63: "The One Company Leader" - John Seifert

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"The One Company Leader"

I first met John Seifert in 1983. We were both working at Ogilvy & Mather in New York on the TWA business. The world was very different back then. What hasn’t changed much is John.  John and Ogilvy always seemed to fit together. You couldn’t imagine him working anywhere else.  Thirty nine years later, he still hasn’t. Today he is the company's CEO. In an era and industry defined by upheaval, I wanted to talk to John about why he has stayed at one company for so long.


Three Takeaways

  • The willingness to take on big challenges.
  • Commitment to your values.
  • Openness to the point of view of others. 

"FEARLESS CREATIVE LEADERSHIP" PODCAST - TRANSCRIPT

Episode 63: "The One Company Leader" John Seifert

I’m Charles Day and this is Fearless!!

I first met John Seifert in 1983. We were both working at Ogilvy & Mather in New York on the TWA business. He as a management supervisor. Me as an assistant media planner. The world was very different back then.

What hasn’t changed much is John. 

John and Ogilvy always seemed to fit together. You couldn’t imagine hime working anywhere else. 

Thirty nine years later, he still hasn’t.

In an era and industry defined by upheaval, I wanted to talk to John about why he has stayed at one company for so long.

So, this episode is called, 

“The One Company Leader”

"I'm never going to be brave enough to start my own company, but I've found a company with a set of beliefs and values and behaviors that I deeply respect and I will do whatever it takes and be as open as necessary to protect those." 

Courage comes in many forms. What is effortless to one person looms as an existential threat to another.  

Which is why the question of leadership values is so complex.

On its surface, it seems like a simple task. Define the behaviors that matter to you. Then follow them.

But the problem with values is that they sit quietly in the dark when everything is going well, then suddenly emerge and tap you on the shoulder - or worse - when a problem blows up. And in creative businesses, problems blow up all the time - it’s the nature of the force.

When, as you are the leader, you find yourself standing face to face with your values you are faced with two choices. Follow them or abandon them forever. Because once you’ve given your values the head fake, your people don’t trust you any more.

So define your values based on a simple question - would I be wiling to lose my job over this principle? If the answer is no, then it’s not a value. It’s a broken promise. To the people that work for you. And more importantly, to yourself.

There’s a postscript to this episode that took place since John and I sat down in Cannes.

On July 11, John announced that he had decided to fire Ogilvy’s longtime Global Chief Creative Officer, and Co-Chairman, Tham Kai Meng for “a clear breach of our company values and code of conduct.”

It is easy to stand on the sideline, and see what should be done. But the line between knowing and doing is rarely straight. And the leaders who connect the dots from one to the other are usually outweighed by those who don’t.

If you want to know whether you are a leader who has meaningful values write down what you say - and then write down what you do. The answer will be staring back at you in black and white.

Here’s John Seifert.

Charles:

John, thanks for joining me in the bar at Majestic, another fine Cannes moment.

John Seifert:

A pleasure.

Charles:

And thanks for being on Fearless. Let me ask you the question I ask all my guests, what's your first memory of something appearing as creative in your life? When did you first encounter creativity as you look back at your life?

John Seifert:

I first encountered it ... My father was in the textile business, and he specialized in what were called silver-knit fabrics, high-end fabrics that was ... It was like the rayon, nylon. These were not natural fabrics. But one of the things that enabled high-end design was the machinery that went behind being able to make just about any kind of design you can imagine.

And so I can remember being my father's office in little Jefferson, Wisconsin when he was looking at samples of all these different fabric designs that had been created by various people in the company. And they were trying to figure out what they were going to take to customers to say, "This is what we've done. We can do something even better for you." And so it was fascinating to me because it was my first sort of understanding of the notion of customization of design, and it ultimately led to ... They could make just about anything in a non-natural fabric that looked like an elegant natural fur.

Charles:

So limitless possibilities.

John Seifert:

Exactly. Exactly.

Charles:

So you grew up in Wisconsin?

John Seifert:

Small town, little town called Jefferson, Wisconsin.

Charles:

I didn't know that. I went to Beloit.

John Seifert:

Yeah. See-

Charles:

Right? Isn't that crazy?

John Seifert:

Now, we have a common bond. Wisconsin.

Charles:

Yeah. Yet another one.

John Seifert:

Yeah. Yeah.

Charles:

That's incredible. Were you a risk taker as a kid?

