…I would, however encourage female leaders not to spend their time second-guessing themselves — men rarely do. If you get it wrong, you get it wrong. Move on. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future.
I had the pleasure to interview Ethel Rubinstein. For over 40 years, Ethel has been living in the future. She has a keen eye for creating and delivering the services required by advertising agencies and iconic brands — often before they knew they needed them. Her leadership style and natural drive to keep moving forward have put her and her companies at the forefront of the ever-evolving post-production and content creation business. As the owner and CEO of LVLY, she has built a consortium of creative specialists committed to crossing boundaries in their individual disciplines and pushing the limits of what’s possible from a creative, tech and business approach. Over the course of 25 years, Ethel has continued to shape her companies to be ready for what’s next in branding, design, visual effects, production and editorial.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this career path?
My career path was not by design and neither was working in the advertising industry. As senior year of college loomed, I seriously contemplated applying to law school. I have an analytical mind and a terrific memory, and it seemed like both would play well in the courtroom. But I was eager to start my life, and committing to three more years of school just didn’t feel right. So, after graduating from Brandeis University, I moved to New York City and began searching for a job.
I landed an opportunity as a secretary/production assistant at a small advertising agency called Geer DuBois. Although I was mostly answering phones and running errands, it didn’t take me long to discover that I loved the business of creativity. I was quickly exposed to the unique skill set required to effectively manage creative projects and creative people.
Like me, Geer DuBois was young and hungry, and with less than 20 employees, it was poised for growth. I was lucky that the staff took tremendous pride and care in mentoring me and, as the agency grew, I grew with it. I became the head of production at the relatively young age of 25.
After 10 years, I was ready for a new challenge. I had been fortunate enough to work with some extraordinary directors and editors. I realized I was a production person. I wanted to be leader situated at the center of a company whose core business was production or post-production.So I joined Ridley Scott Associates as an executive producer, and I was on my way.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Shortly after I became president of what is now called LVLY I was running late one morning, and as I entered our office building, I spotted an editorial assistant hiding behind a pillar waiting for me to pass. It was quite puzzling. It wasn’t until reached my office and sat down at my desk, that I realized she was hiding from me because she was late. That was the moment I truly began to understand how all of my actions, whether intended, accidental, or coincidental, impacted those who worked for me. It was time for me to own not just my position, but also how my staff saw me in my position. From then on, I carried that privilege and responsibility with me.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons you learned from that?
I prefer to skip this question.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
My company has been a leader in its field from inception. Rooted in our DNA is that every problem is an opportunity to look at something with new eyes. Our evolution is fueled by innovation, and that is the bedrock of our culture.
We’ve been around for four decades now, and I believe we owe our longevity to not just changing with the times, but also changing the times. We do not strive to be trendy, but we are always on trend. We know how to build on our core strengths while forging untested paths under smart leadership.
We are true to our business beliefs and keep our eyes focused on providing our clients with the support they need. But a lot of companies do that. What continues to set us apart is that we remain committed to inventing new avenues that serve the creative process and ultimately allow our clients to stand out from their competitors and the distracting noise surrounding them.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our current projects are fairly diverse and reach across a wide variety of profit and nonprofit organizations and brands. We’ve recently been asked to partner on more experiential projects, and that’s been incredibly stimulating and exciting. Working with museums and cultural institutions to create experiences that encourage interaction with potentially millions of people is both a gift and a responsibility that we have taken on whole-heartedly.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
This may not be the most popular opinion, but my advice to female leaders is pretty much the same as to their male counterparts. Look ahead, stay focused, and surround yourself with terrific people who thrive in the culture.
I would, however encourage female leaders not to spend their time second-guessing themselves — men rarely do. If you get it wrong, you get it wrong. Move on. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I would tell female leaders to find their zone, stand their ground, and be true to their vision while maneuvering however is necessary to reach their goal(s). Seek opinions, listen, and use what’s valuable, but don’t be dissuaded by those who may not see the big picture in the same way you do. Know the strengths and the weaknesses of the members of your team, where they want to go, and help them get there. Be confident for them.
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?
At every point in my career, I have had mentors who took the time to identify my strengths and challenges, and guide me based on them. I was lucky, but I also made my luck. I was mindful of sharing credit for my success with my mentors. I learned to manage up, and that proved the key to real success.
All that said, my most important role model and mentor was my father, a self-made man who went from a pogrom in Russia to a managing partner of a Wall Street firm. He pioneered the concept of hiring Ph.D.s as analysts on Wall Street. He was the first person to take an advertising agency public. He was always there for me with great interest and sage advice. He helped me look beyond what I knew to see what was possible. He was kind. He was honest. He has been gone for 13 years and while I still miss him enormously, I marvel at how much of him has become a part of me.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As a company and as individuals, we are acutely aware of how lucky we are. Every year, we respond to a school or community at risk or victims of a natural disaster by donating both our money and our personal time to helping those in need. I am personally actively involved in a number of organizations that reflect my beliefs about what kind of world I want to live in and how I want to sustain that world.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Communicate effectively.
2. Manage your time wisely.
3. Take risks, and learn from the ones that don’t work out.
4. Never lose sight of the long game.
5. Always remember “it’s a business.”
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 don’t know exactly what shape this movement would take, but I would be incredibly gratified if no child in this country went hungry. No matter our political beliefs, social status, demographic, or skin color, we must take care of our children. Without that, we have nothing, really.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” ― C.S. Lewis
For the owner of a creative business to thrive and be successful, so many elements must align: risk, resolve, intuition, commitment, a bit of luck — I could go on. But there are times, even with the best of intentions or a seemingly foolproof plan, that things just don’t work out as expected. That’s when you have to be brave, look doubt in the face, cut your losses, invest more, and throw the whole idea out the window. In other words, you need to be willing and able to change course. Failure lurks in innovation, but that’s why they invented blackboard erasers.