We know you’re loving B&Ts daily Women In Media segments – interviews with our industry’s most exceptional females. Today we talk to the boss of Leo Burnett Melbourne, the fabulous Melinda Geertz, who talks her farming background, her faults and tips to the top…
What or who inspired you to go into the industry?
The truth is, it was more happenstance than inspiration. I graduated with a history degree from Northwestern University in Chicago at a time when there was 11 per cent unemployment in the U.S, the highest level since the Depression. I wasn’t so much inspired by anyone at the time as desperate to find a job. And along came Leo Burnett with an open door and commitment to hire 35 trainees every year. It seemed like a perfect world for me: a mix of business and creativity. And I made the cut. I consider myself very lucky.
If you weren’t doing this particular job, what would you be doing?
I grew up on a farm, so that’s always a part of me but I don’t think farming is my calling! I’m interested in lots of things, which is probably why I was drawn to this industry in the first place. The joy of my job is that I touch so many companies and organisations in different sectors and I bounce between the creative and commercial world. That feels like many jobs in one.
How do you define leadership?
I don’t feel like I’ve ever really followed the “corporate” rules of leadership. I mostly rely on my instinct and common sense. I place a lot of value around creating clarity of purpose – what are we trying to do here? – and making sure everyone feels connected to that purpose. And, without a doubt, creating an environment – physically and emotionally – that is supportive and encourages creative problem solving is what I care about most. Some people refer to culture as “the smell of the place”, and you can’t concoct that.
What makes you tick and go that extra mile?
I grew up in a big family, and never really had any space of my own. So it’s probably no surprise that I thrive on collaboration. I get so much motivation and inspiration from the talented, creative people around me. And while it feels good to achieve on my own, it feels even better when we achieve as a group.
What five words would your staff use to describe you?
Not sure about this one. On a good day, I think they’d say I’m open, motivating and engaged. On a bad day, they’d say I’m a bit too impatient. I also have that irritating tendency to see the possibility for everything to be better…always. The journey is far more interesting to me than the destination.
Proudest career moment/achievement?
Winning the Grand Prix for Good at Cannes for our beautiful work for SCOPE (‘See the Person’) was pretty special. One of my sisters has Down Syndrome, so it touched me in a very big way.
What advice would you give a female graduate or a newbie contemplating a career in the media/advertising/marketing industry?
My counsel is pretty basic. If you want to be good at something, you have to work hard. But if all you’re doing is working, you need to re-think. Don’t confuse long hours with achievement. Be sure you make time for all the other things you enjoy doing. It will actually make you better at what you do. It’s true. And it will most certainly make you happier. A few words of wisdom for young women: Get your hand up! Modesty is beautiful, but don’t let it hold you back. And be confident in the different style of leadership that you bring to an organisation. Embrace your ‘inner collaborator’ and use it.
What’s your ultimate career goal?
I’m good at getting other people to articulate their goals, but not so good at it myself. I’ve never had a concrete career goal, and perhaps it’s a bit late to start. But I can say that I love what I’m doing, and as long as I’m growing and achieving and working with interesting, dynamic people, I’m feeling good about my career. Work is a big part of life, so being happy and stimulated is what’s important to me.
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