John Seifert:

No. My mother was what I would call a low-sensation seeker. Right? Don't take a risk. Try and be as comfortable as possible, and I inherited that from her. My father was the opposite, high- sensation seeker. My brother, high-sensation seeker. But no, I was never comfortable. I didn't like to go to camp. I didn't like to do anything that was sort of out of the kind of protective bubble that I knew which was this small little town in Wisconsin. So when my parents were divorced, and I moved to California, that felt to me like the ultimate risk taking.

Charles:

Why California?

John Seifert:

My mother wanted to be as far away from the environment that she believed led to her marriage breakdown, and I think she literally, in all seriousness, pulled out a map of the United States and said, "Where is one of the most desirable I could go that would be as far away as Wisconsin as possible? La Jolla, California."

Charles:

So that must have been culture shock.

John Seifert:

That was huge culture shock because there, everybody was cool. And when the minute you said, "I'm from Jefferson, Wisconsin," people looked at you like you were from Mars. So the first few years there were hard.

Charles:

Yeah.

John Seifert:

But I grew to love it, and my youngest son and his wife and my new grandchild live in Los Angeles, and my mother and brother still live in California so California will always be a special place.

Charles:

When did you first show up to New York? What brought you to New York?

John Seifert:

I was hired by Charlotte Beers. So Charlotte Beers, shortly after she took over as CEO at Ogilvy, we got into some trouble on the American Express account, and they had fired us in the US. Famously, gave the business to Chiat Day after this crazy pitch process where a different client was assigned to three different agencies, and we lost the US business.

And I was in Singapore at the time, and I had actually moved Asia seven and a half years before to work on American Express in Thailand, and I developed a close, working relationship with a number of the senior clients, and so the job was "Don't let what's happened in the US happen to the rest of the network." And so I was brought back to New York to work with a court-team of international clients who pretty much all had the same brief, which is "Let's figure out how to grow the international business faster," and that's what got me back in 1992.

Charles:

You got into the business young, right?

John Seifert:

I would say very young. I mean I had just finished my sophomore year in college. And I really didn't like it, and a family friend had worked for David Ogilvy in New York, and she had written to me to say, "I think you need a new experience to kind of get your priorities straight." So she said, "I think you'd be good in advertising." And so she wrote to Bill Phillips, then the US President of Ogilvy, and he sent me his business card in red ink to say, "Write to me about the summer of 1979."

And my friend Sheila told me, "All you have to do is write a good enough letter for them not to think you're like a drug addict or a criminal of some sort, and you will have the job." And I literally took the business card to then head of office, Bourne Morris, the first woman head of office of an Ogilvy office in the US, and I said, "My friend Bill Phillips tells me you have work for me," and that's what started me this month, 39 years ago.

Charles:

So how did somebody who grew up Jefferson, Wisconsin, the son of somebody who took no risk, decide, "I'm going to leave college in my sophomore year, move to the other side of the country, and take a job in an industry that I have no experience in?"

John Seifert:

My mother would say to you, "I can't explain it." I think she's just gotten over the fact that I don't have a college degree. But the good news is both my sons do so I've kind of inked my name on their diplomas.

But I think the truth is everybody goes through something in life that makes them step back and assess what path they're on. And this friend who worked at her career, partially, at Ogilvy, I think she knew that I had the ability to do well in business, but I wasn't applying myself. I wasn't working hard enough. I didn't have enough perspective.

And so her intervention is really the reason I took the job. And once I was in, I was completely hooked. She sent me Confessions of an Advertising Man to read. I read David's life story, and I thought to myself ... I don't think I was thinking, literally, "Here's a guy who takes risks," but I thought, "Here is somebody who's tried all these different things who is also a college dropout, which I kind of related to in an emotional way, and he's been brave enough to try things that he didn't know if he'd be any good at or not." And that just gave me a sense of confidence that I could do something similar. So for me, joining the advertising business was a sense of, "Let's see what happens. I'm prepared to fail, but equally, I'm going to work as hard as I can to do well."

Charles:

And how did you teach yourself how to be successful given the fact that you had no experience in the business?

John Seifert:

This is why I've stayed 39 years at Ogilvy because I had a group of people around me from the most senior people in the Los Angeles off at the time, including Bill Phillips who kept his eye on me. I think because for his own reputation, he wanted to know he didn't send some dud to the office, but the generosity of senior leaders at Ogilvy who are willing to teach me, give me opportunities way, way ahead of my proven ability, was, I thought, extraordinary.

