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Bossing It: Getting Great Work Done Together with James Razzall


Framestore's president of advertising, US, on why culture is everything and the importance of giving your team freedom to grow

Bossing It: Getting Great Work Done Together with James Razzall

James Razzall is Framestore’s president of advertising, US. Having started with the company in London, he has played a significant role in the growth of Framestore over the years and was part of the management team that founded the New York office in 2004.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership

James> At Framestore we have a relatively horizontal leadership structure. The company was built on ideals of being less about ego and more about getting great work done together. My leaders always had an open door policy and made the staff feel included in decision-making. As one of the founding members of our team in the US, it was all hands to the pump from the beginning, which in turn was a great lesson in leadership for me. I ran the production side of the business as we built quickly, and due to the size of the operation that also meant having a front seat when it came to many of the fundamental decisions about our US presence and how the business could operate in the most effective way. 

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

James> I have seen many different leadership styles in my career and have always felt that giving your team freedom to grow is most effective. Nobody wants to be micromanaged and it is incredibly demotivating to work for someone who takes credit for your hard work. I figured out that giving people room to learn by their mistakes and not judging them if things go slightly awry can go a long way. As an employee, knowing that your boss has your back is essential.


LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

James> There is certainly a lot that can be learned, and any leader should constantly be assessing themselves,trying to improve and grow. I feel that certain early life lessons set people up for success in leadership - the key thing being the ability to listen and have empathy for others. Without that, rallying a team will be an uphill battle.


LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

James> In our field it is all about the work – finding creative and technical solutions for our client’s ideas and challenges. Having moved up in the company, obviously  my managerial responsibilities now separate me from being fully immersed in projects, which I find to be a struggle at times as it is easy to become detached from what the true heart of the business is all about. Thankfully, in my role I am actively involved in bringing in good work and helping to attract and nurture talent within the company. While I cannot be at every meeting through the process, I love to check in with my teams and find out where I can be of assistance. After 22 years at the company I still feel immense satisfaction when we win awards and deliver amazing work. 


LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

James> I grew up producing visual effects and learned early on to balance transparency with protecting my team. There were times when I wanted to scream in panic at the curveballs that we were being hit with, but knew that flustering my team and whipping everyone into a frenzy would not be productive. These lessons conveyed to the bigger roles that I then took on. A calm and considered exterior while working out clear solutions is always the way to go. That said, I have found that my teams respond well to being given enough information and not being kept completely in the dark.


LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

James> Jon Collins was president of Framestore in the US before I took on the role, and was the person who originally brought me to New York back in 2004. He showed me the ropes in the advertising business, taught me to lead with a sense of humour and to give my team enough autonomy to feel empowered. John Spearman was Chairman for a number of years and was incredibly generous in sharing his insights and perspectives. I have tried to pass on that mentorship view to my teams over the years and would like to think that everyone that I have worked closely with knows that I always have their back. It sounds a tad trite, but Framestore was founded on the idea of encouraging our team to progress through the ranks, and that hard work pays off. I am one of many who have risen from relatively entry-level positions to senior management, and that is testament to the foundation that William Sargent, Mike McGee and all our other founders have put into place.


LBB> It's been a really challenging few years - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

James> Everyone has been on the rollercoaster ride of this pandemic. All of us have been affected in so many different ways. I have tried to be as optimistic as possible and aimed to give my team confidence that we would navigate through in one piece. Our strategy at Framestore from the very beginning was to be as open as possible with our team. Our CEO William Sargent and COO Mel Sullivan have held company-wide town hall meetings and been as open as they can be with the constantly shifting landscape. This transparency has filtered down to all sides of our business.


LBB> The last few years have seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

James> We took a very hard look at our business after the summer of Black Lives Matter and saw that we had to try harder. Framestore is on par with our peers, but there is an obvious diversity problem in our industry and we continue to look at the root causes, as well as examine how we’re recruiting the next generation of talent. We work closely alongside Access: VFX -- a non-profit, cross-company initiative that promotes diversity and inclusion in the industry and champions important issues to bring about change. 

We also created a global Social Equality Council composed of a diverse set of voices tasked with creating immediate practical initiatives across the attraction of more diverse talent, retention and development of those already in the company, and leadership development across all levels. 

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2022?

James> Culture is everything. One of the huge challenges of remote work is retaining that company spirit and keeping the team inspired and working as a unit. In an age of endless email and text communication, there is nothing like picking up the phone and having a conversation. I may be showing my age there but it truly cuts through any misinterpretation. We have had some staff events as cities have opened up and are working on more to come. We are in a people business,so giving our teams the opportunity to get together and kick back a little goes a very long way.


LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

James> I have been a subscriber to Harvard Business Review for some time and am always impressed by their editorial choices and how relevant articles are to our industry’s current situation. I joined the board of  AICP West and am an active member of the Post Council – both give me exposure to some really interesting perspectives from across our industry. It is often surprising how our different sides of the business all face very similar challenges and it’s wonderful to be able to work together in trying to drive change. On a personal level, I studied Transcendental Meditation a number of years back and attempt to practice as much as possible. Having a young son and a busy schedule means it’s not always easy, but I find the clarity that moments of mindfulness bring incredibly rewarding.

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Framestore - New York, Wed, 16 Feb 2022 10:31:15 GMT