60: "The Pace Setter" - Chris Weil

Chris Weil_Momentum.jpg

"The Pace Setter"

This week, my conversation with Chris Weil - the CEO of Momentum. Chris has always struck me as clear, confident and charismatic. He welcomes people into his world and puts them at ease. And he relishes change.  I wanted to talk to Chris about where his confidence and openness comes from.


Three Takeaways

  • Willingness to take on the challenge in front of you.
  • Commitment to creating an environment that allows for the best work.
  • Clear intention.

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 60: "The Pace Setter" Chris Weil

I’m Charles Day and this is Fearless!!

This week, my conversation with Chris Weil - CEO of Momentum.

Chris has always struck me as clear, confident and charismatic. He welcomes people into his world and puts them at ease. And he relishes change. 

I wanted to talk to Chris about where his confidence and openness comes from.

So, this episode is called… “The Pace Setter”

"But because you're CEO you get people treated differently. All of a sudden, for me, I didn't know what to do. What is the role of a CEO and I got a couple great pieces of advice. The first one from my dad was the best. He goes, "Remember, the pace of the game is set by the pace of the boss. Set it however you want." 

I’ve talked before about the importance of leaders using the levers of power. Of making those decisions that only the leader can make. 

Leading creativity is a hard balance to find. It relies on a series of opposites. A willingness to trust in chaos. The ability to set a clear vision for companies capable of redefining the unimaginable.  The embrace of uncertainty as a platform for reliable results. 

 And leading creativity requires one other thing that is counter intuitive. A willingness to maintain momentum by sometimes lowering your definitions of success. 

Creativity in the business world thrives on forward movement. On trial. And yes, on error. Creativity feeds on progress. 

The best leaders create that environment by setting the bar at the right height. High enough to measure progress. But low enough that progress is readily attainable. Because when that happens, experience is gained and knowledge is acquired. Which fuels creativity.

As you lead your business, how are you setting the pace? Is it fast enough to unlock creativity? And what might be holding you back?

Here’s Chris Weil.

Charles:

Chris, welcome to Fearless, thanks for being here.

Chris Weil:

Really good to be here, Charles. The only problem I have is that you're doing six of these in Cannes, and you and I are sitting in New York City doing this.

Charles:

Yes, I know. I'm sorry about that. I feel like I've let you down somehow.

When did creativity first show up in your life? When were you first conscious of something striking you as creative?

Chris Weil:

That's an interesting question to start on. I grew up, my dad was in the media business, the family business was newspapers. So I was always around it in that sense. And then my mom was an artist, and still is an artist. May have some of her paints here on my walls in the office. Lots at my house. She's a great artist. So I grew up in media and art my whole life.

Charles:

Were you a risk taker as a kid?

Chris Weil:

Just a little, yeah. I had an interesting upbringing. I was born in Africa, and then moved around Michigan, Indiana, New York, and then out to Colorado. And grew up a good part of my life out in Colorado, in the mountains. So if we could put it on our feet, we could ski it down anything. So we did a lot of crazy stuff, and a lot of really fun stuff, both on frozen water, snow, and then also on anything we could ski on top of the water also.

Charles:

Where in Africa were you born?

Chris Weil:

I was born in Asmara, Ethiopia, which is now Eritrea. And at the time Haile Selassie was Emperor, and the US Navy had our naval base there. It's the highest point in Northeast Africa, and it was a listening station for the Red Sea. Dating myself, it was before satellite communication, so we were bouncing in and out of there. And my dad was in the Navy at the time, so I was born over there. Kagnew Station was the name.

Charles:

What was it called?

Chris Weil:

Kagnew Station in Asmara, Ethiopia, Eritrea.

Charles:

Kagnew Station.

Chris Weil:

Yeah.

Charles:

How long were you there, before you moved away?

Chris Weil:

Three years.

Charles:

Do you remember it?

Chris Weil:

No, but I just took the old Super 8 video camera things and just digitized all those, so I've been watching them, and they're very funny to watch.

Charles:

It must look like it's from a different life.

Chris Weil:

Completely. Completely. Hopefully I'm gonna go back with my kids and my dad. We were talking about this summer, but we may do it at Christmas time.

