Valerie Moizel is founder & CEO of The Woo in LA, an agency that she started right out of school with no ad experience whatsoever. She also runs a well known business world podcast called SheDynasty where she interviews some of the top C-Level female executives in big business. Some former interviewees include Sandra Campos, CEO of Diane Von Furstenberg, Michelle Jublier, COO of Capital Music Group, Suzi Weis Fishman, co-founder of Opi Nails, Donna Lamar, global executive creative director of Twitter, and Courtney Sanchez, COO of Vimeo.
Here, she kicks off our new interview series focused on creative leadership.
Q> What was your first experience of leadership?
Valerie> I was that little kid who always had to be the boss at recess. My classmates looked to me to decide if we’d be playing handball, Newcomb or four-square that day. I learned pretty early on that if you take on a leadership role when no one else is willing to and are confident and considerate in your decisions, people will follow.
Q> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
Valerie> I only figured it out recently. Until a few years ago, I thought that being a leader was all about hitting my own personal goals. As I gained more experience, I realised it’s way more about what I can do for others to help them along in their professional journeys. So now the thing I care most about is having people think, ‘Wow, she really helped me with my career’.
Q> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Valerie> Interviewing over 50 super successful women in business on my podcast SheDynasty has been the most incredible lesson in leadership - almost as if I’d gotten a crash-course MBA from that Ivy League business school that never would have accepted me 22 years ago.
Q> 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?
Valerie> I started my own advertising agency the day I graduated from Art Center College of Design. Everyone told me I was crazy and that wasn’t how it worked. But I had this burning entrepreneurial spirit that wouldn’t let me work for someone else. It’s this fire you can’t put out, so you just take a deep breath and run straight into it. I’m sure a lot of people reading this know exactly what I’m talking about.
Q> 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?
Valerie> It’s 50/50. I was born bossy but have learned how to do something good and meaningful with it from the talented people around me. Bossiness completely sucks if it isn’t channeled properly. More and more, I find myself letting go and trusting my employees to take the reins. I only step in when they need my support, and that motivates them to meet - and exceed - the expectations of the job they were hired to do.
Q> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Valerie> I have to take the blame for everything. Sometimes as a boss, you have to make decisions that don’t make sense to your team because you can’t share all the context for various reasons. Because of that, people sometimes question my judgement, and I wish I could tell them the whole story.
Q> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
Valerie> I fail constantly. I have for my entire career. Then I learn, never make that same mistake again, make new mistakes, learn, wash and repeat. As you get older and more experienced, the stakes of the mistakes become smaller, but you still constantly make them.
Q> 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?
Valerie> I tend to overshare and then regret it. Sometimes when people know too much, they know when you’re vulnerable, and sometimes it can be taken out of context and used against you when you least expect it. I’m trying to find a balance because I like my team knowing me inside and out.
Q> 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?
Valerie> I never had a mentor early in my career, and it left me feeling incomplete. I knew I was capable of something bigger but didn’t know that something bigger was possible, since my parents' only expectation of me was to get married and have kids. This was my greatest motivation for starting SheDynasty. I never wanted another ambitious young girl to feel that way. I love finding motivated, eager people who don’t quite have the experience and giving them the chance to show me their true talent. And I love even more when I hear from them years later that they’ve achieved even more than what they set out to.
Q> 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?
Valerie> I try to stay positive, strong and very decisive. When times are uncertain, people crave stability - and I want to be a person they can turn to for that stability.
Q> 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?
Valerie> I’ve made it a priority to search for a diverse group of women to feature on my podcast. It’s so important for young women to see that people who look like them have made it to the top of the business world. At my agency, we’ve also started a high school mentoring/internship program to introduce young people to the world of advertising. Our first intern started last week.
Q> 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?
Valerie> Culture is everything. I run my business like it’s my family. We do our best with virtual happy hours, a virtual scavenger hunt, buying people surprise dinners, celebrating good work, looking at inspirational work from other companies and sometimes just calling people and saying, ‘Hey, how are you?’
Q> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Valerie> I’ve made a really good friend who also owns her own agency, which is weirdly similar to mine. She gets me and my challenges because they are hers too. We cross-mentor each other, and it’s been amazing to hear how she would have solved some of my issues, and vice-versa. We’re never in competition, though we pitched against each other once. There is enough business for everyone to win! But my secret weapon is my dad. He’s my rock and my biggest supporter. All I need is to hear him say that everything is going to be ok, and somehow, it always is.