Ex-Wunderman Thompson CEO John Gutteridge Shares Ruminations On His Transition From Ad Man To SMB Owner

Ex-Wunderman Thompson CEO John Gutteridge Shares Ruminations On His Transition From Ad Man To SMB Owner
B&T Magazine
Edited by B&T Magazine

John Gutteridge (pictured) is the CEO of clothing brand MAWDE. In this think piece, he reflects on his career transition from advertising, where he was CEO of Wunderman Thompson,  to business ownership.

This isn’t another story about lockdown fatigue, even though personally I am beginning to feel the monotonous exhaustion of it all. However, due to lockdown our factories are currently closed, and I find myself reflecting on the year that has been. More specifically the experiences and learnings I walk away with. Up until mid-last year I had spent my career working in agencies, as an employee, predominantly within one global group.

Today, I’m not an employee, I’m a business owner, and I’m not saying that in a self-congratulatory way, at all. I’m saying that because the experience has been so different and so enriching. I’ve learnt a lot, and I mean a lot about myself, people, manufacturing, business in general and much more.

I’ve also learnt that failure is somewhat inevitable, and the trick is getting over those fails and making sure you don’t repeat them. Instead, learn from them, fast, because in the start-up world speed is of the essence, unless you have bottomless pit of money to throw at an idea.

Even then, if the idea doesn’t take hold quickly, maybe it’s not a great idea and maybe you need to just accept that and move on. The point is I’ve had a few introspective observations I wanted to share.

Firstly, my career in advertising and marketing has served me well for the journey over the last 12 months. The exposure to different businesses in multiple categories has been hugely beneficial. Working closely with a wide variety of clients to gain insight into what makes their businesses tick, understanding how they generate revenue, and what obstacles they need to overcome in order to realise growth year on year. All these learnings were invaluable when setting off on this journey myself.

I’ve also learnt there’s a distinct advantage having experience in building and marketing brands, given this is such a key job to be done for any new start-up, and it is universally applicable. Related to this is where and how to find the customer which invariably relies on interpreting data, creating bankable ideas and applying relevant and enhancing forms of technology. Something the ad industry has embraced and harnessed well. In reality so many businesses, like mine, live online or are dependent on a platform or tech to either build awareness, engage or sell a service or product, understanding this ecosystem has been fundamental.

Creativity transcends everything within business. I’m not just referring to communications, it’s more holistic than that. Coming into a new industry I found myself constantly questioning why things were done the way they are.

Trying to understand and then sometimes challenge the legacy approaches that have been applied for years across the industry. Having an intuitive curiosity together with a creative orientated mindset can lead to new and improved operational outcomes, which in turn can deliver financial gains.

I’ve really missed the physical human interaction (at scale), made worse by the pandemic. It’s no secret start-ups can be lonely. It’s ultimately the people that make the advertising industry so colourful and special. The coming together of different perspectives and opinions which people so freely share and express is unique and invigorating.

Directly linked to this is the power of culture, and the intangible anchor that it provides people to gravitate towards. A good culture also helps build momentum and belief, when you’re a very small start-up, inevitably the culture takes time to organically emerge and become meaningful.

More than ever before I’ve appreciated the power of a network, and I’m not referring to the people inside a business, I’m referring to everyone outside the business.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to reach out to some truly inspiring and supportive people along this journey, allowing me to tap into areas of expertise for advice and learnings. My network has also been an essential means to raising seed capital and opening doors of opportunity to faster growth. In short, a network can give you superpowers!

I’ve learnt that whilst it’s never been easier to start a business, building a business from scratch is complex. Especially when you’re in manufacturing, and even more so when manufacturing here in Australia! Every day, there’s something new to learn, but the experience has already taught me so much about the complexities and machination of business ownership and manufacturing. I have now a much greater empathy and humility towards business owners primarily, but also the various people in business outside of marketing.

Learning new things every day is energising, accepting failures is humbling and succeeding is truly exhilarating.

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