Charles:

He must have incredible stories from back then.

Chris Weil:

Yeah, he does. He has some wonderful ones. And the travels that they did in those days, from there. And to see all of those old pictures are fantastic.

Charles:

Wow. So Colorado led you to where?

Chris Weil:

Colorado, then I went to school in Missouri. I went to a little private school there called Westminster College to go play baseball. And then I left Westminster and I went overseas for a couple months, and ended up hitchhiking, and working on boats, and goofing around for 14 months traveling around the world.

Got waylaid up in the Himalayas, up at base camp at Everest and some other areas through India, and then got stuck in southern Thailand for a long time. And then eventually got a job on a sailboat down in Australia, and then another one up in Hawaii, and then delivered one from Hawaii up to Alaska, and by the time I got off that boat I was done and it was time to come back and get a real job, and I moved to Chicago.

Charles:

What was the lure of all the travel? I mean that's real wanderlust, right?

Chris Weil:

Yeah, yeah. I mean I literally ... I sold my car, I got an Amex card because that was how I got mail at the American Express offices. So when I would leave Istanbul, I would go into the office and I'd hit a forwarding from Istanbul to where I thought I might end up, Kathmandu. And then when I left Kathmandu, I forwarded to Bangkok, or wherever.

And I would call home the first Sunday of every month, and other than that I was incommunicado for over a year, wandering around the world. It was spectacular. And, candidly, it helped me ... I'm running a global company now, and have been for a while. I think that year of being abroad, and learning other cultures, and being accepting of different ways of lives, has helped me dramatically in doing my job.

Charles:

Did you set out to have a year of travel?

Chris Weil:

No.

Charles:

You just went where the spirit took you?

Chris Weil:

I just kept going. Just kept going.

Charles:

How did you decide where to go next? What were the kind of things that influenced those decisions?

Chris Weil:

You run into a group, and they'd be saying, "Hey, we heard there's an island down past Ko Samui that is really cool, do you wanna go?" And so yeah, let's go. I mean you gotta remember, I mean the most I spent on a hotel room, the most I spent the entire year abroad, was $40. And that was one night, and I was breaking the bank because we had gone, a group of us, up to ... we got a one week visa to go travel through Burma in the day. You can only ... Communist country, you had to change $100 and get their money back, but then we'd bring a case of cigarettes and some Johnnie Walker scotch, trade that on the black market and you were rich.

And it was hard traveling, but it was unbelievably fabulous. But no showers, or cold showers, so when we came out of Burma we said, "Let's get a nice hotel room in Thailand." And I spent $40 that night. That was the most I spent in a year. Normally it was a dollar to five dollars at hostels, or I lived in a shack on a beach down in southern Thailand, and it was 25 baht a night, which was a dollar in those days.

Charles:

Was there ever a place you just said, "Oh I'm not going there, it's too dangerous?"

Chris Weil:

No.

Charles:

So you went anywhere? Just whatever the impulse was, whatever the motivation was? You were willing to go anywhere, prepared to have any experience?

Chris Weil:

Pretty much so. And that's also how I ended up on boats and things like that. You can always pick up a little work here and there. I got stuck rigging sailboards on a beach in Thailand for tourists for a little while, pretty tough work.

Charles:

Where do you think that spirit of adventure came from? Was that from your parents? I mean was that part of how you grew up instinctively?

Chris Weil:

I don't know the answer to that. We grew up pretty free when we moved out to Colorado. We were living in New York and my parents got divorced, and my mom took us from Westchester to the hills of Colorado in 1977 to a little town called Evergreen, where there's a little bar down there there's still a hitching post in the main town. I mean this was the western-most town of the Denver school district, up in the foothills at about 8,500 feet.

And up there, we lived a different kind of life. It was an adventurous life. We spent a lot of time outside. We did things like on a full moon we would pile in ... we'd sneak out of the house and drive to the top of Loveland Pass, and eight of us piled into a van and then we would ski down under a full moon above timber line. It's not a ski area. And just bust down and ski from midnight 'til 4:00 a.m.

I mean we did a lot of really, really fun stuff. So yeah, I guess it's been in me for a while.

Charles:

It's such an interesting perspective.