And I had a leadership session a couple of years ago shortly after I took over as CEO, and I literally had an envelope of every personal note that anyone at Ogilvy that had ever sent to me that was of encouragement or recognition or motivation to do better. And I literally turned it upside down and dropped it on the floor and spread it out, and I had everybody get on their hands and knees and read those notes.

And I think what I said to everybody in that session was, "Have you done this for people in the company that you see has potential or have potential that you care about, that you want to grow because this is the company that I've only known." I've only known a company that cared nothing more than helping its people develop and learn. So when we went through out re-founding a few weeks ago, I'm trying to bring back that sense of the founder brand mentality that I think that has made Ogilvy successful for 70 years, and that's all due to David Ogilvy. He is the individual that built that character into the company.

Charles:

Yeah. Very much so. You and I, as we both know, overlapped in New York in the early '80s, and I still think back on those days as probably the most powerful from a cultural standpoint. I'm not sure I've ever worked there that had as much richness of culture and really made you feel like they cared about you, the company cared about you.

John Seifert:

Yeah. No.

Charles:

It was extraordinary.

John Seifert:

Yeah. In fact, I was at lunch honorary Piyush Pandey who is being recognized here in Cannes this week, our chief creative officer and chairman of our India business. At lunch we called Jimi Kapur, the widow of Ranjan Kapur, who's famous executive in our Indian and South Asia business who passed away tragically six months ago. And Jimi writes to every Ogilvy leader that she's ever met in her entire life and sends them a birthday message. And that's sort of the character of the company.

I tell people I could go to almost city in the world, and if I have a problem, and I call the Ogilvy office, even before I was CEO, and an Ogilvy employee calls, there will be somewhere there to help you.

Charles:

Yeah.

John Seifert:

It's just the character of the company.

Charles:

Yeah. I think that's right. You grew into management positions very early. I mean I remember showing up, and you had an extremely advanced position for somebody of your age. How did you earn the kind of trust that required?

John Seifert:

Really I raised my hand when I was still working in Los Angeles so I started in Los Angeles in 1979. I left Los Angeles for Chicago in late '83. And someone, I don't even remember who it was, came to my office before I left Los Angeles, and said, "Do you have any interest in working internationally?" And one of the first things that the LA office enabled me to do is I had to fly to Milan, Italy for a big Mattel Toys presentation, a pitch to retain the business in Italy. Now, I was the most junior person. Why they ever sent me, I don't even know to this day, but somehow, I was asked to go help the Milan office on this pitch. And so I thought to myself, "How amazing." I'd never been to Europe before. You show up for the first time, someone picks you up, and treats you like you're really important. And I was a nobody.

And so when they came around my office and said, " Are you interested in international?" I couldn't raise it fast enough. And literally, within nine months, someone came to me and said, "We're putting you on the list to move to somewhere in Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Singapore. We're waiting for the right thing to open up, and we just want you to know that when the call comes, we're counting on you to go." I was married for the first time. I had a young child, and I didn't even think twice about it. And someone said to me, "Do you want to go on a trip to see what it's like?" I said, "No. Just tell me when we're going, and I'm going."

So there was this sense of adventure and giving you a chance, and that put me into a job, which ended up becoming the general manager of our office in Thailand, where I was primarily there to work on the American Express business and some other international clients. But to go, the promise to me was "We'll give you general management experience well ahead of when you might get it in New York or Chicago or London or somewhere else." And so I just got the opportunity to do work ahead of my proven ability. And that was, again, very much Ogilvy, which is, "If you're up for it, you raise your hand, you work hard to do it." No one is afraid of promoting you fast as a result of that.

Charles:

Did you aspire to position or did you aspire to experience?

John Seifert:

It's such a great question because I tell this to every audience within the company I can speak to, and people that we're trying to recruit. You will grow so much faster. You'll have a much more enjoyable career if you focus on experiences. This notion of getting a title, feeling important, those things are so ephemeral.  

John Seifert:

What matters what you, to this day I can tell you the 10 amazing experiences I've had in the company that have completely shaped my career. I could not tell you what my title was almost in any one of them. Or, you know, we all, look, we all like recognition. We all like getting the new business card that shows our progression, but my life at Ogilvy has been totally defined by experiences. Some of them amazing, some of them really challenging and almost career threatening. But at the end of the day, every single one of them enabled me to become the CEO of the company. Not because I had gotten status in some, one position versus another. It was the portfolio of experiences that enabled me to take on, ultimately take on the most senior role in the company.

