An interview with Jim Carroll

An interview with Jim Carroll

Jim Carroll, former chairman of BBH talks to Elen Lewis about leadership and how to get the best from your agencies.

What advice would you give your 17-year-old self?
Work hard, but not at the expense of your cultural life.
Study hard, but not at the expense of your social life.
Play hard, but not at the expense of your health.

What does bold marketing leadership look like?
Modern marketing leadership sometimes concerns itself too much with looking back at previous success and sideways at competitive activities.
We are a little too much in awe of case studies, conventional wisdom and best demonstrated practice.
Bold marketing leadership looks forwards to the possible, not backwards at the provable. It endeavours to rewrite the language of the sector.
Bold marketing leaders are Cavaliers, not Roundheads!

What do all marketers need to know about creativity?
I sometimes wonder whether creativity needs a rebrand.
Many marketers feel ambivalent about creativity. They understand that it can be a powerful selling force, but they worry that it can be self-indulgent, ephemeral and risky.
But creativity is just a synonym for innovation and invention. It is a means to achieve change, in behaviour and belief.
As such it is more valuable than ever in the Age of Technology, when the constant imperatives are transformation and disruption.

What do all marketers need to know about agencies?
On the whole agencies are full of bright young creative people who want to do the best for their clients.
They’ll not get it right every time, but it’s rarely for lack of effort, talent or good intentions.
They respond better to encouragement than threats; better to direction than dictation.
They prefer to be challenged, not mandated; to be inspired, not instructed.

What do great leaders have in common?
I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of great leaders and they didn’t on the face of it have that much in common.
There was the visionary leader who inspired loyalty, the stoic leader who was a pillar of strength, the unassuming leader who was something of a puppet master, the pragmatic leader who just got things done.
But there was one particular thing they all shared. Their leadership style was consistently an extension of their own strong personalities. They were authentic, but they were also larger than life. Their very real virtues had found a louder voice, a bigger stage. They were hyperboles of themselves if you like. Leadership in my experience is The Amplified Self.

Tell us a secret.
I am not a leader. I had been UK Chairman of BBH for 10 years when the truth dawned. I finally understood that I was in a relationship business, but I’m uncomfortable with relationships; that I shrink from delivering bad news, when I should be characterising it as good; that I am emotionally squeamish, when leadership requires psychological strength. I was a disappointment to myself.

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