Chris Weil:

Still doing it. Last year I decided I wanted to learn to kite surf. So I started kite surfing, which has been a ball. I really, really enjoyed ... But the interesting part is as you get older, it's very seldom that you set out and you do something you've never done before. And so I realized it'd bene a while since I done that, and so I was like, "I gotta find something I've never done before." And so I went down to a little island called Bonaire off the coast of Venezuela, and went diving in the morning and kite surfing in the afternoon for a week until I got it. Then went back again this year. So I'm getting better. I'm getting better, but it's a lot of fun.

Charles:

I'm told it's also the most dangerous sport in the world, is that true?

Chris Weil:

I don't think so. No, I think early days it was more dangerous. They've rigged it, it's easier to pop out of the kite now if you get yourself in trouble.

Charles:

You can get picked up and carried a quarter of a mile inland [crosstalk]-

Chris Weil:

Exactly. And the reason I chose Bonaire to learn, it's an offshore breeze. It's a consistent offshore breeze, so you're not-

Charles:

So it's always blowing in the same direction.

Chris Weil:

It's always blowing you toward Venezuela, so the worst thing that would happen is that I would get lost over there. But I would not hit the shore.

Charles:

So you got off the boat, and you said you were done with the travel.

Chris Weil:

Yep.

Charles:

So what was the first step to walk into the orderly world of [crosstalk]?

Chris Weil:

I decided I was either gonna live in New York or Chicago, and a friend of mine was starting a business in Chicago and said, "Why don't you come start it with me?" Called Chicago Marketing Services. And we were a direct marketing company. And so I said, "Well, that sounds like fun." So I moved to Chicago. And we started this, this was my MBA. Because I learned about something called cash flow, which I was an economics major, political science minor, so I understood the broad base of business, and I'd been around business my whole life. But when you have to make payroll every week ... We were really good at selling our services, but at times we were maxing out credit cards to make payroll. So in the end, after two years, we ended up selling it to somebody and got out without losing our shirts.

Charles:

Why marketing? Any special reason?

Chris Weil:

I was more interested in the startup. I mean if it would've been something else I probably would've done it, but that started me on the path. And then I met a guy, crazy story. I don't think I'm gonna tell the whole story. But then we sold it, and I was getting ready, I was gonna go back to business school. And I met a guy named Darryl Hartley Leonard, who, at the time, Darryl Hartley Leonard was CEO of Hyatt Hotels.

Charles:

Started as a doorman.

Chris Weil:

Yes. Do you know Darryl?

Charles:

We pitched Hyatt Hotels, probably [crosstalk]-

Chris Weil:

Probably [crosstalk]. Okay, well Darryl was starting a company called Regency Productions by Hyatt. And what it was was an event company that would go out, and our first client was the NFL. And we basically were producing everything outside the stadium around Superbowl. So all the hospitality, and then we created something called the NFL Experience. This was at Superbowl 25 in Tampa, Florida, and that was our first client. And there were four of us that started the company, and Darryl brought me on as one of the four.

And that one intrigued me because it was a startup backed by the Pritzker family. So cash flow wasn't-

Charles:

Not as big of an issue.

Chris Weil:

Not as big an issue. And so we went on to do some really, really fun work in that company. And that's how I started where I am now. We created things like the NFL Experience, we produced five PGA championships, two Ryder cups, we created the NBA Jam session, we were partners in something called the Professional Athletes Golf League for a while with ESPN and another group where we had Joe Montana and George Brett as our commissioners. Mike Haynes, the Pro Bowler defense back was our head of player relations. And on the board were people like OJ Simpson, Marcus Allen, and people like that. So now I'm really going off on tangents here, but I may as well.

So this was a show for ESPN, it was a two man better ball with pro athletes. You had to have five years as a professional athlete. So Walter Peyton would play with his brother, right? Who also was in the league for a while. John Brodie, who's a hell of a golfer. The hockey players. Brett Hull, great player. And we would shoot it live to tape, and it'd be two, two hour episodes on Wednesday and Thursday night on ESPN.