Charles:

I imagine at 39 years, you must be the longest serving leader of any business in the creative industries. There will probably never be another person who serves at one company as long as you have, right?

John Seifert:

I actually, I hadn't actually even thought of that. I mean, the one thing I say to people, is I'm the ninth chairman and CEO of the company since David founded the company nearly 70 years ago. So I think of myself, I spent nearly 40 years in a company that's 70 years old. So more than half the company's existence. I'm the last one who will have been mentored by the previous eight CEOs.

Charles:

Wow.

John Seifert:

Including David himself.

Charles:

Wow.

John Seifert:

So I have this, in the Marines, if you ask a Marine how they define leadership, they say, "We think about leader very simply in the Marines. It's, we stand on the shoulders of those who sacrificed before us. We don't want to let them down." I just changed the word sacrificed to service, and that's kind of how I feel. I feel like I stand on all their shoulders. And so, my big focus as recognizing that fact, is I don't get up every morning and worry about so the day's events, I am manically focused on, "Am I doing the right things so that the next five or six generations of leaders who will lead the company will feel the way I do about its purpose, its values, its core beliefs" that make those people want to do the job beyond for the obvious reasons.

Charles:

Are there days when that responsibility feels overwhelming?

John Seifert:

No. No actually, you know, it's funny. Someone asked me, even in the most difficult situations, I always sleep well. I've always, my mother, this is where I get, my low sensation seeking mother was a great sleeper. And no problem that I go to sleep with do I wake up with. And I can't tell you why that is, but I just every morning I wake up energized and I also think that one of the benefits of starting in the company at a young age, unqualified with no real good reason for being there other than a connection, a family friend, is that you just have a sense of, you know, try harder. Work harder. Learn faster. And I've always subscribed to that as the thing that deals with stress or any of the other things.

The other thing, you will remember, the famous line about, at Ogilvy, which is, "Work hard, play hard, and sleep fast."

Charles:

Sleep fast. Ken Roman, right?

John Seifert:

Yeah, Ken Roman. And I've always embraced that. It's something, I stay in close touch with a lot of the old alumni of Ogilvy, and they give me a lot of energy to take on whatever comes in front of me.

Charles:

Have you ever come close to leaving?

John Seifert:

Well, it's very funny because the only time, was about a year into my career in Los Angeles. My father came to me and basically said he wanted me to take over the family, the textile company that he, his grandfather and his father, and he built. And it was a pretty successful, profitable company based in Johnson City, Tennessee. I kind of felt for the first time almost, that, not obligation, but sort of sense of family pull to do it. So I went and talked to him at length about it. And I thought, well maybe this is the right thing to do. So I went back to Bourne Morris who was then the Ogilvy CEO in Los Angeles, and I told her I was leaving and I explained why I was leaving.

I'll never forget this. This has always stuck with me. She didn't tell me I was stupid or I was making the biggest mistake, but she just said, "You know what, I just think you should take a couple weeks and really think about it. Talk about it with your family and really make sure that you think this is the right thing to do. Because you have so much opportunity here at Ogilvy." So I did that. So I went and I talked to various family members. And I ended up talking to my mother about it. And having come from a divorced relationship, you can imagine she was not a big fan of this idea. And my mother said to me, "You decide what you want to do. But at the end of the day, you've got group of people at Ogilvy who've really given you an enormous opportunity and you seem to be doing well. Why would you throw that away?"

And that was it for me. That's all she had to say. And I went back and I said, "Will you take me back?" And they said, "Well, you didn't sign a resignation letter did you?" I said, "No, I wouldn't have even typed it up." So that was it. So I told my father no, and that was the only time in my career that I had actually seriously considered leaving the company.

Charles:

Wow. 39 years.

John Seifert:

Yeah. 39 years.

Charles:

You famously have re-engineered the company entirely, right? Restructured the [crosstalk].

John Seifert:

We're in the process of it, yeah.

Charles:

Why did you feel the imperative to take on something so enormous?

