THE BLOG
01/11/2015 06:58 am ET Updated Mar 13, 2015

Women in Business Q&A: Evin Shutt, Partner and COO, 72andSunny

As the first employee and only female partner at 72andSunny, Evin is a pillar of the agency and has led its evolution since Day 1. Equal parts creative business leader, strategic thinker and project manager, Evin created the prototype for a new species of "account person" - a role that has helped 72andSunny navigate the previously unchartered intersection of tech, advertising and Hollywood.Evin's golden touch has infused countless campaigns with brilliant innovation and produced prolific success -- from introducing Google's Talking Shoe to re-defining the music distribution model with Samsung and Jay Z, to generating a high-end baby market for Bugaboo, and, year after year, shattering records for the Call of Duty franchise. She also knows how to build a winning team, as showcased in marquee new business wins such as Tillamook, Starbucks, and Smirnoff.

Evin represents a significant piece of the agency's foundation and has managed to keep 72andSunny grounded and conserve its optimistic culture while scaling the business exponentially. During her 10 years at the agency, it has ballooned from 5 employees to over 450, and opened an office in Amsterdam thanks in large part to Evin's vision. From a cultural standpoint, she's indispensable: she has led the charge in constructing 72andSunny's production studio; been a key role in launching 72U, 72andSunny's one of a kind in-house training program; and helped plan an immersive Howard Hughes-themed theater experience for over 1,000 people at the grand opening of the new office space.

Evin is an educator-nurturer at her core. Not only is she a mom to twins, but she also taught in South Los Angeles as a member of the Teach For America corps, and the result is her rare combination of patience, tenacity and generosity. Originator of the agency's internal catchphrase, "culture people, culture," she's the first to rally everyone outside for much-needed beer after a tense situation.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I was an athlete growing up, participating in team sports from soccer to volleyball, and they played a key role in my leadership development in all that they teach and require - competition, dedication, training, teamwork and on and on. Volleyball in particular is such a team dependent sport--it just doesn't work without a team. You have to understand everyone's responsibilities and role and live up to yours or it all falls apart. I think that applies to leadership as well.

My experience as a Teach For America Corp Member has also played a huge role in who I am today. The skills I learned in a classroom from clear communication to long term planning to creative problem solving to adapting approaches for different personalities in order to get the same outcome have all played an incredible role in my career path. I've also never lost sight of the importance of helping people grow and learn.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at 72andSunny?
Advertising is a people business, and we are only as good as the people in our agency. So yes, I'm the Chief Operating Officer, but operations here is about the people and making sure we're tracking toward our mission to be a platform for personal growth and creative self expression. My goals as an educator were very similar so it's been a clear progression for me.

On a more micro level, as a teacher, you always need a plan with a clear objective for the day but you have to constantly evolve that plan in real time to stay on track for your objective as you're working with people who all learn at different paces, in different ways and who've all woken up in different moods. I've heard that teachers make something around 1500 decisions a day. At 72andSunny, I've applied a lot of the same approach and skills. We start out with clear objectives and plans for all of our projects but the plans are constantly evolving based on new technology, culture, you name it. So, I'm always making adjustments to plans. And then changing them again. I think those 1500 decisions a day was a great training ground for what I do today!

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at 72andSunny?
They're probably one and the same to me. My highlights are the successes of overcoming the challenges. In 2008, we lost three major clients in three months. Everyone was exhausted and stretched thin. It was an incredible moment; we all just grabbed an oar.

Another big highlight for me was our tenth anniversary party this summer, where we brought together everyone from our LA, New York, and Amsterdam offices and we could see how great everybody is even as we've grown significantly. I'm often asked, "Are we still who we were as a startup?" The answer is "No"--which is good, because that would be boring to me. We are better now because we have so many more interesting and just all around great people to learn from!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
First, I'd love if this question at some point in my life didn't have to include the word "woman," but it's the reality now and I'm committed to helping to change that.

I think one of the most important things is identifying what is important to you in a company you work for and finding places that share your values. If the company shares your values, it doesn't matter if you are male or female. You will have a shared starting point from which to learn and grow.

The other tip I'd offer is to not shy away from your feminine strengths. I think quite often in male dominated industries, women feel they need to fully adopt a "male style" of leadership and give up their femininity. I'm the first to acknowledge I lead with a lot of "masculine" tendencies, but I've also come to recognize and embrace the strength in some of my more feminine characteristics in making me a successful leader.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Listen and don't be afraid to ask questions. It sounds so obvious but early in my career, I would walk out of a meeting with an unanswered question as I was too timid to ask it, only to realize afterward that a lot of people had the same question.

I'm not afraid to ask those questions anymore, as I know we need that information to make the best decisions and to move quickly. If the questions are going to help us get to a better solution, ask it!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think I'm a planner by nature in terms of schedule so I really look ahead and plot out my schedule to make sure I can keep some sort of balance. The best thing I've learned though is to be 100%, no matter where I am. If I'm at home, I'm 100% at home and vice versa. I have learned to be the best I can be in the situation I am in.

I've also accepted that my life is busy and that's just how I like to live. It was busy before marriage and kids and it's certainly busy now!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The fact that this question exists: "Can women have it all?" For me, that is such a leading question because it implies that I don't have it all now or that "my all" is being set by someone else. My all is what I'm doing now. Yes, it's hard and I have my ups and downs in terms of how well I think I do at it, but it's what I want to do. The moment we can stop defining each other's "all" and just be supporters of whatever each of us chooses, this issue will disappear.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Early in my career and life, most of my mentors have been informal. I have two older sisters who I've always admired and learned from and whom I credit with teaching me "how to do life". Professionally, I've always just been a really curious person who wants to learn so badly that I've tended to just identify people who are doing what I want to learn about and I figure out how to work with them, be in meetings with them, and have lunch with them. As I've grown in my career though and in the last year or so, I've really leaned into having peer mentors to bounce stuff off of and talk about life with and that's been incredibly important to my growth.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Pat Summit, the former University of Tennessee Women's basketball coach. As a leader, she was tough and demanded excellence on and off the court. Her student athletes had a 100% graduation rate during her 38-year tenure and she won 8 National Championships. And to this day, I don't think I've ever heard a student athlete speak poorly of her. To me, that's the full package of a leader. And then she wasn't afraid to show her vulnerability when she developed Alzheimer's if it meant she could help raise awareness about the disease and money for research. I just think she's incredible.

What do you want 72andSunny to accomplish in the next year?
I want us to make measurable gains in helping the people in our company grow and push forward in their careers. We've been evolving our trainings, performance reviews and leadership development to formalize how we can help people develop and grow as creative entrepreneurs and I hope we can see a significant impact of that for everyone at 72andSunny, our clients and hopefully our industry.