So we're doing our first event, we're getting ready to do our first event, it was up in Minneapolis. Pepsi's our sponsor. And we have tied in with their biggest retailer up there, and we've got point of sale up everywhere, and with OJ's face, and our board members, part of the board, they gave their marketing rights for the tournament. And I'm standing in a bar in Chicago with Mike Haynes, and up comes on TV the white Bronco chase.

Charles:

Oh my God.

Chris Weil:

And I'm like, "Oh, shit." And now he is talking to Marcus Allen, who is talking to OJ, and I am on the phone calling my tournament director up in Minneapolis saying, "Get out there and take down every poster we have, everything we have with OJ's name on it, especially if Pepsi's around. Get OJ out of the market ASAP."

Chris Weil:

And so that's one of those, it goes-

Charles:

You're sitting in the middle of one of the most extraordinary moments in culture I guess, over the last 30 years. You're seeing the business implications. How do you respond to that personally?

Chris Weil:

The first thing was protect the client. The first thing was, oh God, Pepsi went out on a limb to support a startup, and it was one of the reasons I changed my career to move more towards the business that we're in now, as opposed to what we were doing at the time, because producing a show is complicated.

You've got to have the money, you've got to have the distribution. You have to have the content, Right? And by the way, nobody wants to make the first move, right?

ESPN is not going to commit, unless you got a sponsor that's actually going to underwrite the production, and Pepsi's not going to commit if ESPN doesn't commit, and so you're constantly doing the dance. We did the dance enough that we got a bunch of people to take a risk on joining us.

So, the first thing was, protect the client. I mean that was the first thing. And, you know if he was guilty, which are the conversations that were happening with he and Marcus coming back to Mike, and it didn't sound very good. It was, we've got to get his face off of every single thing as quickly as possible.

We had a lot of it. We had billboards up, we had all kinds of things. So, first was, how do we get the Pepsi logo and the ESPN logo away from OJ? That was the first instinctual response.

After that we were fine, because we had plenty of athletes other than OJ that we're playing. We had a full field and a $300,000.00 purse. Anyway, I can't believe I'm going on this story. I haven't told it in a long time.

Charles:

It's an extraordinary moment obviously to have lived through. That dance you're talking about between sponsor and distribution channel. You describe managing the risk. They're each looking at the risk potential of this scenario, and nobody wants to make the first step.

What did you learn about getting people to lean into that? How did you get one side or the other to take the risk?

Chris Weil:

I'll tell you it helped us in those days. It helped with the caliber of athletes that we had, and to be able to pitch with guys like George and guys like Joe Montana, and Mike Hanes, and Marcus.

We had a really good stable of athletes, because they saw it as if we were successful, here was a way that they could have some fun, play some golf, make some money, and travel around.

Charles:

So, that personality played a big role?

Chris Weil:

It helped a lot.

Charles:

You said you moved away from that?

Chris Weil:

Yeah, so we sold that company. Interestingly, it was a company called PGI out of Washington DC, and we thought we did a pretty good deal. We were their 13th or 14th acquisition, so they were rolling it up and taking it public. They had real money behind them.

GM pension funds, CR Capital, I mean legit money. So, we thought this was going to be a fun ride, taking a company out in public. Actually Darrell left Hyatt at the time, and came on to help take this thing out. I'll never forget, it was a Saturday and he called me and said, hey, what are you doing? I was in my twenties, I'm not sure I was even married yet. So, I said it's Saturday, whatever I was doing in Chicago. He goes, come to my house, which was up north.

So I drive up to Wanetka, and he said I just left the board. There's been financial impropriety, we're not taking this thing public, they've been cooking the books.

Charles:

Wow.

Chris Weil:

So, I'm going to take it over, and I want you to come with me and head up all sales and marketing for the company, and we've got one other partner, Cynthia who's going to be the financial turnaround person on this.

But we've got to get the operations right. We've got to rebrand it, we've got to take all of these companies that we bought and turn them into a single company. How old was I? Maybe 30, 31 maybe, so I said, yeah, I'm in.

Charles:

Was it that immediate a reaction?

Chris Weil:

Yeah, it was, it was that quick. It was, yeah, I'm in, let's do it. I jumped into it and, we had offices all around the country. It was really more in the event production space. It was not as much in it in the creativity space, other than our space. What we were doing in the sports was really interesting, but the rest of it was really corporate event stuff. I spent a year a turning it around, a year and a half, something like that, and enjoyed it.