John Seifert:

Well, really for one simple reason, and that is the brand. I had felt that in pursuit of growth over a period of time when everything in our industry was about adding stuff, adding capabilities, adding new value propositions, acquiring new entities, that we had become, we had become not an operating company, we'd become a mini holding company. And I really felt the brand was being diminished. It's often described in the classic story of you come to Ogilvy, and nine people from Ogilvy show up and every single person had a different business card with either a different version of Ogilvy, or no Ogilvy on the card, or whatever. And so, I really felt, and this was before I accepted the job of becoming the CEO, that we had fragmented our offering. The brand was being diluted. And we had lost focus on the founder brand mentality of David. We were very good at celebrating David quotes, David memorabilia, David artifacts but I didn't think we were living the brand. In the spirit of the founder mentality that he had.

And so, I just, when I had the opportunity the sit down with Martin and lay out a future plan, I just said, we'd become too much like WPP and not enough of what really should differentiate us, and that's Ogilvy. And so, he accepted my argument that the best way for us to grow in the future, was to have a point of view that was distinctively Ogilvy, brand ourselves in a compelling way. And then be really disciplined about how we execute it. Both for our people and for our clients.

The other reason I was so passionate about it was, I grew up in the era of Steve Jobs. And I absolutely passionately believed in the founder mentality of Steve Jobs. Not necessarily some of Steve's personal behaviors and characteristics, but that sort of focus on a point of view, a culture, a way of getting others to be as excited about their work as you are about it. And I just felt we had lost too much of that. And the only way I knew to get it back, was to say, we're going to be one thing. We're going to have one brand. And we're not going to let internal competition get in the way of doing what's in the best interest of clients.

Charles:

Was it hard to convince Martin?

John Seifert:

No. You know, it was funny. When I took the job, I had no idea what problem Martin thought Ogilvy had. Because you always assume a new boss, someone says, "Well I like these eight things, I didn't like those four things." I had no idea. And so the only way, I didn't feel like the right way to do this was to go ask Martin, "What's our problem?" So I went and told him what I thought our problem was. And then i told him what I thought the solutions were. And then I said, "Look this isn't going to happen overnight. This is a multi-year process. I need to know that you have the staying power for this." One of the reasons that I loved working for Martin is that once he decided that you were, that your strategy was right, your thinking was right, no one was more supportive.

And so, he just did everything he could to enable the plan I wrote to happen. And I will always be deeply grateful for that. It's, it was not necessarily the obvious thing to do, but I think Martin, I think Martin saw in my plan a little bit about what he thought he might want to do at WPP, but he knew that was going to be really hard, so let Ogilvy take a crack at it.

Charles:

What's been the biggest challenge?

John Seifert:

You know, the, I think the biggest challenge is satisfying and serving a multi-generational workforce. When I started 39 years ago, if you interviewed the summer intern and you interviewed everybody up from the summer intern to the handful of people you thought could run the company, you would have probably found very little differentiation in mindset of how people thought about their work, their role, their future, what it take to succeed. There was an extraordinary amount of uniformity of, let's call it mental model.

Today, to figure out how to entice the youngest people in our company today to come to the company, to stay at the company, to see the company as a medium or long term career, I've given up the idea that I can persuade anyone to think that 39 years is the right way to think about their career at Ogilvy. But to deal with that mindset in light of all the change that's happened socially and culturally and then to get the 25 year veteran who may have been in the company most of their time in that career, or only maybe one or two different companies. It's a huge differential. And so the toughest part of this is finding the right narrative for every generation to sign up for the same thing. And I would say that's been the toughest challenge.

Some people have said to me, "Well, you're moving too fast. You're taking too much risk in all the change you're trying to take on. And you might lose someone really talented and really experienced." And my comeback is usually, "I'm not worried about those people, because if they haven't the reasons to stay and support this strategy, they'll make their own choice." I'm more worried about the people who are impatient for change and for, to have a bigger role in the company and who say, "You're not moving fast enough. I'll find someplace else that is." And that to me is the far bigger risk. So, that's why embracing a big transformation agenda that's complicated and hard and affects everything, has actually not been that scary for me. Because I really do think that our future is at risk.

And look around us. Every single one of our clients is going through at least as complicated a set of changes as I'm trying to take on. And many of them much more so. Much bigger companies, much more complex business systems. And I think they have the same attitude, which is, we change or we're not around.

Charles:

We tend to think of change initiatives as having a destination. That there will be a very specific after. I'm not sure that that's true anymore. Do you think, are you trying to change to get to a place, or are you trying to change the way the entire company thinks and behaves?

