I had the pleasure of interviewing Aaron Cuker, CEO and Chief Creative Officer of Cuker Agency. A former competitive swimmer that competed in Olympic trials in 2000, Aaron has grown the agency from a boutique digital creative agency into a branding, marketing, and digital powerhouse winning over 100+ industry awards and garnering international recognition. Aaron has helped the agency win key accounts including Nike, Quiksilver, Giro, Sony, Silver Oak, and Sunbelt Rentals.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?
I always had a passion for applied art. I love the combination of art and science where you can use the right image and messaging to create a response and to grow business. I spent the first chapter of my life as an elite competitive swimmer. The hard work and competitive environment helped prepare me for a career in brand marketing.
What is your definition of success?
My definition of success is doing great work, winning awards, and driving quantifiable results for our clients. I don’t focus on agency size or headcount. I’ve been there before and quality over quantity is much better dynamic.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I’ve seen so much but this one stands out — I was in Chicago for a trade show and our flight was delayed so we got in really late. It was me and an intern and we showed up at the Hilton in Downtown Chicago around midnight. They said they didn’t have any rooms left (even though we had pre-paid). I insisted on getting our 2 rooms and they said they had one left and took us to a secret elevator. I insisted the 2 rooms but they said don’t worry, you’ll be fine. They took us up the elevator to Conrad Hilton’s private room which was about 10,000 sq feet, helicopter pad, pool table, library, ball room, piano, 5 bed rooms, etc. We ordered drinks and Chicago pizza and hung out on the helicopter pad overlooking all of Chicago.
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
I think the biggest challenge I have is that I’m a perfectionist. I do what it takes to succeed no matter what. And while that’s certainly helped us to grow into the success we’ve had, it can be overwhelming for me at times. I’ve improved over the years at balancing a perfectionist mentality with the necessity for effectiveness.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Externally, I think our design quality and our track record for creating results separates us from the crowd. Internally, it’s our dedication. If you could see how dedicated our team is to our work you’d be truly impressed and I’ve never seen a company with this much passion about what they do.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
We’ve won several new accounts this year so it’s been very busy for us. One that has turned into a passion project for me, is we are launching a national youth baseball program. It’s an area that I’ve never worked in before, but it’s been fun to be around youth athletics and also my son is really into baseball so it’s hit close to home.
Is your company working to be more sustainable? If so, how?
Yes! I think we get better every year. We use very little paper. We’ve recycling cans. We recently did a big sweep of the kitchen getting rid of straws, plastic utensils, plastic cups. But my all time favorite is we got rid of water bottle delivery and installed a filtration system. We still have more to go but we’re making progress!
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Defined accountability is so important. Clarifying roles and responsibility allows your team to understand what they are responsible for and empowers them to be successful as individuals and ultimately successful as a team.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to call out Rem Duplessis. He was the Art Director at GQ Magazine and he gave me my first big opportunity in this industry. Rem now works at Apple as a Creative Director. He’s the most brilliant creative and leader I’ve worked with and I gain a lot of my inspiration from him.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I try to do my best to give back. I participate in a blanket and food drive in Mexico each year. I also donate to San Pasqual Academy, a high school for foster teens.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
- Treat others how you want to be treated
- Attitude reflects leadership
- It’s important to work really really hard
- You can’t always control when opportunities show up but you need to be prepared for when they do. And they will show up.
- Success is often just beyond that point where most people quite. If you ever find your self in a moment where it’s really challenging, know that success is right around the corner so stick with it.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I think we are better connected. I wish everyone would celebrate diversity instead of letting our differences create invisible borders. I believe that part of this digital revolution that we are in will bring us all together in ways we’ve never seen before.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Treat others how you would want to be treated.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this.