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Bossing It: Having the Will to Dig Deeper with Andréa Stillacci

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Herezie’s founder and president and chairman of the board of by The Network on having a political career and the power of transparency and authenticity

Bossing It: Having the Will to Dig Deeper with Andréa Stillacci

Former DJ and contemporary art critic, Andréa has worked in Milan, London and Paris with BBDP Milan, JWT Milan, and JWT London as Global Creative Director for Unilever Worldwide. In 2004, he was named VP ECD at JWT Paris and in 2007, co-President and ECD of Grey Paris. Both agencies ended up as the most awarded WPP offices in France. In 2010 he founded Herezie, the most awarded independent agency in France. Today he is President of Herezie and Chairman of the Board of by The Network, a global network of independent agencies. 


LBB> What was your first experience of leadership? 

Andréa> In Italy. In the mid 80s when I was studying at the University of Economics, I managed to convince a pretty big group of 'bourgeois' friends to discover hard core punk music and join me in putting on industrial music gigs in abandoned buildings. It was the first time I felt that I was able to show people new ways to see different things and help them discover unexpected territories.


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? 

Andréa> In the early 90s, in addition to the work I was doing in agencies, I had a political career for six years. I experienced and witnessed all different kinds of leadership - I saw women and men that were clearly there to inspire… And others that were there to manipulate. It was a lesson like no other, though obviously I didn’t feel comfortable with the latter.


LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership? 

Andréa> In 2009, when I decided to leave WPP after 12 years to start Herezie, the former Global ECD of the group, John O’Keefe, called me to give me a bit of advice that I will never forget. “What are the two most important words in our business” he asked and then, after a few seconds of silence, he answered, “For Example”. No matter what you say, what you claim, what you preach, the only thing that matters is the work, and Herezie will be nothing unless you are able to show what your vision is, and you can only do that through the work.

 

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you? 

Andréa> I don’t know if we can call it leadership, but I always had that will to go deeper into the things I like. I couldn’t just listen to music. I had to meet musicians and produce records. I couldn’t just go to contemporary art exhibitions. I had to write for art magazines. I couldn’t just read the papers. I had to be a drive in a political party.

 

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? 

Andréa> I would say 50/50. People experience change constantly – the way we work changes, technology changes. Take professional sports, for example. Your skills and talent mean nothing if they can’t find a way to evolve.

 

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

Andréa> For me, the work has always been at the top of the pyramid, like an Aztec priest in Teotihuacan. I love this job so much that it took a while for me to understand that not everyone has the same way of seeing things, and I learned to respect that. I learned how to bring out the best of what people can offer, without expecting a natural, spontaneous, overwhelming commitment.

 

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it? 

Andréa> Yes. It happened over three years ago. We found ourselves in a very unpleasant situation with an ECD that was accused of sexual harassment. At first, I had no concrete proof and it took me three days to make the decision to ask him to leave the company. That was a mistake. There are lawyers to deal with the proof and there are managers for the people. When dealing with these kind of accusations, immediate action is required. I should have put him out of the agency by the end of the day, and taken the time to clarify things and decide afterwards. Any decision has to be a positive example. Any move has to put human dignity at the heart. I learned a lot from that. 

 

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

Andréa> Transparency and authenticity are powerful assets, they generate trust and respect. As I said earlier, I’ve never liked manipulation as a technique, and I truly believe that a good manager doesn’t need to dupe people. I learned that from my father when I was 10 and have applied it since.

 
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?
 

Andréa> I can’t say I had any one mentor. I had dozens. 

Nobody is perfect, so I’ve always tried to pick out the best lessons from the different leaders I’ve met along the way. As for mentoring? I love it, and the way I interact with aspiring leaders today is the same as when I used to bring my friends to punk shows in the 80s, with an invitation to open their minds and find new perspectives.

 

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

Andréa> It’s like on the billiards table. There’s always a way, let’s find it together.


LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this? 

Andréa> Culture. Culture. Culture. It’s a matter of sensibility and attention that has to be part of everything we do, every day.


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? 

Andréa> In the previous answer, I repeated the word culture three times and I truly mean it. There’s nothing like sharing thoughts, ideas, laughs. Herezie is an independent company and culture is our oxygen. Not easy remotely, of course, but not impossible.

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

Andréa> Listening to the people I trust and love.

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Herezie, Mon, 09 May 2022 07:01:00 GMT