Jan 28, 2021
In my new series, Word Matters, I ask guests to identify what word matters most to them and then why. We then look at how this word has influenced their choice, help them overcome challenges, and purpose a path with purpose.
Did you watch the show Mad Men that ran on AMC networks? 2007 - 2015. It was a period piece about a fictional advertising agency. Man Men was a slang term coined by people who worked in the NY Advertising scene as many of the shops made their home on Madison Avenue. I loved the show because it captured the golden age of advertising within the rapidly changing and often clashing culture of the sixties. That's what great advertising does. It breathes through the zeitgeist of a changing consumer to uncover unique insights, unmet needs and to position brands so that they matter. As Don Draper says, who is the star of the show, 'new' it creates an itch, you put your product in, like a calamine lotion.
My guest today is Ashley Gorrie. She is the CEO of Gorrie, Canada's oldest advertising and marketing services company. It's been breathing for 135 years; Gorrie has survived Great Depressions, Recessions, Two World Wars, and it's now COVID. This show isn't about Gorrie; it's about Ashley and her word Evolving.
Ashley is the fifth generation to lead this family, and most studies will show that it is difficult and at times impossible to pass the baton between ages. Issues like entitlement, unwillingness to transfer power, or the lack of talent or vision tears apart the founders' dreams.
I ask Ashley how they have done it, and she is candid in saying that they hit many speed bumps, but their secret sauce is that the next generation had to buy the business versus being given it. That requires risk, confidence and conviction.
Ashley talks about what it is like growing up within the dynamics of a family business and four siblings-collaborative versus competitive. She fondly talks about going to work with her Dad where she got to play with their client's brands - Barbies from Mattel and Cover Girl Makeup.
Life lesson: Reframe negative to positive. At age five, Ashley is diagnosed with dyslexia, a learning disorder. One of her sisters also is dealing with the challenges of book learning. Instead of imposing prison walls or rewriting boundaries, her Dad, who also has the same challenges, opens up her mind and potential by framing them as creative people.
Her Parents could have lowered their expectations and allowed Ashley and her sister to accept these walls; instead, they tear off the roof so that Ashley can see endless possibilities.
Ashley talks about why she didn't want to take over the business, but circumstances change when Ashley's Dad and his siblings have a fallout, Gorrie is now their family business.
Ashley realizes that her creativity is the lifeblood of her ability to sell and problem solve. In a moment of self-reflection and possibly the need for her Dad's affirmation, she pursues an EMBA from Kellogg-Schulich.
Ashley talks about how she balances her young family and her ambition to run Gorrie- an aspiration that requires her Dad's approval, who needs to be convinced, and her Mom worried about her taking on too much.
Ashley's first hour on the job as the CEO is the worst hour of her life as she tries to convince employees she can lead, but the technology fails, the audience bias reeks of nepotism.
Life Lesson: Imagine a desired future outcome. To survive, Ashley has to make drastic changes, downsize, correct and erase and rewrite much of what her Dad had done. It puts pressure on their relationship, but her Dad posts a critical question that Ashley answers through a business case.
Life Lesson: Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Ashley brings in a partner to focus on operations, freeing Ashley to do what she does best - creative problem-solving. Her business is on a roll, and then COVID hits like a sledgehammer. Clients cancel programs, but payroll must be met.
Life Lesson: Transparency and honesty lead the way. The leadership team rallies, her Dad never leads her side, and Ashley evolves again by realizing an essential leadership attribute during these times is transparency and honesty. To share and invite others inside the tent.
Life Lesson: Leaders can have a higher purpose. Ashley then offers her thoughts on what leaders need to do to leave future generations with opportunity and pursuit.
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RBC Future Launch - https://www.rbc.com/dms/enterprise/futurelaunch/index.html