I enjoyed the rebranding, the changing of the management team, learning how to bring people together that didn't like each other, and were suspicious, and we made some progress. What I realized, was that it was going to be five years. That type of turnaround, it's going to take some time.

So, I was looking at moving to the headquarters in Washington DC, and my phone rang and it was a guy named Mark Dowelly. He said, what are you doing? He had been my client at all of our events.

We ran the online venues for America's cup. We ran the PGA, as I said, NBA, NFL Superbowl, and AT&T was his big client at a little division inside of NW Air, called Advent.

NW Air had just collapsed, if you remember that. The Koreans bought it, and then it went bankrupt, so they were spinning Advent out, and they're spinning the accounts out. McCann Erickson was consolidating the AT&T business. So, with that they brought over a company called advent, which was Mark.

At the same time, they had just backed another company called Momentum that was run by a guy named Mark Driscoll, because he sold Coke the torch relay across the United States for the '96 games, but he didn't have the money to pull it off.

So McCann bought him, consolidating Coke. Momentum and Advent were put together with Coke and AT&T as the first two clients. Mark called me and said, hey, we've got Mccann and IPG money.

We're going to go out buy a bunch of companies and build this into a really cool company, why don't you come do it with me? In true Mark fashion, he said where are you? I said, I'm in DC. He goes, did yo leave Chicago? And I said yeah, I'm looking at houses right now. He goes, well, on your way home dogleg through New York.

So instead of going to Chicago, I flew up to white plains, met him at the Greenwich Yacht Club, or whatever yacht club he belonged to. We sat, and he told me the whole vision of what he wanted to do with Momentum, and we had a couple of drinks and we left. As we're leaving, he handed me an envelope and he said, take a look at this and call me over the weekend.

It was a complete offer letter to come work for him and do it. It was a really good offer letter, so I called him over the weekend and accepted. I'd just gotten married, and I moved here, and that was 20 years ago.

Charles:

What was the challenge with it that drew you?

Chris Weil:

The challenge was, we were only 50 people, maybe less. We had a New York office, and Atlanta, doing Chicago and AT&T. At the time, if you remember, IPG was as inquisitive as can be. we were requiring a lot of stuff. He said we're going to acquire a bunch of companies.

I said one of the things I'd like to do, is I'd like to live overseas, and go run businesses overseas. I just thought it'd be good in my career. He said, I'll make that happen, but come run New York and Amex first.

So, I came to run New York and Amex and we acquired a bunch of companies. In total, I think we've got 23 companies that we acquired. We did some great work for Amex, got famous on launching the Blue Card for Amex, and some of the work that we did there.

Then I moved to London, and he was true to his word. Moved to London, I was planning on being there for a while. Then, as happens, there were some changes at the top, and I got a battlefield promotion. Two and a half, three years later, I came back to take over the company, and I've been running it ever since.

Charles:

How many years is that now?

Chris Weil:

It was 2003.

So how long is that?

Charles:

Fifteen years.

Chris Weil:

Fifteen years. So, I've been here 20, and I've been CEO for 15. It goes to show you I can't find another job.

Charles:

And for you, a long period of stability, right?

Chris Weil:

Exactly, for me after listening to all of that. This is the most fun, exciting, interesting part of the marketing and advertising ecosystem right now. If you look at experiential advertising, which is what we do, especially around sports and entertainment, and music, it's an exciting growing space. Everybody wants live.

I'm lucky enough that I've been on the board of McCann World Group, since five CEOs have been in and out. I'm the longest sitting board member up at McCann World Group. Then also as past chairman of the Four A's. Then running a global company, I've had a wonderful view of the entire advertising ecosystem, of what's going on a global basis.

You got to look at the market, what the competitors were, what the challenges were, watching what production, watching production values change. I mean, nobody ever talks about the fact that what Steve Jobs did at changing the production values.

I mean in the old days when you went around, you'd see a great idea, but the execution wasn't very good. With Mac, all of a sudden the production values have gone up every place in the world, I watched that happen.

So, having a view into the whole ecosystem of a large agency world of advertising, the four A's, I really realized that this is the most interesting part of the marketing advertising world. And, this is where I wanted to be.