John Seifert:

I couldn't agree more. I think destination led change is a very tricky thing because in that situation people are always saying, "Well, we're not there yet." Or, "When are we going to get there?" Or, "I'm not sure I want to go there anymore." I'm much more focused on changing a way of thinking about how we serve, what creates value, how we measure value, how we relate to each other. Those things are to me the things that you have to get people excited about and believing in. Then you have to clearly have clear outcomes you're moving towards that signal you're on the right path. But I think it's all about changing your way of looking at problems, the way of working together, and coming up with new solutions that people wouldn't have even imagined a year, 5 years, 10 years ago that are possible because of all the change around us. It's very much a change of character and belief I think, than it is a destination.

Charles:

How do you lead?

John Seifert:

I'm a big believer in ... I've never liked to be micromanaged. My best bosses were always about giving me what I needed to be my best and then letting me kind of get excited about the outcomes that I was part of. So my tendency is to lead by setting direction, motivating people around a set of principles and then basically stepping back and asking them what they need to do their best work. I'm a big believer in defend your people to the death when you have to so that they feel secure in their own ability to challenge conventions, be brave, color outside the lines, do things without being told. So I try and pick things that I think signal to others that the vision's clear, the principles of how we're going to get there are clear, and I have your back. What does it take for you to go after that with all of your energy, with all of your talent, and ensure that then you get the credit for whatever we accomplish.

Charles:

How do you make sure you're getting accurate feedback from the company? I mean when you've got a position like yours, right, it's sometimes hard for a lot of people to walk in and say, "Hey, I think this is what's going on."

John Seifert:

No, no, and I think that's the thing that we are trying to innovate the most around. We've just formed this partnership with a company called 100X, a dear friend of mine, a guy named Rob Pace, used to be head of strategy at Goldman Sachs. Very, very progressive thinker. Someone who thought deeply about how do you get organizations not just to change, but how do you get them to perform at their highest potential? He believed in building listening cultures, feedback mechanisms that enable people to provide feedback but then to get real time responses. "You're doing really great Charles. More of that please," and celebrate you in the moment. Or if you run into a problem, "How do we help fix what's getting in your way in terms of the problem?"

So I feel that we need much more sophisticated listening that is embedded throughout the company so that people feel much more comfortable about sharing in real time, what's working, what's not, what's getting in their way. Then I just try and build a sort of a cultural orientation of, "I'm willing to listen." In my mind listening is not just like sitting there and listening to someone. It is creating a culture where people know that they can tell the truth and they never have to fear providing feedback to get to a better outcome, because you and I have been in this business long enough to know it is usually fear or insecurity that gets in the way of the right feedback in the moment that you need it to come to do the right thing. I really do believe, and this is what I love about David, which is he was so maniacal about creating a culture with clearly defined values and beliefs that leadership was held accountable over it.

Charles:

What's the biggest obstacle in creating that kind of environment?

John Seifert:

I think the biggest obstacle is just the distraction of all the short term noise that can get in the way. We live in a world now which just seemingly punishes anyone that doesn't react immediately. I just think that you have to ultimately create a culture where people have a sense of confidence that doing the right thing is the most important thing. It may take more time, it might be harder to do, it might come with some pain, but you'll always be prouder of yourself and you'll be better rewarded by do the right thing for the medium and long-term and don't let the short-term noise get in your way.

In today's world now I mean we just see this in every walk of life, in every aspect of life, that it's just harder and harder to ... Patience, civility, giving people permission to make mistakes and learn from them, these are really hard, not so easy. They're easy to say, very hard to deliver on, and they're certainly hard to build trust around. I was thinking seeing a lot of the stories coming out of Cannes already just in terms of responses to Me Too, and Times Up, and sexual harassment in the workplace, and some of these things are so culturally embedded and have gone on without accountability for so long, that it's going to take a long time.

Charles:

Yeah, and there's going to be an extreme counter reaction until we find a new middle ground. Right?

John Seifert:

I think that's right. I think that's right. I even was on a panel today with some marketers who were saying, "It's almost now men now need to find a voice to kind of help them figure out in a world now, which seemingly is so negative towards the male genre or the male gender because of the worst of what can come from men, what's that going to do to men's self-esteem, men's identity, men's ability to engage with women?" And I think women are as concerned about that as men.

Charles:

Yeah. I actually think that women are having as hard a time as men are actually in defining where they sit in this new spectrum, because I think it, for the moment anyway, has become so black and white. So one side versus the other side, and you're not allowed to take a position in the middle at the moment. I think that that will come, right?

John Seifert:

Yeah.

