5 lessons advertising people can learn from Harvard Business School

Anselmo Ramos is back to square one after launching his own business -- here's what he's learnt.

Discomfort is the most powerful catalyst for my personal growth and happiness, and I’ve never been as uncomfortable as I am now.

Three months ago, I left DAVID, the advertising agency I founded, to start GUT, a 100 percent independent ad agency. Discomfort and uncertainty surround me -- I don’t have a signed AOR contract, I haven’t won any awards, and I won’t have a paycheck until March 2019. In many ways, I’m #backtozero.

Yet, I’ve never been happier. Why? Because I’m actively learning and growing. Putting yourself in unfamiliar situations can be unsettling, but it’s essential for creating neural pathways that expand your mind, ignite new kinds of engagement and foster creative thinking. That brings me to my first lesson that I learned from Harvard.

1. You can always be more uncomfortable

Just when I thought I couldn’t be any more uncomfortable, I went to Harvard to take their OPM (Owner/President/Management) course after reading about it in the book, "Dream Big." For three weeks, and to my co-founder Gaston’s dismay, I disconnected from work. I was back to being a student -- waking up early, classes all day, homework all night, group projects, and sleeping in a dorm. After that, I went back to work with a new resilience and confidence. Getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself in a new environment does wonders for stretching your creative self, and I can’t recommend it enough.

2. Accept that you don’t know anything

In our industry, it can often feel like there are more ‘gurus’ than people creating ads, and more people giving talks than actually attending. After Harvard, I’m 100 percent positive that I don’t know anything, and every class confirmed that. I had classes about strategy, leadership, operations, marketing, negotiation and finance. Through all the enlightenment, I was constantly reminded of how much I didn’t know. By accepting that we don’t know anything, we’re better listeners and learners.

3. Be confident. But first, be humble

Imagine a class with a 150 CEOs and business owners. That’s where I found myself at Harvard, and it’s an extremely humbling experience. The following are based on real conversations I had

Break 1:
Me: "Are you the founder of the company?"
Owner 1: "No, my great grandpa was. I’m the 4th generation. You?"
Me: "I’m the first generation. I was born in the wrong family."

Break 2:
Me: "How big is your company?"
Owner 2: "This year we’ll be $2 billion in revenue. You?"
Me: "Do you know the J curve? Just starting to draw the J. I’m burning, baby."

Break 3:
Me: "Hi, what do you do?"
Owner 3: "I have my own company."
Me: "Cool, me too. How many people you have?"
Owner 3: "Thirty thousand. You?"
Me: "Fifteen. But next month, we’ll be seventeen."

After that, I started to avoid breaks and just played Fortnite.

Placing intimidation aside, the best part of being there was meeting incredible leaders and entrepreneurs from across industries: logistics, pharmaceuticals, transport, real estate, investment banking and robotics. It was fascinating to learn about industries that deal with much more than just people and laptops. While confidence is important, being humble is key; there will always be someone with bigger revenue, a bigger margin and a bigger heart.

4. You’re not dreaming big enough

At Harvard, I’ve never felt my dreams were so small. First, because we were studying cases like Amazon and Tesla in detail, and it’s quite unfair to compare "Cannes Independent Agency of the Year" to "Colonize Mars." Second, my fellow students wouldn’t stop pushing me. "You should open three GUT offices next year." "You should offer data analytics, UXD, media, design, PR, mobile, AR, VR, AI and IoT. Offer everything tomorrow." "You should take a $5 million dollar investment. Here’s the check. You think you don’t need it, but you do. To grow faster."

"I’m in a creative business," I said. "I’m in professional services," I said. "It’s harder with ideas because they’re so intangible," I said. But they wouldn’t listen. They didn’t care about my excuses. They just said, "More! More! More!" Now I want to own a global communications conglomerate.

5. Business is about three things: people, people, people

The size of your business, the country you’re in, the product or service you offer, or whether you’re public or private doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters when running a successful business is people. Invest in people, spend time, nurture, and care about people. If you do that, everything else falls into place. Learn to be a people-person, a people-leader and to build a people-business. It sounds obvious, but we forget the importance of it. Oh, and yes, culture. But guess who builds culture? People.

So, if you want to avoid Harvard’s excruciating selection process and the considerable tuition fee, remember these five things: You can always be more uncomfortable; you don’t know anything; be confident but first be humble; you’re not dreaming big enough and lastly but most importantly; good advertising, like good business, is about the people, people, people.

Anselmo Ramos is the co-founder and CCO at GUT.

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