A WLN Roundtable Discussion with John Shea and Shirley Richter-Hughes

WLN hosted John Shea, President, Octagon and Shirley Richter-Hughes, Managing Director, US, FRUKT  for a roundtable discussion in the Stamford, CT office. Our WLN members came prepared to have a lively discussion on an array of topics that ranged from industry trends to creating an inclusive work environment.

Read on for the highlights of the meeting:

Tell us about your background and share a fun fact not everyone might know about you.

Shirley (SH)– I’ve been managing the FRUKT business for 1.5 years but prior I’ve worked in various marketing and entertainment jobs. I’ve had a lot of experience that has brought me to this point. Fun fact: I’m from a small town in 800 people in North Dakota and Doosan bought the company that my dad worked for.

John (JS) –  I’ve been at Octagon for 24 years and started as an intern. I helped grow the agency from a small private company to a large enterprise. Fun fact: I’m 1 of 4 siblings and everyone’s initials are “JS”. My parents have an odd sense of humor.

What have you noticed about the growth and evolution of the business?

SH: Content is changing as people go to OTT channels. It’s changing the paradigm of how we create content. Companies want to get closer to consumers and they’re hard to find. Experiential is an area of opportunity because it’s harder to get to the consumer. Based on the research, once you get people to “experience your brand” you’re much more likely to get them to spend.

JS: Let’s first look at macro trends. Every business is focused on D+I and we are no different. What’s going on in the marketing business, content is a part of that. Within sports marketing there are new distribution channels and everyone is into it. This will be a big disruption for us which is why we focused on a Media Rights company.

What’s the role that women in senior leadership play in each of your agencies?

SH: I have a lot of female senior leadership. It’s a good group even into the mid layers. I have to give a diverse look: ages, millennials, Gen Z; what we can do is to make sure we have a diverse look at the products our brands sell. What’s the right team for the business? People are listening to up to 10 genres of music, how people do things has changed.

JS: We have an opportunity to grow our senior most women. We made our executive committee an operating committee, which is more representative. This will help us to address long term and short-term issues. While we run vertical businesses, in all cases we have the same clients and one team. We serve clients as one entity and one organization.

How do we cultivate diversity within our existing ranks?

SH: Ask people to help with projects to get everyone to understand what everyone does, if someone can’t sell what the person next to them does, then there is a problem. Just raise your hand. “I’d really love the opportunity to x,y,z”. We’ve expanded our groups so that everyone can be a part and create something if they want. We don’t need to wait for a group to be formed, it doesn’t necessarily have to be business related.


What are the leadership traits that you most value?

JS: I want people who will tell me what’s on their mind and value integrity above all things. People who are able to lead by example, are good listeners, lean in on the tough conversations and help to set priorities. They’re willing to understand what their personal limitations are. You have to build a team around you that are better than you and will take you to the next level. Good leaders don’t ask people to do things they haven’t done.

SH: You want people you can walk into the fire with, people you can trust and can create partnerships with. I like a bit of humility in people, we are in a business with a lot of egos. When I interviewed here I loved that everyone was not that person you can’t work with. A leader needs a really strong work ethic, I’m going to give it 1000% and I want someone to give close to that. You have to do what you have to do, no matter who you are.

Any advice guidance on building financial acumen?

JS: We have an abundance of resources all the time. Go visit an office while you’re traveling. These people can help take you through their day to day and help you to understand the facets of what they do. We have the opportunity to work across the business and with other clients.

SH: It’s also about a conversation with your manager from a development perspective. Nothing should ever be a surprise. Your manager should know what and where you need to develop. Educate yourself and know where your passion lies. There are people who are happy to answer questions and get on the phone. Don’t limit your thinking. Whatever it is, there is so much to do within the organization.


Work-life balance; what suggestions or advice would you give to us?

SH: I have traditionally not been very good [at work life-balance]. Because I don’t have kids I don’t have enough of a reason to stop and do other things. We need to get the work done and we need to do what our clients need to do, but we also need to build a culture. How do we continue to keep our culture and give you what you need?

JS: My work-life balance is different. It was different even before I had kids, but I prioritize my life and my focus. Some days I feel pretty good about it but some days I feel bad about it. We develop policies like the recent flex policy, and we will launch a parental flex stipend. But all of this is under the premise of equal accountability and meeting the needs of your clients. How you do that is up to you. We are going to fail sometimes but we have to be eager to lean in.

One single piece of advice to everyone in the room?

JS: Do what you love, you have a much better chance to do something great if you’re passionate about it. Be true to yourself.

SH: Be open. You might think your path is going one way, but you never know what can be on the back end of a question. The unexpected can often be the most precious thing. The reason I’m here now is that I did a lot of things that were not the traditional things.

Pro Tip from the group:

Take advantage of the opportunity of what’s in front of you. If you see a meeting on the calendar ask if you can sit in. See if you can be a sponge, see how senior leaders sell, how they communicate with clients. As managers, you have to give your subordinates the opportunity to ask David Schwab [EVP, Managing Director, 1st Call] a question. Exposure helps us to gain leadership skills. Staff other events, volunteer for other things and see other accounts. It’s an easy way to gain relationships.

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