lynn_ipg-media-labThe WLN NY recently interviewed Lynn Fantom, CEO, ID Media, as part of its Social Profile Spotlight Project.

What hurdles have you overcome to get to where you are today?

In fourth grade I got my first B (actually B+) in science and the teacher said, “like most little girls, Lynn doesn’t seem to enjoy science.” When I was applying to colleges, my Latin teacher discouraged me from considering Smith College because “girls like you don’t go there.” (She thought I was too middle-class.) Well, not only did I get in, but I flourished. Then, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from this great institution that had nourished both Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, I encountered this: in my first job at an NYC ad agency, my boss threw a little office party and surprised everyone by playing porn movies. So, the hurdles have been implicit and quite explicit!What are some qualities/traits in yourself that have helped you advance? What are some traits you see in men that help them advance that we can learn from?

I can read in the back of a cab without getting sick. I’m joking, of course, but the truth is that focus, drive and stamina have been key to my advancement. They certainly helped me overcome the obstacles I’ve faced. Both men and women possess these traits, and they are absolutely essential to succeeding in business today.

What characteristics in general make for strong leadership and are those harder for women to own?

Strong leaders have a vision and can inspire others to collaborate to achieve it. The characteristics that yield strong leaders are, in fact, ones women innately own. After all, women have been doing these things with their families…forever.

My mom had a vision for her family and her children (myself and my two sisters). She demonstrated a passion for this vision, as well as consistency, encouragement (not micro-managing), a great talent in helping the three sisters get along, and trust in us. That trust became mutual. This is a pretty good blueprint for a great leader, I think.

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn?

In the late nineties, I was CEO of a public Web services firm and, with the recession and September 11th, we were running out of cash. This left us vulnerable for an unfavorable acquisition. I learned the importance of acting quickly, even with painful staff cuts, when all the signs are there.

The lesson I’ve learned as a result of that? In an industry as fast-paced as media, you have ups and downs, and you have to guard against pretending or hoping that things are going to get better. You have to face the facts and react quickly.

If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

I would put more time into networking. But it’s never too late. And networking can happen when you least expect it. Seize every opportunity.

Once, for instance, I was sitting in a formal feedback session with a client we share with UM. The exec was giving UM very high marks (literally!), noting how personally involved Jacki Kelley was and how well she understood their business. Mind you, Jacki was then Global CEO of UM [currently CEO, North America and President of Global Clients at Mediabrands]. Knowing her time constraints (she’s also a mom), I had to find out, quite frankly, how she did it. So I reached out to her and said, “look, I know you’re busy, but I’ll even sit in a car with you on the way to the airport.” And, in her typically gracious way, Jacki was able to find time for me—not in the passenger seat of a cab, but over breakfast. And that experience has established a rapport between the two of us that continues to mean a lot to me.

What would you tell your daughter if she were embarking on a career in Advertising?

Luisa is a senior at Dartmouth now, majoring in Geography. If she were to pursue a career in advertising, my advice to her would be this: study more statistics. Technology has given us a wealth of data, empowering a far greater understanding of consumer decision making. Knowledge of technology and statistics are core skills for our profession today. If a young woman has this kind of training as a basis and, if she’s smart, works well with other people, and has that all-important fire in the belly, she’ll go far!