'Well, watch me': Exceptional Women of the World featuring Sharon Napier, CEO, Partners + Napier

Sharon Napier, CEO of Partners + Napier

Exceptional Women of the World is a podcast that highlights and celebrates the great achievements, lives and POV of amazing women throughout the world of advertising, marketing, digital, tech and creativity.

One can’t say that Sharon Napier is quiet. Growing up in a “loud first-generation Italian family” outside of Buffalo saw to that.

Another thing one can’t say about the CEO of Partners + Napier in Rochester is that she follows the rules.

The competitive fire she exhibits day in and day out sparks her team, which works on a number of interesting clients such as Delta Vacations, BMW and Mini Financial Services, USA Today, Xerox, Robert Mondavi and others.

But that doesn’t mean that Napier, a proud mother with two daughters in the advertising business in New York City, doesn’t make a mistake or two along the way. In fact, she believes that learning from the failures (actually learning from them) has been of great benefit to her over her 20+ years in the industry.

Napier is a massive advocate for women in the industry and strongly encourages, especially young women, to understand their personal brand, know their value and never apologize.

“Every time we say sorry we sort of lose our relevance, our importance, our confidence, our power,” she says.

When is Napier at her best? When she’s competing against all odds, has something to prove or is told she “can’t” do something. When that happens — watch out (in a very good way).

Nowhere was this more obvious when, in 2004, she led a management buyout of the indie shop in Upstate New York.

“There were very, very few woman founders of agencies,” she notes. “In fact, there were no memberships, there were few woman’s groups, there were no banks or VC's willing to invest in women-owned businesses. So, my partners and I just went for it.”

This was also illustrated in stark relief when, after returning to graduate school at the age of 43 and writing a business plan for a family values-led company, the professor scoffed and told her that would hold the agency back and that being a “family” would prevent hard business decisions to be made.

“That little voice inside me said, ‘Well, watch me,'" she laughs.

“I felt like I could go do counter-culture on this,” Napier explains. “The industry was all about sweatshops and working 24/7 — and the best ideas come out of the agencies that are doing that and I just felt that if we valued peoples families — and family to us meant we respected each other and our clients and the communities in which we worked — we would have created that type of culture, and we could grow.”

A question and issue that Napier ponders is around diversity. Why is it so hard? Why are we still talking about it?

“It’s a business imperative,” she says. “We just put a stake in the ground — and our stake in the ground is that all our seven interns this year are from a diverse backgrounds. I just think that it’s something we've got to stop talking about and that we have to start doing something about.”

To that end, Napier hopes that she can continue to share her own experiences and perspectives — and have peoples’ backs in the industry to help it thrive, no matter where in the world.

Even and especially in Upstate New York.

Listen to previous episodes of Exceptional Women of the World here. If you would like to nominate exceptional women to be part of the show, please complete this form: http://bit.ly/EWOWPitch.

Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

All by Doug