We've reinvented the company multiple times. We've had a double digit growth year on year since, I've doubled the company twice, going three times, since 2003. So, we've had some success.

We've had some great clients, and I've got a great management team.

Charles:

What have you learned about leading in that process?

Chris Weil:

It's a full time job.

Charles:

And then some, right?

Chris Weil:

And then some. You know, when I took this over, we were a whole bunch of acquisitions. So, you had a whole bunch of ex owners that had their opinions about it, and they had their names. So, the hard days where the consolidation, the rebranding, the changing of the management team, the shooting the naysayers, bringing on people that believe in where you're going.

It's real simple thing for an ex owner to tell you how to do things, or the employees underneath to believe in the ex owner. So, if you're going to take away the old division, you have to replace it with a better one, and that's what we did.

We put together a vision and a value system for the agency. This is who we are, this is what we believe in, and here's where we're going. If you don't like that, that's cool, just go work somewhere else.

But if you want to do this, then you can have some fun, make some money, and do some great work with us. It's that simple, but this is who we are, and if you don't like that, that's okay. Go work somewhere else. By having a clear articulation of where we were going and a clear articulation of our value system in our operating a model, that has helped.

I just saw yesterday John Seiferts rebranding of Ogilvy, and I thought he did a really, really good job of saying these are our values, this is what we stand for, this is what we're going to do. I applaud what he did because that was a hard decision too. I'm not sure. I think it's a-

[inaudible] I'm not sure, I think it's ... I think it'll make a better [Ogilvy]. I'm not sure it's a growth engine. You know what I mean?

Because he took away a lot of brands.

Charles:

You have traditionally made decisions quickly, big decisions very quickly, and you clearly have a dynamic energy about you. Do you find you have to moderate that in leading a business of this size? I mean, are you finding that you have to adapt to what, to how quickly an organization can change, or do you expect the organization to keep up with your level of dynamic?

Chris Weil:

The latter.

Charles:

So you're driving an organization-

Chris Weil:

The latter.

Charles:

... to keep up with you.

Chris Weil:

Yeah. It's interesting, I got a great piece of advice from my dad. Here I was 36 or whatever taking over as CEO, and the first thing that happens when you take over CEO is, all of a sudden what got you where you are no longer is pertinent. Sitting in a room, brainstorming on trying to solve a problem with a client was something I was really good at, when you're a CEO and you're doing that, whatever you come up with the whole room thinks is a great idea. Right?

Charles:

Yeah.

Chris Weil:

I'm like, "Wait a minute. That's not a great idea. Maybe." But because you're CEO you get people treated differently. All of a sudden, for me, I didn't know what to do. What is the role of a CEO and I got a couple great pieces of advice. The first one from my dad was the best. He goes, "Remember, the pace of the game is set by the pace of the boss. Set it however you want." I had a real simple decision to make, and it was really easy, I said, "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to build an agency that I want to work for, that I would want to work for. It's that simple. It's going to have the values that I care about. I'm going to build what I want." And that's what I did.

Now, I'm not saying that this is all me. I've got a great management team. But this is an agency that I would want to work for. And if i look at the people that have come through here and where they've gone in the industry, I'm really proud of that. If I look at the management team, we've been together for 20 years. I'm proud of that. I look at the people that leave and come back. I'm proud of that. And I look at our client churn, we don't have a big client churn, I'm proud of that.

We've set a pace and by the way you have to keep revisiting the pace too. And we're going through that right now. We're amping it up. I think we're at a moment right now where the entire industry is moving to what we've been doing for 20 years. Everybody's trying to figure out, what's experiential? The millennials, they only care about experience. And that's all we've been doing. We're an experiential advertising agency. That's all we've been doing for 20 years. And we have all the tools. We have the technology. We have the processes. We have the culture. We have ... so right now is our turn to step up and really lead.

Charles:

You make that sound very clear and very straight forward. You make it sound easy actually, right. Yeah, build an agency that you want to work for. Of course, why would everybody not do that? But most people don't.

What's the hardest part of that? Why do you think more people don't do that?

