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Meet the 40 Over 40 honoree: Rob FitzGerald


Rob FitzGerald is president and COO at Empower.

How did you feel when you saw your name on Campaign’s 40 Over 40 list?

Surprised and honored – no one told me they were doing the submission.

Embarrassed – success is always a team sport.

Sad - my Mum didn’t get to see it. 

Sum up your journey to where you are now in fewer than five words?

Imperfect route, perfect destination.

Three qualities you need to be successful and achieve longevity in the creative industries?

Humor,’ bouncebackability’ and genuine love for the business – even if it doesn’t always love you back. 

Worst thing about the crazy last few months? Any silver linings?

Seeing our people fear for their families, their jobs and the company they’ve help build. 

The silver lining was Jim (Empower Owner & CEO) and I being able to use our experience, empathy and independence to make two of those fears go away so our talent could focus on what was important – themselves and their families. 

We’ve taken the time to check on each other’s well-being outside of work, and as a result I’d say we’ve actually become even closer as a group, all while continuing to expand over the last six months and welcome four new clients. 

Best use of creativity you’ve seen during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Apple WFH ads - all too recognizable without being patronizing or insincere.

What needs to happen to make the industry truly diverse?

So much needs to happen on a macro level, much of which lies beyond our remit.

But this does not excuse inaction. Within this industry there are simple actions we can take today that can have an immediate impact.

First and foremost, we can stop fetishizing youth, looks and degrees from familiar colleges. Even applying one of these meaningless criteria to talent, restricts our ability to fish from the largest pool possible. 

Apply this criterion collectively to candidates and they crush any chance for diverse hires, injecting fresh perspectives and bringing in broader life experiences. Which ironically is exactly what we need.

Another simple first step would be to stop employee referral programs immediately – for the most part they simply perpetuate uniformity.  

Purpose in business: A flash in the pan or the fundamental basis for the future?

At Empower it’s certainly why we all get out of bed every morning. 

Our purpose – to be 'The Un-Holding Company' – has become an agency wide rallying cry and a key attraction for both clients and talent. 

Purpose in business resonates by being both relevant and heart felt. It is the foundation for any successful company.

How does the culture at your organization help you thrive?

We have the strongest culture I’ve ever seen at an agency, and over the years I’ve seen a lot!

Culture is clearly articulated in our core mission, our client benefits and our six simple, straightforward values all of which permeate everything we do. The values are reflective of who we are right now, not who we want to be someday – which make them powerfully successful.

As COO & President, being held responsible for nurturing culture balances out the financial side, making us equally focused on the mid/long term health of the company. 

Describe one thing you produced in the past 12 months that excites you.

Building our leadership team. 

Widely different personalities, shared ambition, singular purpose.

And if we took your leadership team out for a drink, how would they describe you?

Summary of responses from six members of Empower’s Leadership Team: 

Smart; passionate; adaptive; perceptive; globally insightful; collaborative and FUN!!!

Rob is a disrupter in the best possible way – he breaks shit all the time. Over and over again he breaks the work, the process, the organization, the final presentation so that we can create something fresher, smarter. Something that moves people. He does this because he sees something better in us than we can see ourselves. I think the method to his madness is more than just building the perfect outcome. It’s also about building a resilient team who can thrive in the world of advertising chaos. He’s conditioning a team who has grit, agility, and speed.

The wheels are always turning – he’s always thinking about what’s next. Always has another idea. He sets high expectations for the present and future, but is light-hearted and fun-loving while we work to get there. 

Who's your biggest inspiration? And why?

Lizzie-Pascale, my wife. I’m the poster-child for the professional and personal benefits of marrying up.

What advice would you give to someone entering the industry? Any tips for success you'd like to share?

For stability, find yourself a strong, supportive partner. It will be a bumpy ride at some point.

For longevity, focus on being a practitioner not a politician. Politicians may get to the top quicker, but they always get found out when they get there.

For yourself, be geographically flexible. I’ve been able to work in the UK, Poland, China, Japan and the US and these experiences have become part of who I am as much as what I do.

For your own self-worth, work at an independent agency not a holding company.

For everybody around you. Don’t be an ass. 

What’s in store for the future of your brand – and the industry in general?

I’m incredibly positive about Empower, and truly believe we have the right people, in the right place at exactly the right time.

It is my often stated POV that the future of the industry is directly related to the future of agencies like ours. It was the holding companies and their fixation with scale, share-holder value and short-term profitability that led the industry to the bottom. It will be the success of independent agencies and their increasing attraction to major brands that will lead the industry back to the top.  

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