Charles:

But people are having a really hard time because people don't generally want to sit on one side or the other of a spectrum extreme.

John Seifert:

That goes back to another question you were asking. I just think that the one thing that every leader needs to sweat the details around is that everyone understands your intent. You are not always going to get it right in terms of execution, but as long as your intent is clear and people believe in your intent, then I think you'll have permission to make some mistakes. But if your intent is wrong and at worst evil, then you should pay a big price.

Charles:

Yeah. For sure. Last question. What are you afraid of?

John Seifert:

Well, on my way here taking off in a thunderstorm in New York, I was afraid my plane was going to crash, but then I looked around and saw all these famous journalists on the plane and I thought, "Well, it's probably not going to go down because it's too big a story if they don't make it." I'm sometimes a nervous flyer, so that's about the only thing that I'm afraid of. No, I guess the only thing I'm afraid of is letting people down. I feel a great sense of responsibility running an organization of nearly 15,000 people, a brand I've worked for for my entire career, a group of leaders that I've grown up with and who've taught me virtually everything I know. So the last thing I would like to be remembered for is someone who took the company off track, screwed up the brand, because it's just given me everything that I value in my life.

So I just have a high sense of responsibility of don't screw it up. But I don't worry about screwing it up, I worry more about just do the right thing, and get a whole bunch of other people around me who want to do the right thing as well. So far I've come to work every day feeling excited that that's what we're doing. I would say that the minute I wake up and I don't feel that's what we're doing, no one will have to fire me. I'll take myself out of the game because I want to make sure the company ... We'll be 70 years old in September. I want to make sure the next 70 is phenomenal. I know it will be based on the amazing people in the company who I get the privilege to work with every day.

Charles:

I have to ask you one quick follow up. Doing the job that you do, how do you deal with being a nervous flyer? You must be on planes all the time.

John Seifert:

Yeah, I'm not a nervous flyer anymore in the sense that about ... I think when I was still working in Asia I was a bit of a nervous flyer, but I always felt getting on an Asian airline I was totally safe. Then I came back to America in the early '90s and I thought, "Oh my God, the plane looks like it's going to fall apart before we even get to the runway." So the truth is I'm not a nervous flyer, but I will say getting in a plane, getting in a car, getting in anything in today's environment, you just have a little bit more of a sense of insecurity about it even though everything is safer than it's ever been and all the rest of it. It's not the machinery. It's the people influencing the machinery that's a worry. But I love to, the good news is I love to travel, I love to go places and so I'm not going to let a rainstorm get in the way of doing what I gotta do.

Charles:

I wrap every episode with three themes, three takeaways that I've heard. Let me throw these at you and then you can tell me what you think. I think the first thing that strikes me is that, your willingness to make the big decision and that, as you were saying, you didn't want to screw Ogilvy up.

John Seifert:

Yeah.

Charles:

My interpretation is that your definition of screwing it up would have been to have done nothing.

John Seifert:

Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.

Charles:

So willing to take on the big challenges. The second that's attached to that is that you do that on a values basis, that you are really committed to the kind of behavior that's important, right, and that values play an enormous role. Then I think third, and I think this has come through today, it's also a little bit driven by knowing you, which is I think your openness. You're willing to have conversations with different people about different aspects of this and be open to the possibility that somebody else might have a different point of view that's valuable.

John Seifert:

No. Well first of all, thank you because I think those are all true. I wouldn't have the job I have today if I didn't believe and benefit from the values of the leaders that came before me and what I think are the values of the company. We are not perfect. We make mistakes every day. We don't always live up to the fullest extent of the values, but there's no lack of clarity of what they are. So I think when people really do rise to the occasion and behave consistent with our values, great things happen. One of the things I loved about first getting this job and working with all the partners I've had at Ogilvy, but then my partners at WPP is, I love the strategic debate.

There's nothing that I think is more rewarding than to ... This is David Ogilvy. This is one of the reasons I love founders so much. You tell me a founder that loses a debate about what they believe, and why they think that matters, and how it influences their business, their point of view, or whatever. Founders just have a bravery about them that I've ... I'm never going to be brave enough to start my own company, but I've found a company with a set of beliefs and values and behaviors that I deeply respect and I will do whatever it takes and be as open as necessary to protect those. That to me is what makes it so much fun.

Charles:

John, thanks so much for being here today. This has been fantastic.

John Seifert:

Thank you, Charles.

Charles:

Appreciate it.