The Insights Blog

Marketers’ and Agency leaders’ best advice to their 30-year-old selves

Marketers’ and Agency leaders’ best advice to their 30-year-old selves


Senior leadership and younger staff can have a very different view of the world.

Execs early in their career often want to make their mark and can be nervous about proving their worth.

Successful senior execs often have learned they are worthy and don’t need to prove it. They have learned what they need to worry about as well as what they don’t. They’ve learned that winning the race isn’t necessarily what it is cracked up to be.

The worldviews of these two groups can be quite different! Given that difference, we asked several incredibly successful senior execs a simple but profound question:

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 30-year-old self?

Here’s what they said.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 30-year-old self?
Dave Kimbell, CEO, Ulta Beauty:

I’d tell my younger self to keep focused on the long term.  Don’t get complacent with the good times and definitely don’t lose confidence during the rough patches.  You’ll see that over the long term what really matters is that you are proud of your work and grateful for the people you’ve surrounded yourself with over your career. 

Isaac Mizrahi, CEO, Alma:

Be patient; pace yourself. Don’t be too harsh and too critical of others and of yourself. Diversity starts with being more tolerant, more understanding, and less judgmental. Beware of limiting beliefs, don’t be self-conscious of who you are and your accent, and be your authentic self unapologetically.

Erin Price, CMO, Sargento:
Honestly, to focus more on the people.  Early in my career, I was very task-oriented.  It’s common for a junior manager who isn’t yet comfortable with leading to spend too much time thinking about how to deliver the results/project/outcomes of whatever they are tasked to lead.  But as I have gotten more comfortable in my career, I realize that it is, and always was, all about the people.   How can I help others achieve what they need to?  How can I coach and guide instead of directing & delegating?  Approaching a team with empathy and focusing on the people first, and then the task, is a better way to be a good leader and a better person. (I would also tell 30-year-old Erin that she needs to enjoy the stamina and energy she has.  That doesn’t last forever.  😉 ) 
Eric Jagher, CMO, UScellular:
If you don’t have the data at your disposal to prove out the story you want to tell then keep looking before you complete the narrative.  But don’t let that get in the way of being bold. The end product will always be better.
Judith Carr-Rodriguez, CEO, FIG:
Lighten up. It’s only advertising!
Justin Hayashi, CEO, New Engen:
In my 20s, I adopted the 10,000 hours lifestyle outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”. This is the idea that mastery of any skill is achieved by investing 10,000 hours. I accelerated my learning curve in my 20s by working long hours every day of the week. What I learned after 30 was that this mindset comes at the cost of relationships, mental clarity, and emotional maturity – all of which are necessary for sound decision-making. Wish I didn’t have to learn that the hard way!
Kass Sells, CEO International, WE:
Do your research. Get comfortable with data and distilling insights from it. Know when to ask for someone else’s perspective. And then use all of this to give you the confidence to take bigger risks. Build these insights into your leadership, your client counsel, and your work. And be bold. And as you progress, grow your network too. Build networks of people who don’t think like you, don’t look like you, people who come from different backgrounds, and have different experiences than your own. Being able to work with a diverse set of people creates the biggest and best ideas and the most powerful work. And being able to bring people together, to build bigger tables where everyone has a voice and an opportunity to contribute, is what should define your leadership.
Mark DiMassimo, Founder, Creative Chief, DiGo:
Keep going and don’t be afraid to make the hard decisions that I now know you are going to make anyway. The next 30 years are going to be an incredible ride. If I told you how much better your second 30 will be than your first 30, you might not believe me.
Prama Bhatt, Chief Digital Officer, Ulta Beauty:
This one’s a hard one, mainly because I’m not a regretful person. So even all the missteps I made in my life, I probably would do them again so I could have the learnings. The main thing is I don’t mind the points where I was not successful because all of those contributed in a positive way. I would tell myself to be open to that from a very early stage. Life is about learning and learning isn’t always going to be perfect. And from a business perspective, I think the more we can separate ourselves from the business is good. It’s easy to take everything personally but the more we can make it in service of the mission, the more freedom we find to not only partner with others, but also to be equally proud and critical of ourselves in that process. So, that whole idea of feeling tied to your work, but not being so attached that you get defensive about it is something I’ve definitely gotten better at over the last 20 to 25 years.
Tim Smith, President, Chemistry:
Trust me, it’s not going to be what you expect. It’s going to be better.
Tim McDonough, CMO, Intel Datacenter & AI Group:

