Speaking on day one at Spikes Asia 2014, Al Moseley, president and CCO, 180 Amsterdam spoke about his journey from a creative director to leading a company and presented a perspective on why creative people should lead companies.
He said, “I’ve been a creative all my career across TBWA, Mother, W+K and at 180 Amsterdam. My main focus at TBWA and Mother where I was a creative director was pure creative work. Then as ECD at W+K, I had the same focus. I never thought about the business. Then in April 2013, my business partner who was leading the business side of the industry quit. My company asked me to start speaking with clients directly and they would always ask me ‘If I was taking over’. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but finally did step in as a president.”
Before talking about creativity, Moseley wanted to talk about leadership. He said, “When I took over I was very confused. I asked myself the question, what makes a leader? I asked, 'Was I born to be a leader?' The answer for the latter was no. I then found myself reading leadership books. I was questioned by a colleague of mine when I was on flight the reason for reading these books. I even went online and looked at videos to become a great leader. It was pretty embarrassing.”
“Today, I see leadership changing. A whole generation of creative leaderships are changing,” added Moseley.
He went onto give examples of creative leaders who are bring in some change or the other.
First on his list was Gabe Newell, founder of gaming company, Valve Corporation, who 'changed the shape of management'.
“Newell left Microsoft to create his own gaming company. His organisational chart was a flatland type of model. He had a method of working without a boss. He had four ideas to work in his company: (i): Come up with an idea (ii): Tell a co-worker (iii): Work on it together (iv) And (finally) ship it.”
Next he spoke about Ricardo Semler, the chief executive of a Brazilian firm, SEMCO Partners, and how he changed leadership through the involvement of employees.
He explained, “He had radical values. He changed the company from being an autocratic management to democratic. Workers could decide what projects they would work on, how they would work towards it (deadlines) and sometimes even decided their pay for it. His view was to get away with clocks. He was CEO, but according to himself that stood for ‘Chief Enzymes Officer’. He roams around in his companies and looks to connect with colleagues by suggesting weird ideas and asking stupid questions.”
Nalden, said the speaker, was a creative leader who wants to make the world more beautiful. “The blogger used to use a transfer service which he found ugly. This made him launch WeTransfer, a service that now has about five million users.”
His next example was about the founders of AirBNB. He labeled these guys as ‘leaders who change the face of economies'. “The founders didn’t have money to pay their house rent. There was a conference in their town and people needed accommodation which was fast selling out. They sold some spare space in their house by giving space to people visiting the conference. That provided the basis to launch AirBNB,” said Moseley.
He added, “All these leaders had something in common – ‘Ideas’. Ideas ran their business. So, I thought to myself when I took over – if ideas are the fuel and I have ideas, maybe I can run the business. We are living in an economy of ideas.”
He reasoned why creative agencies are lacking in leaders such as these. “We think of ourselves as a creative agency, yet there’s always a mistrust of creatives.”
He followed that image by saying, “Anyway that is changing. I believe that the two sides of the advertising business can be brought together. Our clients come to work with agencies because of our work. Consumers look up to some agencies because of the same reason. Creative awarded campaigns have been proved to be 11 times more effective than others.”
He surmised, “So it was natural for me to become a leader as I have as a creative nurtured fragile ideas and egos. Whether we serve drinks in the kitchen or head out for lunch, we just have to look at making work better. We could organise ourselves differently to meet our responsibilities. We need to look at an organisational chart that has ideas in the middle and every department working around it.”