Chris Weil:

That's a really good question. It seems so simple to me. Right. I don't know. Why would you ... I think people get caught up in focusing on the wrong things and they also get caught up on worrying about optics. And worrying about ... you know I'm part of a big corporation, but we run this like a family business.

Charles:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Chris Weil:

And to IPG's credit, they've allowed me to do it that way. But make no mistake about it, if I stop growing and start missing my numbers, they're not going to as I always say, look guys, we're running this as our own company. This is how we're running it. But the table stakes are we make our numbers. Because the minute you don't, a whole bunch of suits show up and try to tell you how to run your business. Right. They're smarter than you. Well, guess what? We know how to run our business so let's make sure that we run it that way. And run it smartly.

Charles:

What kind of people do you look for? As you're going through the hiring process? What kind of people have you discovered working in an environment like this?

Chris Weil:

It's interesting. We have such an eclectic group of people. From our Chief Technology Officer, who's got more patents than anybody and I let him keep going on his independent stuff, but he does amazing work for us. We have lawyers, ex lawyers I should say. We've got producers. We've got creatives. We've got data wants. If I look at the mix at what we have working for us now compared to when I started, it's unbelievable, the difference.

The one thing that ... and you and I have talked about this before, the one filter that we're really trying to perfect is hiring for culture. Because you may have the smartest person in the world but culturally they're not the right fit. And it doesn't work. I have a real simple belief in the hiring system is that where you get in trouble is that the company oversells the opportunity to the employee. And the employee oversells their ability. And then it doesn't work and we're all surprised. Right? Alright, let's stop the bullshit. This is who we are. This is what the job is. This is what's going to be required of you. I'm going to be open with you coming in. Here's the good news, here's the bad news. This is it. Let's be really open and honest. I'm not going to oversell this to you because this is what the job is. Do you want that job? Okay you do. Now, can you do that job? Now be honest with me.

So, you get some honesty and we also have put some systems in place about how we hire better for culture fit. And we've done a pretty good job. We do a real good job growing people up. We don't do as good of job hiring senior senior talent in.

Charles:

Why do you think that is?

Chris Weil:

I think it's a cultural thing. I think that this is a very distinct culture and sometimes it doesn't fit for people.

Charles:

People get set in their ways as they get more advanced in their careers?

Chris Weil:

Yeah.

Charles:

They don't adapt as well?

Chris Weil:

Yeah. And they want to come in and change it. And it actually works, so you're either buying into this, our value system is really simple. It's do great work, be one, have fun, give back to the world. If we do that, we'll continue to grow. Those are our five values. Then we've got a momentum way of how we operate.

Charles:

How do you create ‘be one?’ It's such a powerful reference point. But it's very hard to do. You put a whole lot of ego aside right to act as one?

Chris Weil:

You do. And you’ve got to hold people accountable. So we actually carry those values through all the way down to our reviews of employees. How do you operate against these?

Charles:

And rate people against them?

Chris Weil:

And rate people against them. We even have fun. I shouldn't say this, if IPG found out I was rating people on fun, but no, I mean, if you're going to set up values, you also have to hold people accountable for them. You have to recognize good behavior, which is the obvious one that people do. But disciplining bad behavior is more important. If people are not operating within your culture, you've got to ... if you don't then you're saying to the employees that these don't mean anything. You have to get rid of the bad ones.

Charles:

And you infuse that willingness to move people who don't fit out through the management team.

Chris Weil:

Oh completely. Completely. And when they don't move fast enough, I'm like, you know what, first it's not a right fit. They may be doing a good job, but they're not a right fit. So you've got time to train them. Tell them what their problems are and if they continue to act that way, they're not welcome here.

And by the way, the other thing that I always say is, this Momentum way of working, is also you as an employee can hold management accountable. 'Cause if management doesn't operate that way, you've got a problem. If your boss isn't operating that way, you have my permission to call them out. If I'm not operating that way, you have my permission to call me out. So it's a two way street.

Charles:

Do people every call you out?

Chris Weil:

Me?

Charles:

Yeah.

