IPA Business & Agency Leadership Sydney co-chair and OMD Australia CEO Aimee Buchanan discusses how she transitioned from being “a great number two” to industry and business leader.

TCC: When you started out in the industry, did you always know you wanted to be a leader? How/why?

AB: I started my career wanting to be a journalist or film producer. Coming out of uni I didn’t even know there was such a thing as media specialists, who design, plan and execute media campaigns for clients. After having done a few years in the industry, I had the great opportunity to work closely with a large Telco client as a key partner. I loved the mix of true business acumen, creativity and people management that this industry draws on. I also loved the more entrepreneurial nature that agencies still have and the need to continually change and evolve to stay relevant. In agencies we have the unique position that we work with some of the biggest, most sophisticated businesses in the country (leading Telco’s, banks, airlines, etc), but get to step away and bring fresh thinking to them.
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a leader, I just gravitated towards roles with great businesses and built teams to deliver for that.

TCC: What was your first leadership role and when?

AB: My first leadership role was running the Optus Singtel business. I was 27 at the time and had really grown up on that account, having worked on the business for fives years before I was promoted to the lead role. I struggled so much in that initial transition from producer, to manager, to now having to lead the overall team. This transition was the biggest one I ever made in my career and one of the hardest for me in terms of the need to do, direct and inspire and mentor people.

TCC: When did you know it was time to make the leap?

AB: I had always been a great number two and gravitated towards people who were great mentors and who I could learn a lot from. I had spent years working with my boss on the account and gradually I had transitioned from the pure doing role, to the managing role and later to the leadership role.

TCC: What was the biggest shift in skillset and mindset you had to undergo?

AB: The move from getting gratification from doing, from ticking things off the list, to guiding and getting satisfaction from your team achieving. The producer in me loves to do, so pulling back is an ongoing challenge!

TCC: What was the thing you were least prepared for? How did you get through it?

AB: The loneliness, especially in the CEO role. You go from being a part of the team, with peers and colleagues and a structure designed to support you and provide guidance, to being the one who is ultimately accountable.

TCC: What’s been your biggest achievement?

AB: Surprisingly this is not a promotion or specific role, but more the fact that I was able to work with a client for so long, and continue to do really great work with them. I had the opportunity quite early on in my career to work on Optus, and I ended up spending nine years of my career working on the business. I worked across every department and progressed up through to the team to eventually run the account. The senior clients took me under their wing and taught me so much about business and marketing. It was a fantastic learning experience and I am proud to have continued to deliver and grow through that business. It taught me a lot from a skill set point of view, but also personally about loyalty, really investing in people, deep relationships and what it truly means to know a client’s business. This was a rich training ground for me – one that I was able to take and expand on as I progressed my media career.

TCC: What would you say is your own leadership style?

AB: Lead by example (pacesetter) is my natural style.

TCC: Can you explain a little how someone’s objectives and goals change when they transition from manager to leader?

AB: Your goals move from things you achieve to helping other’s achieve them. The focus moves to creating the context that enables success, through systems, resources and product – and then guiding people to get to the right outcomes.

TCC: What advice would you give on managing upwards?

AB: Focus on the business, the outcomes and be honest on your shortcomings and learnings.

TCC: What advice would you share to help give someone greater clarity or control over their leadership journey?

AB: Look around you and identify who you can learn from, who you want to mirror and who you don’t, but be sure to find your own style in how you do it. I have had the great privilege of working with some of Australia’s best marketers and have learnt a lot from them. I credit much of my leadership learning over the years to what I have gained from relationships with great clients, as well as some incredible bosses and mentors.

I would also say, don’t rely on one person to answer all of your questions, you need different people for different occasions and challenges. The concept of a ‘personal board of directors’ works for me and I call on different people at different times.

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