The journey from CCO to chief executive is pretty rare, but it’s one that more creatives should consider taking, according to TBWA\Chiat\Day New York CEO Rob Schwartz, who took that route himself.
Schwartz took the helm at TBWA NY in 2015 after holding a number of impressive creative posts, including CCO of TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles and global creative president of TBWA. He’s a creative through and through, but says his current role as CEO is his favorite so far.
"It’s the best job I’ve ever had and I loved being a junior copywriter and thought that was great," said Schwartz during The 3% Conference in Chicago last week.
Schwartz believes that CEOs who were once creatives have a lot of empathy for makers – an important attribute for a leader of an ad agency.
When he was offered the CEO post, Schwartz said he hadn’t thought about that position as a possibility for himself before, which may be the case for other creatives.
"Careers don’t happen by accident. You have to plan a little bit. I got lucky," he said.
If a creative is interested in becoming an agency leader someday, Schwartz advises that they start paying attention to the paths of other creative people.
Schwartz said he began looking at other creative people in power positions, like Jay Z and Quincy Jones.
Once he took on the post, Schwartz said – other than the power and ability to influence big decisions – he liked being able to tap into all disciplines, from creative and strategy to finance and operations. It was like TBWA NY was now his assignment and project in which he could figure out the positioning, words, feel and more to help it grow.
"It’s like pizza. If you’re a CCO, you get one slice of pizza, which is amazing, but if you’re the CEO, you get the whole pie," he said.
One of the biggest learning curves in going from CCO to CEO, Schwartz said, is realizing that you’re no longer the one in meetings showcasing ideas.
"As CEO, you have to sit back and really listen and try to hear where things are going. You’re responsible to create the environment where great things can happen – not to have the big idea," he said. "It was hard. I had to learn to stop talking and just fucking listen."
Aside from that, Schwartz said the finance portion was a bit of a challenge since he didn’t go to school for that, which is why he enrolled in an online MIT course.
"Before that I didn’t know the difference between revenue and profit, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s all money,’ but it’s not and you have to know the difference," he explained.
Schwartz said that young creatives who want to expand their minds and skill sets shouldn't be shy about asking their agencies to help them take courses or attend conferences.
"Your first brand and your first company is the company of you," he said. "You owe it to yourself to invest in yourself. It’s great for you and your career, but you’ll also be able to contribute more to your company."