We asked newly appointed 26 CEO, Ryan Scott, about his new role, his journey since joining the agency 12 years ago, and the invaluable insights he’s learned along the way. Ryan takes over from Gail Dudleston, the agency’s founder, who moves to her new role as chairman.
Congratulations on your new role, did you ever think you would become CEO when you first started at 26?
I don’t think I did. I knew that it was a great thriving company and I had worked with Gail before, so I was aware of the ambition which Gail and the company had. I was attracted by the opportunity to grow something and the entrepreneurial environment which 26 offered. I never envisaged that 12 years later I’d be the CEO – I still have to pinch myself.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned from Gail?
That’s a hard one to answer as there have been so many valuable lessons. I’ve been very lucky to have such a great mentor. I’m going to cheat and choose 3…
Trust your instinct – it’s usually right.
There’s always tomorrow – we live in a crazy agency world; you have to put up with the rough and the smooth, regardless of what happens we’ve always got tomorrow and that’s a new day!
Leave work at the door – when you walk out be a husband and a dad first. Gail has always made sure I have balance in and out of work and for that I’m grateful.
What’s been your favourite moment working at 26 over the last 12 years?
I started our search offering as a single employee, and we had no presence in the UK at all. In 2018 we were named the best in the UK at the UK Search Awards. Obviously, I was proud, but I felt so pleased for all those who have been part of the journey over that period. It’s a reflection of their hard work and talent – I just help put it together! I said the other day that I’m eternally grateful for those who, over the years, were foolish enough to trust me, but talented enough to make it happen!
Ryan’s wife, Karen, who he met at 26, and his two children
I have to say meeting my wife Karen as well. We met at work, although she no longer works here as she’s taken the harder job as a full-time mother. This company has given me everything, as I now have 2 amazing kids as well, and it’s that sense of gratitude which really drives me at work. I welled up when I was saying my ‘thank yous’ during the agency announcement of my role. I can’t help it; this company has given me everything and I want to give that back in buckets.
Who’s your biggest inspiration when it comes to leadership?
I’m a keen sportsman and as such, I generally default to my sporting heroes!
Most recently, I think Gareth Southgate is someone who really resonates. He has a plan and relentlessly pursues this. He is not influenced by negative voices or big egos, he operates on trust, but communicates his requirements well. I cannot think of another England manager in my generation who handles the pressure so well whilst also delivering results. A friend of mine knows him on a professional level and says he’s even nicer off the pitch, always making time for people and operating with humility, which is a measure of who he really is. I want to be the hardest working humblest person in the office – I try to pass this on to others too.
What are you most excited about for the future of 26?
We’ve been through a huge transition over the last 2 years and the agency has a real motivation to kick on to the next level. The people, culture and work are improving all the time and it genuinely feels that we’re pulling the same direction, which is great given the size of the company (across 3 office locations) and the various services we deliver.
I’m particularly excited about our US potential, a huge market for us and one we’re primed to capitalise on.
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in your time here?
We have a ‘think it do it’ culture and this constantly drives change, so I’ve seen a lot of change in my time. That said I think the largest changes which I have witnessed most recently is the growing influence of data and the impact of speed due to technology in what we do.
Our data and behavioural science teams have been our fastest growing departments for some time, and this benefits us right across every service we deliver. We can now galvanise our thoughts with amazing data, facts and modern behavioural thinking – we have 2 PhD Doctors of Science in our team. 12 years ago, I never thought I’d see that in this business.
Adding to that, we’ve made a huge push to use technology and automation in our everyday business practices. We live in a culture that demands immediacy, and technology has enabled us to drive quality and scale at speed giving our talent a platform to showcase their amazing brains. It used to take 1 week to build our internal development environments – we can now do this in less than 3 minutes due to automation – that’s amazing and blows my mind, and the exciting thing is, we will only get faster and better.
Our culture has vastly changed over the last 12 years. We now have flexible working and will continue to evolve this in the future. We must adapt to the needs of our workforce, and I think we’re now a very forward-thinking business in this regard – although we’ve still a long way to go.
What motivates you the most?
My own purpose is to help people make better decisions. People will often hear me say ‘do the simple things and amazing things happen’. This relies on having a real focus on simplicity but having a curious, pragmatic mind. Every day I try to help us reduce friction in decision-making throughout the business – the results (either business or personal) will then thrive, at least I think so anyway.
I want people to work with a sense of empowered freedom, I’m not a micromanager and I think risks and mistakes are great for a business like ours who can learn and adapt quickly for the benefit of others – that’s very motivating for me.
Can you tell us the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Ryan says his parents gave him the best career advice, ‘to just enjoy it'
I’ve been given lots of business advice over the years, but I think the most important and best advice was from my parents. I still remember them saying ‘we don’t care what you do, we just want you to enjoy it’.
I think that sense of perspective has helped over the years, admittedly there have been times when I’ve not enjoyed ‘it’, but I think those hard miles give you perspective on what you’re doing ‘it’ for.
What would your advice be to people looking to start a career in digital marketing?
Be curious and never stop learning. Also, good things come to those who wait. There’s huge temptation in this industry, and there’s a growing trend, for people to move on from jobs quickly (both client and agency side) in search of the next ‘great opportunity’. If you look at any successful, fulfilled person, whether that be business people, sportsmen and women, teachers, charity workers, politicians and even marriage, then I would bet that ‘stability’ and ‘trust’ are common factors in their achievements.
Find a great company, with a great vision and purpose and bed in and trust that you can be fulfilled. It’ll have a far greater impact on your own long-term career ambition. Admittedly that’s not right for everyone and there are edge cases which will contradict this, but I certainly feel that stability and the trust in this company have been huge factors in my own journey to date.
How are you going to celebrate your new position?
Upgrade my golf clubs! Golf is my mindful place and helps me step away from the pressures of work and being a dad so I like to think some new shiny clubs will benefit everyone! 😊
Oh, and we impulsively bought a kitten… oh the crazy life.
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