Lysa Campbell is an experienced agency leader with a successful background in creating business growth and diversification. She now leads the Retail Marketing Group as CEO for the UK. Here she reflects on her career and provides advice to other women looking to found a business.
Embrace the university of life
Looking back at where my career started, I see myself as being educated in the university of life. Coming from a small town and leaving school with just one O-Level, I had to decide the path that I wanted to take. At the time I didn’t know the world outside of my tiny bubble and would describe myself as being quite insular, so when I joined a world-leading film and entertainment studio in my early 20s, I was thrown into a completely alien environment.
The studio had an incredibly male-centric, ‘work hard, play hard’ environment. I benefited from having some brilliant role models and learned so much that still stays with me today. Yet, I also saw things that I knew I didn’t want to take forward into my own businesses, from bullying to sexism. Being passed over for a promotion in favour of a less experienced and qualified man – because I had just started my own family – was a turning point, and I left shortly after.
Moving from corporate to the agency side, I had a much more senior role and enjoyed helping the company grow significantly to an £11mn turnover in the five years I worked there. However, with the company increasingly investing less back into the business – compromising my integrity with my team and clients – as well as difficult changes in my personal life, I saw an opportunity to have a fresh start. So, in 2008 I decided to start my own business.
Advice for you:
- Stick to your principles: My experiences have taught me to stick to my principles regardless of how difficult the decision is. No matter what, you must believe in yourself and trust that the principles that have carried you so far will continue to help you make the right decisions.
- Make time for reflection: The eight years I spent building and growing my first business were not easy. Through many mistakes and moments of doubt, I learnt that the most important thing that I could do was to make time for reflection. We can only learn in hindsight, so understanding how what you did yesterday will impact today and tomorrow, is an important evaluation for any leader.
Be a brave leader
I have experienced my fair share of imposter syndrome throughout my career, and I know that this is a common feeling for many women in particular. Moving into the technology sector, I doubted my ability to lead my team when I had such limited knowledge on the subject. Yet, I quickly learned that as a leader, it wasn’t necessary for me to have an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of all the technology in order to be successful; my team are the experts and my primary role is separate from that.
As a leader, one of the best things I can offer my team is bravery: showing my team that I am prepared to make difficult decisions, show my vulnerability and confront reality head-on. I had to prove this trait to my team early on in my career when I had to make the choice to fire a client because they weren’t the right fit. My team had raised their concerns with me and it was my responsibility to listen, understand and act in order to show my loyalty to the team. At that stage, our agency was dependent on the revenue, however, I was grateful to recognise the potential long term impact my inaction would have, including a negative work culture or losing the trust of my team.
Advice for you:
- Trust in your team: each person around you has their own set of skills and passion, and a leader is not required to be the perfect example of all members combined. A truly great leader helps each team member to become their best at what they do, in turn benefiting the group as a whole.
- Be brave and don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions: By showing your team that you have the courage to make difficult decisions, you will allow them to feel confident that you have their backs and open the team up to a positive working culture.
- Show vulnerability: Being vulnerable, open and honest with your team goes a long way to earning their trust and respect. Doing so, as I have seen myself, will earn people’s loyalty for many years to come.
Embrace the ‘work-life balance’ cliché
In recent years, the advice that you should find a perfect work-life balance has become incredibly overused and clichéd. Most people know that it’s so much easier said than done, particularly when it’s your own business that’s at stake. However, I have learnt to remind myself that working all hours just doesn’t deliver results; great ideas come to me when I’ve taken a walk on my lunch break, or after I’ve taken a few days off work. A rested, clear head will mean you are wildly more productive and creative than if you’re living off a few hours of sleep and swathes of coffee. Encourage yourself to step away regularly: it will pay off for both you and your company as a result.
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Developing your career, starting your own business and achieving your goals is never going to be straightforward. But, by surrounding yourself with great people and embracing the mistakes whilst leading your team with integrity and bravery, you will be rewarded with loyalty and support: something that any business owner cannot do without.