the agency, our intentions are good. You've talked quite a lot about transparency. There is what I would describe as honor in both of those. There's an integrity about both of those pieces, and I'm sure there are other aspects as well. What are the biggest obstacles to running a company like that? What's the risk of that?

Paul Venables:

The risk is that you're publicly on the record and your values are out there. And there's a lot of opportunities to fold, tuck and run or just shave the edges off enough to be able to do X or Y. So it keeps you honest and it keeps you on point of, we work with clients. And it came actually, we were at an inflection point after we had won Audi. It was a big account, big change. And we were like, we've got a bunch of new people here and they don't know who we are really, they kind of do. How do we talk about that? We did surveys of old employees, new employees, across disciplines, etc, youngsters, old timers, and some clients.

Paul Venables:

The clients all to a person said, we kind of dread the day you become too famous. We like that you're a little well-kept secret because you guys are creative as all get out and you relentlessly attack, but we know it's not for your own because you want a trophy in the trophy case. We know you truly believe what you're pushing for, and what you're after, and what you're tenacious about is going to move my business. Sometimes we have to tell you no and redirect you, and sometimes we accept, but we know your heart's in the right place basically.

Paul Venables:

And that was a moment where I was like, wow that's who we are. We actually do want to use and deploy our creativity to move their business, not just to show up at the award show festival.

Charles:

Could you have defined that before that?

Paul Venables:

We could talk around it, it kind of clicked. And then I loved, our intentions are good because of how dumb and simple it is. At the time we of course the competitive research. All the creative agencies, we'll make you famous, we're an idea factory, all these promises and boasts. We'll merge our content with your consumer and bliss, whatever. They all had these taglines.

Paul Venables:

And we're like, no no no. We'll take all the bullshit out. We start with a good intention, and that doesn't even promise a result by the way. It just leaves that hanging. But that's who we are. We have that intention. We really are about this and come on board and see what can happen. And then we had good work to back it up and say, look this is what happens. So it was a little bit of an anti-motto, and it's kind of stuck. And it's been true, and I love that new people come in. If we have a policy or something, people come into my office, and I love the open door, and they'll go, you know that doesn't sound like it's consistent with integrity and intentions are good.

Paul Venables:

Another phrase we use on integrity is, integrity is a business advantage. It's a competitive business advantage. And think about it in marketing and advertising where everybody is selling everybody a bill of goods, and the next trend, and the next vision, and the next thing you need, and the next set of FTEs you have to pay for, and the next capability that you must add on. It's a pretty powerful think to no no no, let's stick to what's real and what will matter in this business and only that.

Paul Venables:

Independence has allowed that, that's the other secret ingredient. Because we're independent we have ... I mean, you think about companies that are not. We can put, our intentions are good and we do right by our people and right by our clients. That's it, that's all I've got to worry about. Every day I wake up, that's what I worry about. And if you are part of a holding company you can't. Legally you have a fiduciary responsibility to be beholden to your shareholders, and they just bump everybody down a notch or two. And if you can make the shareholders happy, it kind of doesn't matter.

Paul Venables:

Now, you might say that the logic is if you keep your clients happy then the shareholders are going to be happy. It's not a direct path. Most often it can be, but it's not always. And sometimes you've got to make hard decisions and cough up your own money to prove something, or do something, or go an extra mile for a client. Shareholders might not like that because it hits the bottom line. Or hire a certain kind of talent, or retain that talent with something, or create certain kinds of perks or cultural things, right? It's hard to quantify the attraction and retention of talent. We have a lot of programs, spend a lot of money doing that. A shareholder could go, cut all that stuff up, drop it to the bottom line, and pay me. We don't have to do any of that, so independence has been the secret sauce.

Charles:

Had you made a conscious choice when you founded the company that that would be one of foundations on which you'd build?

Paul Venables:

No, we knew we wanted to start that way and we had no idea. We were like, let's see where it goes. Day three, we're open for three days, WPP the biggest holding company at the time calls. And they're like, are you guys thinking about selling? We were thinking about trying to get the coffee maker to work, that's what we were thinking about. And it was great though. I had a couple enlightening conversations. I had some people I knew through the old network who ended up giving us some really good advice and solid advice.

Charles:

What was the best piece of advice?

