Women in Business: Catherine Davis, President of Vizeum US

03/30/2015 05:08 am ET | Updated May 29, 2015

Catherine Davis is President of Vizeum U.S., a part of Dentsu Aegis Network. As President, Davis is focused on building brands and creating new marketing and media models, leveraging full resources across the Dentsu Aegis Network, to help drive business growth for clients.

With a unique blend of industry experience spanning brand leadership, creative agency, digital integration and media oversight, Davis champions the Vizeum team to always think from a holistic marketing perspective in the new era of media.

Driven by a vision centered on creating connections that count, Vizeum helps clients including Pernod Ricard (Absolut and Jameson), Calvin Klein, New Belgium Brewing and Sonos understand the way today's empowered consumers connect with the world around them and make decisions about brands, ultimately building better business value.

Prior to becoming President of Vizeum in June 2011, Davis served in various brand marketing roles and was responsible for leading transformative marketing initiatives for Diageo, Discover Card, Morgan Stanley and E-Trade. She also spent nine years on the creative agency side and worked with brands including Pillsbury, SC Johnson and Allstate Insurance.

An active participant in social media, Davis is a leading voice on the importance of integration across all marketing channels in the industry. Davis is a member of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America Alumni Board and the World Economic Forum Project Board on Sustainability.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was very lucky to be raised by parents who told me I could do anything and be anything, with enough hard work. My father taught me to play chess at four, encouraged me to speed-read in second grade, and treated me like a short adult (this sometimes made me quite difficult to be around for my siblings and my teachers). My mother encouraged me to dream and to read everything I could get my hands on. I don't think I went anywhere as a child without at least one book in my bag. Together, they shaped my desire learn and to succeed and that stayed with me.

As an adult, I have had some amazing bosses who have led by example and I hope that has rubbed off on me. They valued people and spent the time to get know them and put them in the right roles. They were big believers in letting people do what they were passionate about if it moved the business forward. The best bosses inspired us, challenged us, and created a learning environment where people had room to grow.

That is the environment we have tried to create at Vizeum: one that is driven by innovation and where anything is possible. It allowed us to go from a small start-up office in 2010 to a $1.5B US business in 2015. It has led us to clients who are focused on innovation and continually trying to beat the status quo.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Vizeum?
I have always been fascinated by how people make decisions and how that impacts brands. When I started, the bulk of this work was being done at creative agencies, but more and more I found that the data on decision-making was coming from the media agency. This highlighted the importance of integration across disciplines and led me to seek out a role more specifically focused on communications planning and media. After having spent years at creative agencies and on the client side, I felt it was critical to go where the data is. This breadth of experience has been critical to our approach with clients and has allowed us to play a more strategic role in defining the way brands are being built. We look at media in the context of the total marketing challenge, vs. just building media plans.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Vizeum?
Launching a new media brand in the US was definitely a challenge, even though we had been established globally since 2003. We focused on our core positioning around innovation and on areas where we had real strength, like the millennial and affluent audiences. It took what felt like a very long year to get traction, and then within an 18-month period, we grew the business over 300%. During that time, we added a terrific group of clients and had an opportunity to build an incredibly talented team. I am proud of the work we have done for our clients and am continually inspired by the ideas that come from our team.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in marketing?
Be prepared not to take a linear path. I think having a diverse set of experiences is very important right now. There is a huge amount of change in marketing and the technology that supports it. This is impacting how products go to market and how consumers interact with brands. At the client level, industry after industry is reinventing itself - music, hospitality, car and taxi usage - just to name a few. What we learn from one functional area or category can often be applied in a new way, even in very disparate categories. For example, I have felt that my experience in alcoholic beverages and financial services has been quite complementary.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Never stop learning. Always put yourself in positions where you continue to reevaluate your skillset and identify your strengths and weaknesses. Five years ago, when Twitter was pretty nascent, I recognized a need to be engaged and to understand it at a visceral level. This was no small task as I read through my Twitter feeds and saw there was a language more complex than most people's Starbucks order. Because virtually no one I knew was on Twitter, I read Twitter for Dummies and I taught myself how to do it. And now I have over 16,000 followers, a 60+ Klout score, and use it every single day. Push yourself to learn new things, even when they're outside your comfort zone. You won't regret it.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'll let you know when I have figured that one out! I would not consider myself a good role model, but am very supportive of the people on my team figuring out what works best for them.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Confidence. Unfortunately, in my observation, books like "Lean In" are all too true. Even now, the women I work with are more hesitant to ask for what they want than their male peers. They are less likely to apply for a job if they don't have all the requirements, less likely to ask for a raise, although they are equally qualified. I would encourage them to get out of their comfort zone. This was a hard one for me, and I still need to push myself.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been huge for me. I have had several amazing mentors who have made a massive difference in my career and my life. Many have become close friends. It's important to have someone to go to who has been in a similar situation. I have one mentor whom I frequently call and say, "OK, I need the 60 second CEO." I describe my issue, she shares her gut reaction, and whether I take the advice or not, her fresh and impartial perspective is invaluable. I try to make these relationships reciprocal and help them on topics where I might be able to offer some perspective.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I saw an incredibly inspiring woman speak recently - Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Director of UN Women. She told a story about Nelson Mandela offering her a job as a minister of mining. Until then, she had spent her career in education and didn't have any direct experience. She responded by saying she couldn't possibly be qualified. Nelson Mandela said, "I spent most of my life in prison and now I'm President. I think I am doing a pretty good job. I think you'll be fine." She took the job and never looked back. I loved this story. Like several women I have known, she didn't think she was a perfect fit and that would have kept her from doing it. It ended up being just a starting point for Phumzilem and she has gone on to empower many other women.

What do you want Vizeum to accomplish in the next year?
I want Vizeum to continue to drive the kind of client growth that we've been able to drive over the last two years. Even more important than that, I want our team to continue to leverage the innovation around technology and data, to drive client performance. Right now, technology has opened the door to so many possibilities. Being able to leverage that in a way that is meaningful for our clients is incredibly exciting.