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Women Of The C-Suite: “Never make anyone wrong” With Sarah Watson, Global Chairman of BBH

Never make anyone wrong. It doesn’t matter how we got into this situation, it only matters that we’re going to get out of it powerfully.


Never make anyone wrong. It doesn’t matter how we got into this situation, it only matters that we’re going to get out of it powerfully. If the work hasn’t been done to your satisfaction, blaming people is not going to motivate them to perform well for you. Inspiring them about what they’re going to do to make it right will.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Watson. Sarah is the Global Chairman of BBH and Chief Strategy Officer of BBH NY. During her 15-year tenure with the agency, Watson has produced award-winning work for clients including Netflix, PlayStation, Johnnie Walker and Cole Haan. She is also known for championing gender inclusion, serving as chair of Cannes’ inaugural See It Be It program, as well as opening up doors and access into the advertising world for talent from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds through the Griffin Farley Search for Beautiful Minds program she founded six years ago.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in the Northwest of England, the daughter of two public school teachers and all I knew was that I wanted to move to a city and do something connected to Vogue magazine. I went to intern for Paul Smith and realized that, unless I was a designer, I couldn’t see a role for myself in fashion. Then, very late one night at a pub, I happened to meet someone who worked in advertising and I was electrified by the vibrant language of creativity and commerce he spoke. I realized advertising was probably the answer for me.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The way BBH has supported my career along my journey into motherhood has been great. When I was first asked to come to America to join the New York office, I initially refused on the grounds that I was trying to get pregnant. They weren’t just supportive; they were insistent that this was something they would make work for me. I was promoted after having my first child and made Chairman when I was six months pregnant with my second. Imagine what the world would look like if more women could say the same.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m involved in the conversations shaping the next phase of Time’s Up Advertising. Advertising has been the first industry vertical to organize under the Time’s Up movement. It has been one of the biggest learning experiences of my career to see the whole thing being born. The journey has been incredibly painful for this community, but a fresh new set of voices is emerging and I feel revolution in the air.


What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Put yourself into the equation. You have to do what is right for the business, but you can’t exclude your own needs or you will burn out and not be useful to your team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of the reasons I’ve been at BBH so long is that I’ve had a series of people who saw things in me before I even saw them in myself. At my absolute lowest point when I thought I couldn’t go on, a BBH legend named Nick Kendall took me out for noodles. As my hot salty tears splashed into the broth, he told me I would pick myself up and one day lead a department. I’ll never forget that. That’s the sort of support we all need to be extending to a much wider group if we are to truly diversify this industry.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

We lost a colleague to cancer six years ago and in his honor have run the Griffin Farley Search for Beautiful Minds, an annual boot camp for people trying to break into the industry. We now have around 400 alums of the program for whom it was a decisive moment in their career journey. We deliberately make the program free and actively seek diversity of all kinds. We have strong support from other agencies right across the industry. It is a magical program that makes me realize how everyone is looking for ways to give back and contribute. We just need moments to do that.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Never make anyone wrong

It doesn’t matter how we got into this situation, it only matters that we’re going to get out of it powerfully. If the work hasn’t been done to your satisfaction, blaming people is not going to motivate them to perform well for you. Inspiring them about what they’re going to do to make it right will.

Everything you do communicates

Whatever is in your head is somehow being communicated in your behavior, whether you think so or not. People observe and analyze the behavior of leaders endlessly — I know I did when I was coming up through the ranks. So you have to be just as disciplined around what you think, as you are in what you say out loud.

Do whatever it takes to get this group of people to feel amazing about moving forward

How you lead people forward is going to change with every new situation. You have to do and say whatever is required in the moment to make people feel that this is their time to shine and perform exceptionally. Sometimes that takes clearing out the past so we can move on, sometimes it takes starting over. The leader’s job is to get us moving forward.

Swing for the fences

It is astounding what we can all do when we dig deep. We just have to remember to do it, every time.

Get some sleep

I simply cannot function as a leader without 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’m passionate about women being well educated about the realities of childbirth. So many people emerge both emotionally and physically scarred from the experience in ways that can take a lifetime to process. Even just normalizing conversation around it would be a step forward. When I left to have my second child, we had a “‘birth circle”’ where colleagues were invited to share their own stories. It was really powerful. The systemic issues around childbirth in this country — especially for women of color — are vast and complex and will take a huge effort to solve. But if we could even normalize conversation and images of babies being born and get women to feel more powerful around their decisions, it would be a start.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter: @sarahmwatson

Insta: @sarahmwatson

Originally published at medium.com

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