Paul Venables:

If you believe in yourself you're going to grow. Draw the hockey stick. And every day you stay in business independent and don't sell, you're making more money when you do sell because your valuation is going to go up and up and up. So if you believe in yourself-

Charles:

Don't sell.

Paul Venables:

It's up to you. It was like, postpone this thing.

Charles:

What about now?

Paul Venables:

I think we're so ingrained and we so appreciate our independence. A couple of factors, one I grew up in a factory town, one of seven, parents weren't college educated, dad worked in a factory, mom was a housewife. I have more than I ever dreamed I would have, so I've never been motivated by the money part of it. I love the money and it's been fantastic, and I've been blessed and have a beautiful home, and been able to send my kids to college, done all those great things, and an Audi R8 that I drive and I love it. And I would have a hard time giving any of it up for sure. But I have more than I ever dreamed of already. And I also have my baby, that culture that is so important to me and the kind of agency we are. Not just that we're an agency and we're doing good work, but the kind of agency we are and the kind of place people can come and thrive, and grow, and bloom.

Paul Venables:

We get a lot of misfits that bloom because we create the right environment around them, and that is so ... I cherish that so much and I know it would change. If we were to sell, all of the decisions would become how do we maximize the bottom line because the payout and the earn out in three years or five years is going to be greater if we tighten here, and do that here, and take on that lousy account that's going to ruin our culture. I don't want to entertain that.

Paul Venables:

Now, I have other partners, there's four of us now. I've had a transition of partners, the original founders all ran its course with that group, all good and healthy. One retired and one went to directing and good things like that. But new partners, so I do have to be conscious of what are their hopes and dreams and goals. And if it makes sense way down in the future and it's something that they're more interested in, I could be open. But I enjoy it too much, it's too precious, I don't need the windfall, it's not about that. I'm intrinsically motivated, I realized that about myself pretty early on. I don't need even the job titles. I love it, it's nice to get acknowledged or be handed a hunk of metal because you had a nice piece of work, but I’ve got to place the internal part of me first, and it's very pleasing right now.

Charles:

I'm always struck by, having built my own business in the creative arena, out of instinct I think I recognize that very few businesses that were founded around creativity were ever built with any kind of long-term intention. They were always built to satisfy the career needs of the founders for the most part.

Paul Venables:

That's interesting.

Charles:

When the founders either got bored or lost their relevance, you tend to see boredom kicking in with people more on the agency side, you tend to see relevance kicking in with people more on the directing side for instance. Directors reach that point and they're no longer as fashionable. You see those businesses diminish and disappear for the most part. And it's one of the reasons I think why it's very hard to name a creative service business that's over 30 years old. Almost impossible to find one that's more than 40. There basically aren't any that are over 50, with rare exception. And other than the heritage agencies, which are all struggling mightily these days, very few of them will even move beyond the founder and then scale dramatically. You just don't see evidence. I think there's a whole bunch of reasons for that.

Charles:

What has always struck me certainly was our experience. But what has also always struck me as I continue to observe and work with different kinds of companies is that if you're going to get to a point where independence is no longer going to be your structure, where you're prepared to sell, starting to think from almost day two, Martin was almost a day late actually in calling on day three, but from day two onwards thinking about what would I want this business to look like when it is owned by somebody else and what relationship do I want to have to that business is that point, is fundamental. And placing oneself as the Founder in a position where your goal is to become irrelevant to the business, is actually the only way you can pass the business on with any kind of sustainability. That it is built so that you are no longer necessary to it. And I think it's very hard for founders to get to that point. What's your response to that?

Paul Venables:

One, White and Kennedy is the great shining ... and maybe the anomaly-

Charles:

And structurally built to be independent, they're not allowed to sell it.

Paul Venables:

Exactly, it's written into their dialogue and trusts and what have you.

Charles:

Right, into their trusts, exactly.

Paul Venables:

But expansion, growth. And I think the beautiful thing, I had a little bit of this conversation and thought process going on a few years ago, bringing in the new partners, it's a succession plan. These guys, it's William McGinness is the Creative Director, Paul Birks-Hay is the President, and Kate Jeffers is the Managing Director. They run the place. I've been so much shocked at my ability to let them.

Charles:

Yeah, it's hard.

