The most enduring leaders successfully manage their emotions, their words, and their wellbeing. If any of those three get out of whack, that’s when CEOs can get in trouble. It’s also when teams can lose faith in you.
As part of my five things I wish someone told me before I became a CEO interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Michael. She is the CEO of Team One, a fully integrated media, digital, and communications agency for premium brands. Julie is both fiercely competitive and “Minnesota nice,” and therefore Team One’s clients benefit from Julie’s tenacity and flair for making the seemingly impossible, possible. Julie has led dozens of integrated marketing programs for modern brands, from launching the car-of-the-future with Steven Spielberg to giving affluent consumers permission to fly private jets again. Protecting pricing power and shifting market share for clients drives Julie Michael.
Before her role as CEO, she previously served as Executive Director, Account Management, overseeing the agency’s Lexus National and Dealer Association accounts. Having been with Team One for more than 20 years, Julie has held a number of senior management positions, including director of experiential marketing, director of business development, and executive director leading numerous agency clients, among them The Ritz-Carlton, JW Marriott, HSBC Premier, Häagen-Dazs International, American Express, Flexjet, Icelandic Glacial, Anaheim Ducks, Northern Trust, and Procter & Gamble.
Before joining Team One, she was the Marketing Director at a premier Northwest resort, Crystal Mountain, running all aspects of marketing and sales. Admittedly, Julie will share she still misses the “research” part of that job, which involved spending more time on the slopes than in the office.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I have known since seventh grade that I wanted to work in advertising. I remember drawing pictures of funky buildings (architecture was my back-up career plan) that would be our ideas factory . . . with my name on the door. Which, as I look back on it, was quite egotistical and out of character for me. I’m actually a fairly humble and practical person. So, the force must have been strong with this one!
And while communications companies do so much more than ‘advertising’ these days, the core of my interest was mashing-up creativity + commerce. And that’s still alive and well in this industry. This is the mash-up I knew I wanted to be a part for as long as I can remember.
In an odd twist of fate, I ended up working for Saatchi & Saatchi (Team One is part of Saatchi), which was the company I wrote my thesis paper on during a college semester at Cambridge University.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
I was homegrown; I rose through the ranks of my company to ultimately be appointed President & CEO. That comes with both challenges and opportunities. The challenge I encountered was going from a subordinate to a peer to a C-suite executive type. I still struggle to not just jump in and be part of the team solving problems. I’m not big on hierarchy. But I have learned, and continue to learn, that people expect (and need) me to play a different role for the company than I did five years ago.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
A former boss once called me MacGyver and I kinda liked that. Today, I would call it industriousness. My mom grew up on a farm in Western Minnesota (which I still love to visit). Her DNA and work ethic were passed on to me, which translate into my business beliefs:
– Make hay while the sun shines
– Solve problems the world throws at us
– Be good to people, because you might need someone to shovel you out of a snowbank someday
– Be inclusive, because when a job needs to be done, you need all hands (and nobody’s judging the origin, beliefs, preferences of those hands — — just come bring your unique perspective and help!)
– Appreciate nature (although that one doesn’t apply as much to work as I would like it to)
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
1. You are being studied. People will watch and listen and tell stories about you when you are not in the room. Use that as a force for good.
2. Don’t be apologetic to take time away from the office to give your teams some space and give your brain a chance to re-frame.
3. Don’t wait for someone else to stand up and signal the meeting is over. Nobody will stand up. It’s your job to keep meetings short and effective. Stand up.
4. Always state your intent. Sometimes people need to understand what your motivations are — not just what you are saying.
5. It’s okay to be vulnerable and awkward (I sure am sometimes), but just remember that people will value knowing the ‘real’ you . . . Not the you ‘playing’ the role of CEO.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
The most enduring leaders successfully manage their emotions, their words and their wellbeing. If any of those three get out of whack, that’s when CEOs can get in trouble. It’s also when teams can lose faith in you.
This means ruthless prioritizing, knowing your breaking points (they are different for everybody), identifying your kryptonite, and acknowledging the human condition across your organization.
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?
There have been many, many people. I’d have to write a novel, but here a few:
PAUL MARESKI was my predecessor. When he decided to retire (at a very young age) and move his family out of Los Angeles, he advocated for me taking on this President & CEO role. With many of our clients’ organizations being led by men at that time, he took a risk suggesting that a female should be in this role. He had been grooming me for the opportunity and I appreciate his unwavering support of me.
JOHN MESLOW, my father and former executive at Medtronic, also gave me some advice I have used and shared with others. During a phone call to him one day, my dad could tell I was kicking myself about a particularly bumbling presentation I had given at work. I shared that, “I’m surrounded by so many smart people, and I’ll never be able to give a presentation like them. I’m not smart enough to do this job.” And he responded, “Julie, you need, and love, these smart people in your boat, but never forget, it’s more about being the most effective person in the room, than it is about being the smartest person in the room.” That message has carried with me for years and I’ve shared it with countless people who have had a ‘bad presentation’ day. Just work to be effective, not impressive.
BLAKE BEERS, founder of Little Renegades and formerGlobal Marketing Solutions Manager at Facebook, as well as a former Team One employee, has had a profound influence in my life. She’s 15 years (or so!) younger than me, and yet her wisdom, positivity and focus on people over things, is something I admire. She was brave to resign from a high-profile job at Facebook to take a risk and start her own company. Little Renegades was recently featured on the Ellen show, so that risk paid off! I often find myself thinking “How would you apply Blake’s bravery and positivity to this situation?”
ESMEE WILLIAMS, VP, Consumer and Brand Strategy at allrecipes.com, is the person who always has my back and is the person I call when I need to laugh. She might be the funniest person I know.
MICHELLE MCETTRICK, CMO at Tesco and former colleague at McCann-Erickson, Michelle has confidence and swagger. Yet, she doesn’t have an ounce of hierarchy in her. She keeps company with CEOs and bartenders, musicians, and managers. She’s a long-time friend that always focuses on the big stuff at work and the important stuff outside of work.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I want to add more value to my clients’ business. Getting caught up in daily operations of the business can be a hindrance to stepping back and asking, “what’s the singular thing I/we can be doing to create substantial impact for our clients.”
I also want to join two boards — one philanthropic and one corporate. My schedule doesn’t allow for it now, but it’s a goal for the future.
Oh yeah, and I also really want to buy a ranch in Montana.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope that people felt I created an inclusive environment — and that I celebrated individuality and specialness of all people, regardless of gender, background, ethnicity, beliefs, religion, politics, and more. It’s not just about solely supporting young women for me; it’s about supporting EVERYBODY’s potential.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I seem to be following a lot of young, awesome women on social media (nieces, friends’ daughters, coworkers, etc.). My newest experiment is to never add a comment like “you’re so cute” or “great hair” or “gorgeous.” I’ve been commenting with words like “you’re so cool, smart, goofy, mischievous, classy, etc.” It’s just my little way of letting these women know that their value is more than their appearance. Who knows, maybe it will catch on? If not, I’m still happy to put my version of encouragement onto their social feeds.
How can our readers follow you on social media?