Tamara Ingram, Chief Executive Officer, Worldwide at J. Walter Thompson on the passions and beliefs that have driven her career- The Secret of My Success

Gary Stolkin, Tamara Ingram.

In a series of interviews in partnership with The Drum, Gary Stolkin, global chief executive of The Talent Business, who has handled multiple c-suite hires around the world for agency groups, talks to some of the most admired global chiefs about the secrets of their success. Here he catches up with Tamara Ingram, chief executive officer, worldwide at J. Walter Thompson.

1. How did you end up making this career choice in the first place?

I landed my first real job in film production by walking around the streets of SoHo until someone offered me a job. In those days, though, the film industry was unionized and I couldn’t get my union card so I took another job at an ad agency. I didn’t intend to stay; it was meant to be a temporary/short-term thing, but I ended up falling in love with how two things that seemed to be on completely different ends of the spectrum – creativity and business – worked so well together in the ad industry.

2. Were there epiphany moments that changed the course of your career?

I once had a boss who saw everyone who asked to be seen. You could be any person in the world, any rank or title in the office, and he would take the time to meet with you. It taught me about the importance of humility and made me open to learning from other people even as I got further along in my career. If your relationship with your supervisor is positive, it can make you feel like you can do anything, so making people feel empowered in their jobs is critical to success.

3. Do you think that what it takes to be a successful CEO in 2017 differs significantly from what it took when you started your career?

I think there’s a significant difference because the world has gone through a technical revolution and needs different talent. While there are some elements of successful leadership that are timeless, a CEO is the driver of culture for their organization. With the speed of change in technology, social movements, and the economy over the past decade, we must adapt, and quickly, to stay relevant for our people and our clients.

4. Were there ever times when you thought of throwing in the towel on your agency career?

I’ve always known where I wanted to go, but one time early on in my career, I lost that sense of direction. That was the only moment I had doubt, and contemplated leaving. Eventually I reset, and found a new way forward by focusing on the future.

5. Have you ever been fired or come close to being fired? If so, how did that affect you?

Yes, and it was humbling. It made me realize the blessing of having great, supportive family and friends. In the end, I realized it was a gift and I haven’t looked back since. Everyone should experience that at least once in their career. It taught me to be resilient and to have the courage of my convictions.

6. How do you go about building a leadership team?

It starts with looking for people who share both your vision and your hunger. You need people that believe in the company and that will put in the work to make your company successful. I also think it’s important to look at your company the way you would a client’s brand. Build a team that has the expertise to address the challenges and leverage the opportunities specific to your company, then come up with real solutions. Most importantly, building a team of any kind requires trust. Sometimes that is seamless and sometimes it takes work to develop, but it’s always critical to the success of your business and your client’s.

7. How do you manage the tension between making this year’s targets versus investing in capability to secure the future?

I’m not sure there’s a tension there; I see them as complements, both investments in the future. When you make your yearly targets, you’re laying the foundation for a better year ahead and truthfully, the more you meet those immediate targets, the more you’ll be able to invest in capabilities that put you and your clients ahead of the curve. The more you invest in those capabilities and deliver real results for your clients, the more you’ll meet those yearly targets. It’s a cycle; both feed each other.

8. To what extent is the CEO’s key role harnessing the energy of the people in the organisation?

That IS the key role – to enable people’s energy to flourish and ultimately, help them develop so they can be at their very best. When you harness the energy of your network it also allows you to be their best leader. You must have a deep understanding of people to motivate them; be open to each person’s needs; have a sense of boldness and bravery; and be decisive.

9. It can be lonely at the top. How do you keep yourself motivated now?

I love my job. I’m never lonely. It’s a 24/7 passion. I’ve always thought that the wonderful thing about work is that it gives you a sense of purpose and meaning. My passion keeps me going. I am also obsessed with news and politics, and if our current climate doesn’t motivate us to act, in whatever way we can, I don’t know what will.

10. What is the secret of your success?

What is success ultimately? I never think of myself as successful. I’m more of a street fighter: always on the playing field, always hungry.

The above content is editorially independent and is brought to you in partnership with The Drum and The Talent Business.

To check out the rest of the ‘The Secret of My Success’ series click here.

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