Paul Venables:

It's a Founder thing, right?

Charles:

It's hard, yeah.

Paul Venables:

It's hard, but I trust implicitly these people. They are phenomenal. I handed Will McGinness the Creative Department, which is my baby, because it was more than just the work it was the people, and the nurturing, and the coaching, and the mentoring, and all that I loved and was in tune with. And I handed him my Creative Department, which probably was the single hardest thing I've done so far.

Charles:

I can imagine.

Paul Venables:

But it's been phenomenal. He is the exact right leader. He's got all the skills, he's got the people skills, he's got the client skills, he's got the phenomenal work skills and management. He's the right guy, and it's so gratifying to see that and see him grow. And I'm there to help and coach and guide. He checks in with me and we talk and we beat stuff up. But he still makes the decisions. I call myself either the partner to the partners or the conciliary to the partners. They come to me and, hey I've got an issue, and this thing, and what do you think? And I love that role, it's the old guy role. Sit in the corner, go up to him and ask him a question once in a while. I spin a yarn and then they go off and do what they want, as it should be.

Paul Venables:

But no, it's gratifying for me. I feel like I'm helping them become better leaders. I feel like I'm helping them by creating an environment where the four of us are together and in lockstep. Working in unison is a valuable thing I can still help provide.

Charles:

How did you get past the fear of letting go of that?

Paul Venables:

You know it's funny, I'm an idiot. I've never had crazy ... we opened the agency, I had this cushy job in San Francisco making more money than I ever dreamt of. I had power and control, the best agency in the world in my opinion at the time. And it never occurred to me that we might open an agency during this dot com bursting bubble and fail. I don't think it occurred to me. I was like, I can freelance if things go, and patch up a bad month with some freelance work or whatever. I had this dumb, naïve optimism.

Charles:

Wherever that comes from, it's important to have that reference point. Every time I made a step it was always based on the premise if I knew what my minimum level of success was. I could always do some version of this. Part of it I think is the journey of self-discovery. Okay, so I don't know if I could do this, let me see if I could.

Paul Venables:

Right.

Charles:

Was that part of the fuel for you?

Paul Venables:

I think so. It wasn't so much let me see if I could, it was like let's see where it goes. I had a Creative Director tell me back in New York, way back in the day, Tom DiCiurcio, it was Buckley DiCiurcio, it was a hot agency, another small agency, they both went off to be directors. He critiqued my book. We were talking about his career and how they had just launched, put their shingle out, and they were getting going, and small accounts. And I talked to him a little bit about that process and he said, "I worked at JWT in Detroit doing truck ads for years before I finally got my book good enough, and now we're on this trajectory. And I figure if it all goes south I can always write truck ads."

Paul Venables:

The same thing, the backstop. And I felt the same way. I had a certain level of skill that was marketable and I could be helpful to clients, particularly turn around tough accounts, I felt like I could do that well. So let's try this and push this. Again, I didn't think about failure, but I knew I had a backup plan maybe, I guess that's a better way to say it. But same thing, I married my wife and I never thought twice about it. I see people stressing, that's the woman, boom. I have an idiot colored glasses that I don every once in a while.

Charles:

I'm not going to respond to that.

Paul Venables:

You haven't met my wife.

Charles:

What have you learned about unlocking creativity in other people? What's fundamental to creating an environment in which they can do their best work?

Paul Venables:

You have to work for them. The best creative directors-

Charles:

So the servant leader.

Paul Venables:

Yes, servant leadership. The best creative directors get just as much joy and thrill helping a junior team sell and idea and produce an idea, than doing it themselves. As much or more. And I think that's an ingredient growing up in the '80s, early-90s, and creativity, and even in creative agencies that was missing. Everybody was a little selfish.

Charles:

The industry was designed to make it selfish, right?

Paul Venables:

Exactly, how am I going to get my line, or am I going to chew a pencil, what am I doing, I want this assignment. People used to jockey for assignments, I never did that. Because you know what, what you think is a beautiful assignment you get it and you're like, that's a nightmare. I've met some client that everybody's like woo, and then I met them and it's like, I don't need to, I'll work on the phone company.

Charles:

Susan Credle talks about an environment of scarcity where you grab this thing because there aren't. I want that and I'm not letting anyone near it.

