EXECUTIVE MANAGING PARTNER OF HAVAS NORTH AMERICA AND GLOBAL CHIEF CLIENT OFFICER STEPHANIE NERLICH SAYS HER GREATEST CHALLENGE IS GAINING AND RETAINING AN UNFAIR SHARE OF THE INDUSTRY’S TALENT.
With a base in Havas New York, Stephanie talks about her leadership style and delves into the challenges faced by her team when it comes to building the strongest network of talent in the industry.
You recently became Executive Managing Partner of NA, in addition to your position as Global Chief Client Officer! Tell us a little about your role?
I think I have the greatest job in our network right now, maybe the industry – I get to work with leaders across our group to help build out our constellation of stars. Our biggest challenge starts and ends with gaining and retaining an unfair share of talent. We are a people first business and we need a diverse group of people who are creatively passionate and who are excited and actively wanting to do the best work of their careers.
How did you get your start in the industry?
Funnily enough, when I graduated from university I didn’t really understand there was a path in advertising. My father was a financial analyst and portfolio manager, and I had assumed all careers started and ended with finance, but I am a closet art director as it turns out. One of my earliest jobs was working at Fidelity where I had the opportunity to work with an ad agency (it’s foggy and I won’t say how long ago but I think it was Hill Holliday or maybe even Arnold), and I thought: “That’s the job I want.” Luckily a headhunter reached out with a job at J. Walter Thompson and the rest is history.
What makes a good leader and what is your style?
An action orientation. I lean toward collaborative and inclusive – on the spectrum it’s the polar opposite of command and control and textbooks would say that means I’d be light on decision making. In fact, I’m very decisive but don’t believe that my first thought is the only guiding barometer. Instead I am curious about the opinion of others to inform, to challenge the status quo and ultimately that leads to shared accountability amongst the team.
What is the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?
My father reached an amazing milestone this week – he turned 90! It reminded me about not just one piece of advice he’s given, but all the advice he’s displayed. My dad always leads with his heart. He is an early feminist, whether it was teaching me to throw a baseball or inspiring me to want to run companies, he never wavered in his support but he would never let me off the hook either. We’d throw the ball for hours to perfect the perfect pitch. So I think it boils down to actions not words. You won’t be judged on what you say but what you do and practice makes perfect.
What is your career highlight?
I’ve had lots. I’ve worked hard, I’ve been lucky and I’ve had great mentors. I’ve worked at and with amazing people and agencies but I was most excited the year my team won multiple Cannes Lions and the Grand Effie for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. It reminded me, not that winning awards was important, but that using our powers for good was important. After the Sandy Hook Elementary Shooting, we just couldn’t understand how some laws made sense. You could go into a grocery store to buy ice cream with an AK15 semi-automatic rifle on your shoulder but wouldn’t be served if you didn’t have shoes on. We have a civic duty to create opportunities for people, a fiscal responsibility to make brands more meaningful and a moral imperative to help change the world for the better.
If money didn’t matter, what would you be doing?
There’s not one job per se, but I’d work with my hands. I’m a painter, a weekend farmer, a home cook and I love interior design. I’m not sure it’s possible to combine all those things but I’d spend time doing more of each.
Where is your favorite place on earth?
Abaco in the Bahamas where the sand is white and the water turquoise. Hurricane Dorian devastated our favorite little spot but I’m hopeful that we will return one day.
When you’re not working, how do you have fun?
I have two teenagers daughters, a great family and a very tight group of friends that have been together since university. Almost anything is fun when it’s in a group.