06/14/2014 09:48 am ET Updated Aug 15, 2014

Women in Business Q&A: Stacey Grier, Chief Strategic Officer of DDB California

As one of the founders of DDB's San Francisco office, Stacey Grier serves as Chief Strategic Officer of DDB California and guides the strategic product for the agency.

With a passion for understanding motivation, creating culture and inspiring behavior change, she also serves as the Chair of DDB's Global Future Group, the agency's innovation and strategy unit.

Grier's range of experience includes food, beverage, lifestyle, fashion, technology and home care. Her work across these categories has won a range of awards, including numerous Cannes Lions, Effies, Clios, One Show and Jay Chiat Strategic Excellence awards.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
There are many factors that have contributed to where I am today. I have had a very fortunate life -- with supportive parents, strong mentors like Bobbi Silten who is SVP Global Responsibility at GAP and a peer group of female leaders, who have taught me so much from their collective experiences. This has in large part formed who I am as a person, as well as a leader. At my core, I believe that people and teams want to grow, learn and succeed but need support and encouragement to do so. The one thing I'd encourage leaders to avoid is ambiguity, which in my experience is the root of most, if not all, evil.

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at DDB?
I went to school for Social Psychology which has played a large role in my passion for understanding people. I have a genuine interest around human empathy, and believe tapping into this allows me to better understand the human side of business.

Also, when I first started my career, I was given the chance to have a lot of autonomy, which really helped me grow into a leader at a young age. For example, I was brought in to help re-launch a major denim label's women's line with a group of other fairly junior team members. Because we were not overly managed and also had a lot to prove, we became empowered to put our heads down and create very good work. Luckily we were able to launch a pretty breakthrough campaign for the agency, which generated significant revenue for the client. Through this experience and others, I saw how leaders who set their teams up for high-performance opportunities get the best results, and how fear and dogmatic rules can create mediocrity.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at DDB?
The enduring highlight for me is to continue learning from the caliber of talent that DDB attracts. We're able to bring in the best and brightest with programs such as LaunchPad, a three-month internship program for advertising students and aspiring entry-level creative community professionals. Also, I'm very involved in the agency's "Futures" group, which develops new strategic thinking and capabilities for employees. Our junior and senior talent stretch and teach me almost every day, which is both exhausting and unbelievably satisfying.

As one of the founders of the agency's San Francisco office, the greatest challenge has been to play a leadership role within the organization while staying involved in creating the work, which is the reason I got into the business in the first place. I am dedicated to my clients' businesses, and have chosen to immerse myself in daily activities to ensure that I'm still accountable. If you got into the business to do the work, then this can be very rewarding while you continue to fulfill management and leadership duties.

Most recently, I worked on the development of a new campaign for Brita Water Filtration. Brita Water's objective is to encourage consumers to drink Brita water instead of sugary beverages. It's healthy, refreshing and more sustainable. This campaign lies at the very heart of what I love about our business -- a brand with a positive purpose, making a difference in people's everyday lives.

What advice can you offer to an individual looking to start a career in the advertising industry?
Our ideas are only real if they became part of something bigger. At some point an idea is no longer mine, it belongs to the agency community and then the larger community of clients and partner agencies. Most people hold onto ideas too long trying to keep them "pure," which ultimately kills their potential. I would encourage new grads or entrants to the industry to be less protective over a single idea and remember generating new ideas is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have tried to be very honest with myself about the tradeoffs that have to be made, because no one person can do it all. I have had to think through my priorities to be more conscious about where and how I spend my time. My experience is that I never get past my third priority before time runs out!

The one thing that really helps me is playing golf every Saturday. I play with a great women's group, which is not only an easy way to spend time outdoors each week, but more importantly for me, means absolutely no cell phones for the entire round. This really allows me to "switch off" for at least half the day.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
From my experience, the successful women I know have learned to accept that self doubt is a part of the journey. Many women say to themselves "I feel fake," or "I don't think I'm good enough," and I think opening up a dialogue will help provoke valuable conversations for people. Not enough women converse about their successes, particularly in the workplace. Women need to be able to discuss their achievements more with one another, because we all feel the same. This is how we can reach a turning point.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I love that it has engaged women in a conversation about success. I don't think there is just one path for women, but Sherly Sandberg is very successful, and it's wonderful to have her point of view. In fact, DDB celebrated International Women's Month in March and created a website, Empower (, featuring photos of the real women of DDB and Tribal, along with tweets from female employees answering the question "What empowers you?." The concept was based on the "Lean In Collection" that Sheryl created with Getty Images, and allowed for some very real and inspired conversations among our colleagues.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had several mentors, and mentorship has been a critical part of my life. Keith Reinhart has made a enduring impression on me. He taught me that creativity is the most powerful force in business, and that we have to use that force with integrity. Having someone who sets the bar high and believes you can jump over it is a very powerful motivator.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Advertising legend Mary Wells, for whom my father worked briefly at her advertising agency, Wells Rich Greene. She was "the boss," which I had never seen before. Beyond that, my father had so much respect for her talent. I wanted that: for people to want to work with me because I was talented.

Another mentor is Bobbi Silten, SVP, Global Responsibility & President of Gap Foundation. Prior to her role at Gap, she was the CEO of Dockers but felt that she wanted to focus her life and career around giving back to communities. Seeing her seek out a position at GAP to align with her personal passions was inspiring, and led me to always strive to do what I believe in. She lives her principles every day, which we all try to do to some extent, but she succeeds more often than most of us.

What are your hopes for the future of DDB?
That we lead the next creative revolution as we did the first!