Paul Venables:

Yes, exactly.

Charles:

And how necessary that was at that time, but actually how unhealthy that is.

Paul Venables:

And part of the leadership is to try to go out there and bring in opportunity. But if I can make a team ... a team comes to me with an idea, I kick it around, I beat it up, we try to take it and elevate it to its best potential point, and then we decide it's good enough to go or not. Every idea gets its due, that's the way I used to creative direct. I think we're running and gunning so fast I'm not sure that happens as much as it used to, and that's part of the business. But what does happen is when there is that idea, how can I help the creatives, my experience with the client, what do I know about tone, what do I know about what they've like in the past, where are the no fly zones that no one knows.

Paul Venables:

How can I guide and coach them on that level to make it more bulletproof and help them sell it? How can I actually help them creatively make it better? How can I then give them the ammunition to sell it? What are the right things, what are the triggers to pull, what are the ways to present it? Does it need a setup film, does it need ... what does it need to push it over the top? And then in the execution it's like, let's think this through. What are the smart things in production that we need to figure out that at first glance you might not realize could be real big issues in pulling this thing off or what have you?

Paul Venables:

And really, helping them do their work. It's like teaching a man to fish. Now they come back, the next assignment they're working on Audi say, they've learned so much about the tone, and the no fly zones, and the way to do this, and how to tease an idea, and what makes for a sharp ending, and what does Audi like in terms of the call. They want some wit, what does that mean in their ad? They know so much more because I've taught them. And now they come and impress me. And I look good and they've done all the work. It's Machiavellian.

Charles:

It's filled with self-interest.

Paul Venables:

Yeah, exactly.

Charles:

If I were to ask you how you lead, answer that question through the frame that you've just provided. How do you lead?

Paul Venables:

In a creative direction setting, that kind of thing?

Charles:

Just in general how do you show up every day?

Paul Venables:

I think letting people know you're present and you care. In the early days I used to do laps around the office and tap everybody on the shoulder and just BS with them for a minute, or talk to them about their project they were working on. Then I'm invested too. It's not you're out ... because I know what it's like to be a creative and you go off to a coffee shop and you're staring at your partner for the fifth time a the same assignment and you're like, what the hell are we doing? And are we all alone in the world? And knowing that no no no, I'm here. I'm here to help you get to where you ... and if I'm not clear, let's talk. If the brief's not great, let's take it to strategy and go, hey how do we sharpen this? So they have a champion, they have an ... they feel like someone's fighting for them.

Paul Venables:

Also, I always made a point of knowing who had what assignments, because invariably people will have a tough assignment. And knowing they had a tough assignment so when the next assignment comes along going, you know what I know you've been toiling away on that thing and it's not going very well or not going far enough fast enough. I know that, so take on this when that's done and it'll be maybe an easier ride. And just when you're sitting there, and you are toiling, and you know someone knows, you know someone knows it matters. Oh, this thing's tough and I'm on my fifth revision, but they know that and they're going to take care of me. They're going to find something in the future. That scarcity thing doesn't kick in, I don't have to worry about every little ... they know this. And when you have your review, they know this. We're talking about it. I think that's invaluable. That's invaluable.

Charles:

What are you like moving people on who don't fit?

Paul Venables:

Ask that again.

Charles:

What are you like moving people on from the organization that don't fit or can't meet the standard or have run their course?

Paul Venables:

I am compassionate. I try to be as compassionate as possible. Listen, that doesn't mean they're not talented or wonderful people, it just means they don't fit. And there's reasons, and there's things. And I never want it to be a surprise. People need that have performance reviews, they need to have evaluations, they need to know their weaknesses as we go. So when we have that conversation it's not a surprise. We do it as gracefully and gently as possible, I think we're generous in how we send people off. And I do think that ... I don't want to say this out loud because it'll jinx it, but let's just say you'd be surprised at the percentage of the meetings I have like that where people sincerely and honestly thank me. And even in the way it's handle. The time at Venables, Bell, and Partners, and for the way this transition happened. And I pride myself on that.

Paul Venables:

This is not a spit them out, churn them out business model. There are other agencies that do that. They get youngings in, they kill them for two years, and they spit them out. And those youngings are better off because they have pieces in their book now and they really worked the sweatshop and so now they have something to show for it and they get a better job. That's not our business model. Our business model is that cultivate, retain, grow. I like growing them up from Triple A to the Majors, that's one of my favorite things. It's like, teach them. And all of a sudden I've got an All Star that no one saw. I love that.