Get experience working in sales. In my most recent gig before Intel, I ran a global sales team. And carrying a bag gives you real laser focus on what matters in marketing and what’s bullshit and helps you cut past the BS. And then I think it also gets your clock speed going like, “holy smokes, it’s really hard to close a sale.” And when there’s competition coming in with something you haven’t planned for. Marketers think in years and salespeople think in quarters and if a marketer is not in tune with sales, then they’re not in tune with the CRO, who is one of their core constituents and they’re probably not in tune with the head of the business unit they’re supporting and it means you’re going to get taken out eventually. So, my advice is to go carry a bag. It’s a ton of fun.

Sales experience will make you a better partner with your peers. The three-legged stool to me is the business unit general manager, the VP of sales, and the key marketer. As a marketer I spend equal amounts of time with both the GM and the VP of Sales. And the three of us spend quality time together and that makes a huge difference. You’re not slacking and skyping, you’re not Zooming, you’re not reading emails. It’s having those conversations where you go, “What’s going on with the business? What’s wrong?” And figuring out how do we tune and tweak and go.

One other piece of advice for 30-year old Tim would be to get both B2C and B2B experience. Make sure you’ve got experience in both camps because everybody thinks they’re so different and they’re not. But regardless of similarities, I think you learn different lessons and you can apply them back and forth. But I think being a good B2C marketer makes you much stronger at messaging than B2B. Being a B2B marketer I think forces you to think much more through the sales process and along KPIs that are more about managing a sales funnel that I think probably make you a more effective consumer marketer. I think marketers would benefit from both kinds of experiences.

Hart Weichselbaum, Principal, The Planning Practice:
I’d tell my 30-year-old self to overcome his natural shyness and focus on relationships.  Spend time building and nurturing friendships, partnerships, mentorships, and collaborations.  These are what will sustain you, both professionally and personally. Your friends will support you during challenging times, your partners will recommend you for jobs and new business, your mentors will teach you and help you navigate the inevitable difficult decisions you’ll face, and your collaborators will make you smarter.
Erin O’Brien, Brand Marketing, J Jill:
Let go of perfection.  Time is your most precious asset.  You can get to “good” pretty quickly- don’t invest additional time expecting yourself to get to “great” on everything.  Re-invest that extra “getting to great” time in doing things that are good for the holistic you – play more, laugh more, explore more.  The joy you get from these activities pays more dividends than “great” at everything for work ever will. 
Chip Schuman, retired SVP Marketing, Sargento:
The biggest piece of advice I’d give to my 30-year old self is to focus on building a network. I am active in a variety of marketing and business share groups where I’m collaborating with other marketing leaders on an almost weekly basis. I use my network to help break through challenges I’m facing, to get advice, to find inspiration and to share best practices. It’s amazing how many commonalities there are to the challenges facing marketers both within and outside of my industry. I wish I had known the power of networking earlier on in my career.
Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeyes® Louisiana Kitchen and author of Dare to Serve:
Make servant leadership the leadership approach of your generation — and change the world. I am so encouraged by those of you who are in your 30’s. I love that you want to change the world. I love that you want to be intentional and purposeful in your work. It gives me great confidence that you will be one of the greatest leadership generations of all time. So, I encourage you to learn everything you can about being a servant leader. Read my book – read every book that’s been written on it and study the actions that will make you the most effective you can be. If you do these things, the people who work for you will be blessed and you will likely change the world.
Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Zillow Group, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Ulta Beauty, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.