Our founder and creative executive producer on working like an animal, accepting failure and partying like it’s 1995.
What was your first experience of leadership?
After being a runner for a while, I landed a cool new job – Office Manager at a busy production company in Soho. Sounds like quite a boring job if the title is anything to go by BUUUT.. I had a team of amazing runners to help me pull off the most random, eccentric production tasks as well as incredible parties, team bonding trips and sometimes even the most bizarre requests. No day was ever the same, no task was ever the same. It meant always being on your toes, continuously learning, meeting new talented people and partying like it’s 1995 every single day!
How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?
This job meant that I had to interact with producers and EPs on our day to day.. They had their crew, I had mine and we had to come together to make a job happen.
It was here that I first got the real taste of amazing leaders and also simply horrific ones too. There were those that were kind, polite and open to sharing their knowledge with others on the team regardless of their social background or what role they played in production. On the other hand, you had those that would talk to people like they were dirt on the bottom of their worn-out trendy Converse trainers! It was painful to watch, listen to and simply be in the same room with. Even though I had only little say at that point in my career, I often clashed with those individuals, perhaps even when the situation didn’t involve me at all as I just could not stand unfair behaviour! I knew I wanted to be different from them, power or no power, I did my best to be supportive but straight up at the same time, both with the ones who were mistreated and the ones that were favoured.
What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Being a young EP and getting so ahead too quickly! In my eyes I had the right to be there due to my relentless work energy and never saying no to a random all-night task or an unexpected challenge. With that came the need to prove myself though, to my peers whom I left behind, to older colleagues and specifically those that didn’t like me for many personal or subjective reasons – like being too young, too ethnic, or just for being from Croydon!
I worked like an animal, day & night. Missing family gatherings, birthdays – doing conference calls at funerals… yes, I did that! However, with the recognition and praise came the ego as well. There was a point where I started to care too much about myself and the unfair treatment I was getting, even in this position and actually forgetting that so many others had it the same or worse, but had much smaller voices than I did.
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?
I think three weeks into my first job in the industry I knew I would run a production company one day. Not because I wanted to lead, but because it really pissed me off how things were being managed from a clique and classist point of view and I wanted them to be done differently, based on merit and talent.
What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
I hate having to let people go! It’s never nice to have to let someone go so I always try to empower people to see why they may be better at something else or be more suited to another adventure. It’s not fair to keep people on if they are not the best version of themselves as they are wasting their own time too, not just yours.
Have you ever felt like you’ve failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?
We all fail! Sometimes you don’t notice a team member is down and struggling with something, be it personal or work related. Sometimes you don’t initially pay enough attention to a problem or an unusual friction between team members. I believe it’s all a part of the process and if we couldn’t learn and improve continuously in our industry, then I would just quit! It simply means it’s got to the point you don’t care enough anymore.
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?
I think honesty is the most important element of any successful relationship. We value this in our personal relationships so why not in our work collaborations? I’m not saying to share your every thought and worry, but to bring transparency while coming up with suggestions is always appreciated whichever side you are on.
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?
I have had a few people to look up to over the years and some of those have let me down which is always devastating while others inspired and motivated me more than I expected. I mentor a lot of young and up & coming talent and always treat those as friendships and close relationships. You really have to get to know a person to be able to see their strengths & weaknesses and how to help them get to be the best they can be. It’s a big responsibility!
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?
Its not my first rodeo, ha! Sadly, I have had to lead teams through tough times before and that is one of my strengths – No matter what life throws at me, I just produce my way out of it. Staying calm and motivated in times of adversity is the best team bonding exercise you can ever ask for. You will be better for it and come out the other side with wonderful friends and more experience to add under your belt.
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?
As a change maker in this specific area it’s been a fantastic year for my talented Directors, Illustrators and Photographers! They are finally getting the opportunities they have been side-lined for in the past for unfair reasons and they get to have a bit more of a spotlight.
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?
As a company that represents diverse talent, we have been a global company since our first day. Working remotely has not really meant that we have had to change a thing about how we craft. Our company culture is the only reason I started NERD, so it is the key to what we do, how we do it and why – every day!
What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?
Other passionate and creative people!