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Bossing It: Santiago Puiggari

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President, CEO & partner at Together w/ Santiago Puiggari started his leadership journey in the digital arena. Today he believes that good relationships generate great business
Bossing It: Santiago Puiggari

CEO of Together w/, an agency set up to service clients in the US, Mexico and Argentina, Santiago Puiggari had his first leadership experience at a digital unit of FCB.

As a leader of transformation for agencies and brands, he believes in a direct approach, putting creativity and strategy in service to the brand objectives. Now more than ever, he focuses on building relationships that deliver the right team to solve specific complex problems his clients face in today’s marketplace.


What was your first experience of leadership?

My first leadership experience was at FCB, where I joined to create the digital unit. At that time, ‘digital’ was an exploratory unit of the agency, with just a few people. That area eventually grew into the full agency.

However, the experience that was most important to me was when Grey and WPP offered me the leadership position of the entire Grey agency in Chile, and then, in Argentina. It was a turning point in my career when I was just 30 years old. At that moment, early 2000, Martin Sorrel already had the vision that digital talent should lead transformation at agencies. So, he took a chance with me. And it worked.


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

I’ve learnt from people who led me, my bosses and their ways of working, as well as seeing other leaders. Early in my career, in each one of those people, I identified what I wanted to imitate and what I didn’t want to be. I learned to listen more than I speak and to identify great talent that would push the business forward. Great leaders in this industry, who I had the pleasure of working with, taught me a lot.


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

The failures always teach you the most. The difficult ones– the restructurings, the loss of large clients, the loss of great talent–are where you gain the most wisdom, especially when you have to get up and lift your team off the ground.


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?

What I quickly learned is that leading was something I liked to do. The challenge of running a team, a business unit, an agency, is something that I am passionate about. It doesn’t matter if it is FCB’s digital unit with only three employees, or McCann Worldgroup Argentina with more than 300 people.

How did I go about it? I took on the challenge and the risk. To develop, in the late 90s, a digital unit in an advertising agency had its risk. We were selling a transformation and a future that no one doubts today, but at that time the status quo was undermining those changes. When I joined as Grey CEO, if my management wasn’t successful, my career could have been harmed. The same happened with McCann in Argentina. I assumed the transformation role. In all cases I was the rookie batter, new, young, who enters when the game is exceedingly difficult and has to knock it out of the park.


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?

I think that the passion to lead is something that comes with the personality. Then, the leadership as a skill has to be learned. There are techniques, models, processes to lead and anyone can learn them, but the passion for doing it is something that either you have or you don’t. There are people who prefer to be led, which is fine. But it is difficult to lead without that passion because it is the passion that makes a real difference as a leader.


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

I am naturally a bit shy. To lead, you have to be more charismatic and put yourself out there. That is a skill I work on everyday. Charisma! That’s a skill to be improved.


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

I’ve failed several times. And I’ve learnt from those experiences. I learned that a leader should hire great talent and get out of their way. I’ve also learned to really listen to clients. If you can understand their challenges and harness all your resources to help them solve that challenge, you will be successful. I’ve also learned that you can, and should, delegate responsibilities, but you can’t delegate real leadership.


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?

I think you must be transparent and show your cards. Specially with bad news or those things that everyone knows are happening, but no one wants to hear. I don’t believe in the motivational leader type who always says that everything is fine, that everything is an opportunity, and who harangues constantly. When that happens, people know something is being hidden.

I prefer to lay my cards on the table, the good, the bad and the ugly. We have this philosophy at Together w/. We say things as they are. In bad times, it can sound like a pessimistic look, but I prefer to call it ‘informed optimism’. We work like this among ourselves and also with our clients, partners, suppliers. And I do believe that when good things happen and everything is promising, it must also be said.


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?

I’ve had mentors and they left a deep mark on me both professionally and personally. Jim Heekin, Martin Sorrel, Scott Hollingsworth, Pablo Walker, Bruno Lambertini, who was my boss when only 23 years old, just to mention some of them.

Each one taught me something different. They always supported me and didn’t pretend that it was the other way around.

I believe one of the most important things as a leader is having the ability to prepare other leaders, sharing with them knowledge and experience. I can proudly say that in each of the agencies I left behind, someone from my team took over the leadership, at FCB, at Grey and at McCann.

Today, in Together w/ I invest time with my team and partners so that they can become the best leaders of their teams. Lulo Calió, Luciano Landajo, Cruz Mujica Lainez, Fabiana Casal, Doug Livingston and Daniel Bloise are great leaders. They have their personal and complementary form of leadership and that make the difference in Together w /.


It’s been a really challenging year - and that’s an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

I’ve had to lead teams in troubled waters before; startups, rebuilding agencies, financial crisis, reputational crisis, industry crisis. In such a complicated year for all of us, at Together w/ we are more united than ever. We recognised and defined that tough landscape and developed a strategy for the agency and our clients. This proactive approach led us to have one of the best years, driving new businesses, deliver financial results and growing the agency.


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?

I fervently believe that diversity and inclusion have a positive effect on the creative quality of work, on the motivation of people, and on financial results –beyond being a moral duty. No bullshit, it’s good to do it and it works. If you truly believe it, if you are authentic, and you take diversity and inclusion seriously in your space, team, agency (and we all do) we can be the change that the industry and the world need.

58% of our team are women (above the industry average). Advertising is a powerful agent of culture change, so we have an obligation to deal with gender and diversity issues.


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 2020?

The company culture is everything. It’s the essence. It’s difficult to describe and to identify, but it’s there. If culture exists, is there and is positive, I believe that remote work will not destroy it but will even help to keep it alive and evolve.

We developed the remote work mode and the digitisation of our processes before COVID-19. Thus, we were able to adapt quickly when the pandemic broke out. For us, at Together w/, the idea of working across geography to find the best talent means more business and a demand for more services.


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

My family, my team, my partners, my friends, my mentors, my colleagues and the relationships with each of them are my greatest assets. I don’t believe that the leaders are alone, but there are leaders that isolate themselves; if that happen you may avoid it. Without avoiding the responsibility and consequences of your decisions, you should not be alone.

I think that relationships matter today more than ever. Clients are looking for partners to help them solve their problems. That is why, when we launched Together w/, we thought of a model that integrates ideas, technology and media. But, above all, we believe on the philosophy that “We can do this better together”;. We believe that good relationships generate great business.

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Together-w, Tue, 09 Mar 2021 13:27:34 GMT