Charles:

Is there room for talented geniuses, tortured geniuses, rather?

Paul Venables:

Oh yeah.

Charles:

The misfit personality?

Paul Venables:

Absolutely.

Charles:

How do you absorb that into an environment that is doing the right thing?

Paul Venables:

I think the tortured genius, as long as they're not an asshole. If they're an asshole they get found out. I've had parting conversations with people who have won con lines on an account that no one was winning con lines on. Valuable, wonderful, creative talents. And repeated, and coaching involved, and we're not this and you don't fit. And you know it, that's the other thing. So it was amicable and fine. So that's tricky.

Paul Venables:

But the tortured genius is like, oh you're the person who likes to sit in the corner and not be social and just generate ideas. How do we accommodate that? How do we use that for good and keep you motivated? And if you feel isolated and you want more work collaborative, we have that option, or maybe there's some assignments we force you to do that to open up your skillset a little bit. But for the most part, you're in the corner doing your thing, we can work with you. I love the misfit. I think diversity of thought, the whole industry is chasing diversity from an ethnicity and whatnot point of view for that reason. Diversity of thought is powerful. Different people coming at things different ways, that's where the concoction gets interesting.

Charles:

For sure, that's right. Two last questions for you. As you look back at the journey so far, what most surprises you?

Paul Venables:

Success, how successful we've been. I can't believe it. I pinch myself every day. The beautiful, wonderful people I work with. I walk of the elevator every day and I'm like, wow. The people, I think because we're an agency with some heart, we attract people with heart. And the ones that stick are the ones that have heart. There's a lot of young people and I used to talk about, these are the kinds of kids you want your kids to grow up and find and marry. They're that quality of individual, and that excited the hell out of me. The kinds of clients we have and the trust of those clients, big time brands. Audi reached across from Germany, across the East Coast, to a little agency on the West Coast that never had a car account. Wow, I'm thankful every day. Those are the biggest, I can't believe it.

Charles:

And what are you afraid of?

Paul Venables:

That's tough because I really am not oriented towards fear. I would say the scariest scenario, and I don't spend a lot of time thinking about this, but if we wake up one day and clients no longer value creativity. If everything goes programmatic and automated, if we just bang it away long enough we're going to hit our sales numbers and we don't need creativity, we don't need ideas that have impact, I probably won't be in business. And I hope there's always going to be enlightened clients. There's always going to be a mix, a healthy mix, even if it's 80% programmatic and 20% magic. I'm in the magic business, and if that becomes undervalued, or not valued, or diminishes, the demand diminishes, that's apocalyptic for me.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three takeaways that I've heard that I think make you successful from a leadership standpoint. The first of those is there's an obvious humility, which I think fuels your generosity. You clearly want other people to succeed, and I think that is very resonant throughout the whole conversation, everything you've described.

Charles:

I think two, you clearly love the journey. That you're interested in what's next, what else could happen here, where could this go. And so you never seem settled in the moment, so hanging onto the status quo doesn't seem to be a particularly interesting place for you to live.

Charles:

And three, I think that you strike me as a leader who genuinely lived through a set of values that you've either intuitively or maybe even increasingly explicitly defined the way that you want to lead, the way you want to show up, and the kind of environment that you want to provide. And that creates consistency of expectation and behavior, and attracts the right kinds of people to work with you and for you to work with. Do those resonate with you?

Paul Venables:

You're a pretty smart guy. No, that's ... thank you, I'm flattered. Really, I couldn't have asked you to report back better thoughts that I actually have in my heart about what I want to be and where I'm going, and what kind of leader and person I want to be.

Charles:

I mean, we've never met before, but you show up so clearly to me as somebody who just wants the best for other people. And I can't think of a better attribute for a successful leader of a creative business.

Paul Venables:

Great, thank you so much.

Charles:

Thank you so much for being here, Paul.

Paul Venables:

This has been ... you just validated my life.

Charles:

Wow, that's a high standard. Thanks again, it's just been fantastic.

Paul Venables:

Thank you, thank you so much.