Women in Business: Lori Senecal, Global CEO of CP+B, formerly Global Executive Chairman of KBS

03/18/2015 05:51 am ET | Updated May 18, 2015

Lori Senecal is Global CEO of CP+B, and formerly Global Executive Chairman of KBS. She is responsible for driving the strategic vision, deepening MDC's unique model and working with the MDC partner agencies in a consultative role to fuel growth and cross-collaboration. Lori also plays a leadership role in partnering with clients to help optimize seamless structures across partner capabilities. In her previous role at KBS, Lori focused on the agency's global vision and growth.

Over the last five years, she pioneered a new ambition for the industry and ignited a movement to press beyond the hyperbole of "innovation" to genuine invention, solidifying KBS as THE brand agency for an inventive world. It's Lori's strong belief that it takes true invention to deliver real competitive advantage for brands. At KBS, she spearheaded agency business units around technology (KBS Spies & Assassins), start-up investment (KBS Ventures) and content creation (KBS Content Labs).

Lori encourages employees to invent the career they want. She has backed and incubated many passion projects and startups pitched by employees through agency-wide invention competitions to incentivize and inspire employees across the agency, while fueling invention and culture.

Under Lori's leadership, KBS grew from a 250 person domestic agency to over 800 people worldwide. Today, the agency is recognized as one of Crain's best places to work in NYC and has been on Ad Age's list of Standout Agencies for three consecutive years. KBS works with an impressive roster of blue-chip clients, including American Express, BMW, HomeGoods, TE Connectivity, William Grant & Sons, Simmons Bedding Company, Victoria's Secret PINK, Boar's Head, Harman, and Vanguard, among others.

Prior to KBS, Lori served as President of the flagship New York office of McCann Erickson and previously, as Global Chief Innovation Officer for McCann Worldgroup. At McCann, Lori also founded TAG Ideation, a young-adult marketing specialty unit.

Lori regularly provides industry insight and thought leadership through speaking engagements, television appearances, award juries and op-eds. She was named one of Ad Age's Women to Watch for 2014 and was honored at the AWNY Game Changer Awards with a Quantum Leap award in 2013. For the past two years, she was Jury Chair for the Isaac Awards honoring invention and is founder of the Isaac+ Award, which celebrates student invention. She also serves as a Member of the Board of Directors, MDC Partners, Inc.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
As the youngest of four children very close in age, my birth order had a certain impact on my development and helped shape the type of leader I am today. Growing up, to break away from always being referred to as the younger sister of my talented siblings, I had to work hard to carve out my own identity and accomplishments. This pushed me to dream big and take bold action to differentiate -- two values that have helped me along the way ever since.

How did your previous employment experience aid in your tenure at KBS and your new role at MDC?
Throughout my career I have always believed in the power of culture to drive positive change. Whether working at McCann, KBS or MDC, I like to focus on building a culture that inspires people to want to be part of a pioneering, purposeful mission together. For me, culture starts with establishing a big belief, but it can't stop there. It's important to take big actions that tangibly demonstrate the company's commitment to that belief and allow everyone to personally engage in it. For instance at KBS their big belief is in the power of invention. They think ideas that are inventions or true firsts are more powerful that just incremental innovations. So we back that up with a bunch of big actions that really prove to our staff that everyone in the company is encouraged to invent. By holding invention competitions that every employee can partake in, and creating environments to support tinkering and inventing like their fully equipped tech shop, their invention culture has become important and real. At MDC the big belief is in the power of great talent. As I'm just getting started there, I'm excited to see where we can take that in terms of creating big industry leading actions that support it.

What were the highlights and challenges during your tenure at KBS?
Let's start with the challenges. When I joined KBS as President and CEO, it was an inflection point for the agency. The founders were exiting the business, and the agency and our clients were hungry for a new vision and mission to buy into. So the challenge was how to quickly capture the imaginations of the clients and staff, to convince them it would be worth their while to stay and be part of the agency's next great chapter. What was most fulfilling since then was how our clients and our staff have embraced our invention mission. Empowered entrepreneurs at the agency have created a full stack of modern specialisms - from Spies & Assassins for technology to Content Labs for editorial style content and KBS Ventures for start-up investment. And our amazing clients gave us epic opportunities to demonstrate marketing invention. For instance BMW inspired us to create marketing as inventive as the startling electric vehicles they created in the i3 and i8. KBS is now a global company that has grown three-fold, and has been repeatedly recognized as a Standout agency by Ad Age. It was a collective mission, a belief in the power of invention, the passion of our team, and the support of our clients and our partners that made it happen.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in marketing?
Many women have made their mark in the field of marketing at great companies like Coca-Cola, Kraft, BMW, AT&T and more. They have done so by having empathy and respect for the consumer; by trusting and acting on their strong instincts; and by believing in the power of a big idea to help their companies and brands stand out. As women, we need to use these same skills with which we approach growing brands and businesses, to grow our own careers.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
You can't wait for leadership opportunities to find you; you have to create your own. If an opportunity doesn't exist within your current organization, find a way to invent it. Identify your own strengths and your organization's needs, and imagine ways to create opportunity to address those needs. This may involve creating a new initiative to lead, a new role or even a whole new division. There's no better way to demonstrate that you are the next great person to lead your organization than by leading something today, so invent your own leadership role and get started.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I guess I strive less for balance and more for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I try to eat healthfully and get some exercise in every morning before the day gets away from me. This is often hard to do, especially with abundant travel and when days can begin very early and culminate in dinners and events. But I try to do those things for myself and for my health, despite the schedule. If not balanced - it makes me feel stronger and better equipped to handle whatever life has in store that day.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Every woman is different, so each faces her own challenges, much like men do. But some of the challenges that have come to my attention from the women I mentor is that it doesn't feel natural to them to proactively put their candidacy forward for opportunities - they'd rather be asked. Others have been less inclined to say yes to an opportunity unless they feel they have fully mastered all of the skills that would be required to excel in the new position. In both of these instances I would say - go in the direction of your fear! Fewer adventures come from staying in your comfort zone.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have certainly had some wonderful mentors along my journey - but at this point in my career it's time to turn the tables and be the mentor - not the mentee. I had the pleasure and privilege of being the mentor of many talented women at KBS over the past five years. I made it a priority to spend time with the next generation of female leaders in the company to give them direct access and time with me, as a means of accelerating their experience and perspective.

Similarly, I have recently reached out to the women of MDC and have a series of meetings planned over the coming weeks to open a dialogue with them.

At KBS I encouraged everyone on our leadership team to be a mentor and now each leader has four or five mentees. When the whole leadership team is involved, it really adds up and the impact is transformational.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Liz Lemon from 30 Rock. She didn't worry about being judged by others and was never afraid to be her quirky, affable self. Despite the attendant drama of working in the entertainment business, she was much loved by her dysfunctional team and despite the stress and egos that dominated her day, she always managed to get the show on the air with everyone feeling good about themselves.

What do you want KBS to accomplish in the next year?
We recently expanded to Europe and Asia, so I'm truly excited to see KBS grow in these new markets and bring their clients a truly global perspective. It's the beginning of another new chapter for KBS.