THE BLOG
07/28/2016 10:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Women in Business Q&A: Lindsay Pattison, Worldwide CEO, Maxus

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Lindsay Pattison

As UK CEO Lindsay transformed the WPP-owned UK media agency Maxus, growing revenue, staff base and profit sevenfold in just over four years. In October 2014 Lindsay continued her growth within GroupM and was appointed CEO of Maxus Worldwide which in 2015 enjoyed stellar growth. She is the sole female global media leader.

With over 20 years' media experience, her previous roles have included time at PHD and client-side at Sony Ericsson after starting out at Young and Rubicam in a full service environment.

Lindsay was named one of Cranfield's FTSE Board Report's 100 Women to Watch in 2015 and in 2015 and 2016 listed in Britain's top 500 Most Influential People by Debrett's. Lindsay was also included in Ad Age's 2015 class of Women to Watch and is currently Vice Chair of the WEF Global Agenda Council on the Future of Media.

She holds a high profile in the media industry, and as ex-President of WACL (Women in Commination & Advertising London) is passionate advocate for gender equality, mentoring many young women and in 2016 launched a 'Walk the Talk' female for senior women at Maxus to help them get to the highest levels possible.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A few things have helped shape my style, I think. Firstly I used to be a competitive swimmer, even up to Olympic trials, and that taught me that hard training got results, and that there is nothing wrong with possessing a relentless desire to win, so long as you're willing to push yourself to get there. Family dynamics also play a part; as the youngest of four siblings all very close in age, I learnt to shout that bit harder to be heard and I enjoyed bossing them all around - as the baby of the family I got away with it.

In a career sense, I talk about a lesson I learned about 'stepping in front of the work'. So the person, not the work, is what's vital. The work has to be brilliant - that's a given - but you have to be willing to front it and persuade people to believe in you, above others. Finally it's all about teamwork. Leadership, to me, means doing this while bringing everyone around you along on the journey.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Maxus?
I got my first taste of advertising at an agency - Young and Rubicam. From there, Ericsson, one of our clients, poached me to work for them as an Advertising Manager. I gained a wonderful insight into the client-side process, which developed into a marketing role, and also the interesting dynamic of saying yay or nay to creative work to my former employer! These broader experiences, plus a fantastic six years at PHD making my way up to Managing Partner and leading major new business pitches, taught me the fundamentals of a collaborative approach.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Maxus?
Highlights have tended to involve challenging the status quo by taking a more 'human' approach to business. An important achievement was Maxus UK winning L'Oreal's UK and Ireland business, the UK's largest media account at the time. Our approach was to be authentic, above all else. So yes, I was nervous about displaying less-than-flattering photos of my teenage self to L'Oreal executives at pitch, but I was more concerned that we remained true to our values.

On a personal level, the global role was always a deeply rooted ambition and yes, the fact that I am female is an important factor in that. Pushing the boundaries of what clients expect from their media agency is always especially rewarding.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Keep on putting your hand up. Whether the opportunity is to be part of a pitch team, to organize team drinks, to sit on the charity commission - you never know what it could lead it to. Keep on saying yes, that is until you've got so much on that you wouldn't be able to give it your full attention.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Coming to understand the power and importance of 'self belief'. No matter who you are, or how much of your ambition you fulfill, we all have that cynical little gremlin on your shoulder trying to tell you you're not good enough. And we all know that fear can be crippling. Self-belief has many guises; it can be extrovert and overtly ambitious, or more quietly inward focused, but without it, you will struggle to succeed.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Truly, I don't know that it exists. To me, it sounds like an attempt to neatly package the intertwining realms of working and personal life into distinct boxes. But I do like to maintain and encourage a healthy level of work-life integration. I think the meaning of that will vary from person to person and employers need to respect that. Personally, I'm one of those people who thrive on a hectic schedule - I genuinely enjoy Monday mornings and can survive on 3 or 4 hours sleep when traveling.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Self-limiting beliefs are our worst enemy, as unfortunately they are so deeply ingrained. It is so important that senior women visibly 'walk the talk', present themselves on stages and on public forums so that we can challenge norms and encourage all women to believe in their own potential.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
When self-confidence has been lacking, as it does for us all from time to time, mentoring has helped to restore it. Crucially, mentoring should always be a two-way process. Some of my greatest teachers have been those starting out in their careers; their determination and grit has helped me keep sight of why we do what we do. I am deeply excited to be launching 'Walk the Talk' at Maxus, a mentoring scheme which will enable our senior women to coach and inspire the next generation in crucial career and personal development skills.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Within WPP, the great Charlotte Beers and Shelley Lazarus are both incredibly inspiring trailblazers who have championed female leadership in what remains a staunchly male-dominated business. But it is changing! Then, beyond our industry, Nobel-winner Malala Yousafzai, for her bravery in speaking out on behalf of those who cannot.

What do you want Maxus to accomplish in the next year?
For 2016 and beyond, we are focusing on solidifying and diversifying our offer, to our clients and to our people. Our new Change Planning process underpins everything we deliver for clients, so we can be even more efficient and focused as we embrace media's fast-evolving opportunities.