12/16/2013 09:56 am ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Linda Sawyer, CEO Deutsch North America

A lifelong steward of Deutsch Inc., Linda joined the agency over 20 years ago. She has been a key player in helping Deutsch become an industry leader known for its fierce independence and strong culture. Linda oversees Deutsch NY and Deutsch LA and is keenly focused on attracting best-in-class talent and creating a future-facing business model for Deutsch.

A key architect in Deutsch's organic growth, Linda helped pioneer the addition of integrated capabilities to its repertoire--an innovative shift that began in the early 1990s--which continues to position Deutsch as the premiere industry model for providing clients with an array of full-service marketing initiatives.

Honored for her outstanding achievement in the industry with a Matrix Award and a place on the top 10 most powerful women list as part of Advertising Age's "100 Most Influential Women in Advertising," Linda plays an important role on a number of boards engaged in the future of the industry. She is active as Chairman Emeritus of the Board for the Advertising Educational Foundation (AEF), serves as Director-at-Large for the 4A's, and sits on the Advisory Board for Women at NBCU, a "think tank" on marketing to women. Involved with Advertising Week since its inception, she held the position of Co-Chairman from 2007-2009. Linda also serves as Chairman of the Board for the styling salon and haircare line Blow. Frequently quoted in the press, Linda also had a starring role in Seasons 1 and 2 of The Apprentice sharing marketing insights.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My parents are both children of the Holocaust. However, they managed to emerge from that experience with the most incredibly positive outlook on life. I clearly inherited their glass-half-full mentality and always manage to see and extract the good in any situation - ¬even a challenging one. I am a pure optimist and believe that has had a tremendous influence on Deutsch and my personal and professional life outcomes. Growing up, my dad owned a package design firm specializing in cosmetics and fragrances and his studio was connected to our home. My corporate training began when I was in junior high school. I was completely enamored with my dad's work and spent countless hours in his studio every night reading marketing briefs, looking at his presentations, and being regaled with his behind-the-scenes stories about corporate meeting dynamics and different personalities. This gave me a head start on business and how to be an effective, motivating leader. My dad instilled a lot of confidence in me, as well as the importance of having an honest and strong point of view.

How did your previous employment experience aid with your role at Deutsch?
I worked at four different advertising agencies, prior to joining Deutsch. I was fortunate to work on businesses that gave me a diverse range of experience and training, such as fast food, beauty and classical packaged goods. I also had exposure to various managerial styles and approaches and learned a great deal from the positive role models - which approaches inspire people. Conversely, I was able to learn from less effective leaders what behaviors demotivate people. Bottom line, I pursued my career like a portfolio, each move came with a deliberate purpose and a desired learning.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I think the word "balance" is an unrealistic and unproductive goal to aspire to. In fact, I think it is vocabulary that should be strictly reserved for gymnasts. The reality is that life and work require constant juggling and there will be trade-offs, sometimes at work and sometimes at home. So, the key is really identifying at any given moment what is the priority. I believe you can achieve great success and gratification in both aspects of your life; surrounding yourself with great, strong people at home and at work and prioritizing those things that are most important, and identifying what things will benefit from your direct attention. This will help you to focus on what really matters.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Deutsch?
Having been with the agency 24 years, there have been so many highlights and phases of significant growth. When I started, we were 40 people and today we are 1,000 strong. I have been part of so many amazing new business wins, successful campaigns and industry/business accolades. I have had the opportunity to continually reinvent myself, and take on a number of different roles, ultimately leading to my becoming the CEO of the company in 2005. One challenge that comes along with that has been to adjust my relationships along the way. It can be more difficult being promoted internally and having people that were once your peers suddenly reporting in to you. It also takes more effort to change people's perceptions as you redefine yourself in a new role. However, I found that if you produce results and deliver, you can flip the switch pretty quickly.

What advice can you offer women hoping for an agency career?
My advice would not necessarily be different for a woman or a man. You need to be ambitious, driven, curious, strategic, creative, decisive and insightful. I think as a woman, you need to believe and embrace that gender does not have to be a challenge or barrier, particularly if you choose to work for companies and people in which the final criteria for success is performance-based.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Unfortunately, there aren't enough role models at the top. It can be difficult for women to believe that it is possible to rise to the top, while also enjoying a gratifying, full and robust home life. As a result, the path can appear daunting and compromised. Fortunately for me, at Deutsch, gender was never an issue because the culture is so oriented to performance and results. We also have so many women in management that we walk the talk when it comes to demonstrating evidence of possibilities.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I have tremendous respect for what Sheryl has achieved in her career, especially in the tech world that has been notoriously unfriendly to women. I applaud the fact that her book has sparked a real conversation and dialogue that elicits discussion around a serious topic. However, it saddens me that this issue feels like a new concept in 2013. One aspect that I question is some of the lessons appear to foster learning on how to behave more like a man. I'd like to think that the goal should be to effectively achieve fair and equal outcomes, but being able to do so by celebrating, embracing and leveraging unique qualities and attributes generally found in women as a competitive advantage.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had some key mentors throughout the years, all of whom have helped shape my career path at pivotal moments. At Deutsch, Donny Deutsch has certainly been a mentor and has had a profound impact on my development - he is the reason why I am in this job today. I'd like to think I have been a mentor to a number of people in management over the years, and derive so much satisfaction from having done so. I thrive on other people's successes.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire Hillary Clinton. She is impressive, smart, charismatic, and an all-around true champion of causes. Through all the political ups and downs, she has demonstrated an unwavering strength and determination. I also have always admired Meg Whitman. I was once at a Fortune Magazine Women's Conference and Meg led a small breakout session that I attended on "scaling a business" and her experiences at ebay. She was so insightful, no-nonsense, and down-to-earth. I actually acted upon some of the things she discussed and they worked.

What are your hopes for the future of Deutsch?
At the most fundamental level, Deutsch utilizes creative solutions to provide our clients with their desired business results. With constant changes in technology, consumer engagement and competitive framework, we need to be in a continual state of evolution and reinvention. I hope we never lose that spirited drive, passion for what's to come, and a culture of accountability to deliver results. We have an incredibly dynamic, entrepreneurial and "elevating the bar" culture, which I hope endures the test of time.