Chris Weil:

They argue with me a lot but they don't call me out on the value system. There's times when I've been with my management team, I've finally thrown my card on the table saying, you know I am the CEO, you’ve got to listen to me on this. And they're like aahh shut up, whatever. No, it's very ... we argue and debate and you know we're constantly trying to make this better. That's what we're doing. And we've gone through a lot of iterations and the agency's doing some real good work right now.

Charles:

Do you worry that they don't call you out enough? Is that part of the challenge of senior leadership?

Chris Weil:

Well the hard part on senior leadership is getting accurate information. By the time it gets to my desk, it's either a problem or somebody's celebrating a victory. Right? Nobody walks in here, shuts the door, and says, hey I just want to let you know Chris, I love working here. You pay me plenty of money and I just wanted to say thank you. By the time they come in here, they've got another offer. They don't want to leave here, they love it but it's not about the money, but it's always about the money.

Same thing if a client problem gets here. People don't come in and say, hey I just want to let you know everything's going great. Have a good day.

Charles:

So how do you get access to information that's actually valuable to you, that you can do something with?

Chris Weil:

I've been in the organization long enough, I still communicate at a lot of different levels. I don't just communicate at one level.

Charles:

So you overtly build relationships throughout the organization?

Chris Weil:

Yep. Yeah. And I also am still very involved with our accounts. And that's the best way to know what's going on.

I still bill my time. I'm still very very involved with accounts like Amex and Verizon and other ones like that. When you're actually working on the business and in the middle of it you realize how well things are working. If you stay above and look in and out, it's hard.

Now, as you look at it on a global basis, it's not as easy. I'm not as involved in the London office, let's say. Or Tokyo, or Brazil, or Canada or wherever, but what you can do is, [inaudible] got a feel for when you walk in you know how the culture is. If it's right, you can feel it when you walk in. But there's also a real simple shortcut. You just look at employee attrition, account attrition, and the numbers for growth or not growth. If you've got a churn on accounts, you got a problem. If you've got a churn on employees, you've got a problem. If the numbers aren't growing, but those two are good, then you've got a problem in the aggressiveness.

It's as I always say, it's not that complicated a business, that's why I'm in it.

Charles:

What are you worried about most?

Chris Weil:

I'll tell you the thing that worries me the most is my competitive set has changed so dramatically. We compete against everybody now. It didn't use to be that way. We had people in our sector. And now everybody competes for everything, which means that we have to be as good as anybody out there. Not just as good as the people in my sector. And that's hard.

We also, and you and I have had this conversation, we're at a time where the complexity curve has never been steeper in trying to reach the consumer. And at the same time, we've got a downward pressure that has never been more than what it is right now, from compensation models. So as the clients are pushing down on compensation and the complexity's going up, how do we make sure that we have the best people if we can't pay them. They're going to look at other industries as opposed to ours.

The industry is going to come to a reckoning soon on how to do compensation models that are based on performance. I know we've all talked about it forever but it has to get there, or we're going to watch our industry just be a no growth or a shrinking industry. If we want to be a growth industry, we've got to get back to showing how we drive our clients top line growth. And then tying our performance into that.

Charles:

What are you afraid of personally?

Chris Weil:

What am I afraid of personally? I don't like snakes much. Nothing really.

Charles:

Yeah. I think that's interesting. I'm not surprised by that response. Actually I'm sad that this is a podcast because the look on your face was so striking. I don't think fear plays a real big role in your life.

Chris Weil:

You know, I had this conversation last night with someone and we all have a begin on date and a sell by date. You just don't know when the last one is, so what you do in between is entirely up to you. Live it how you want.

Charles:

I know we have to wrap this. I have three quick take a ways for you, at the end of each episode. One is your willingness to just take the challenge. Take on the opportunity that's right in front of you without coming up with a whole bunch of reasons why that might not be a good thing for you or anybody else. I think that's a really notable characteristic.

Two is the ability I think, to create an environment that allows people to do their best work by being really clear about what the value system is and the kind of environment that you want to create.

And then I think three is very much that you have clear intention. You're always working toward something. And you seem pretty clear about what success looks like so it makes it easier for you to make decisions.

Chris Weil:

If that long ramble about my life got you there, then thank you. And thanks for coming in today. It was is always good to see you.

Charles:

Yeah you too. Thanks so much for doing this Chris.

Chris Weil:

Thanks man.