CEO at VMLY&R Commerce MENA
The founding leader of Geometry MENA, which launch he oversaw in 2013, Nick Walsh has worked with WPP and the Ogilvy group in London and Dubai for over 15 years.
Under his leadership, Geometry experienced unprecedented growth and recognition, being crowned the number one creative agency in the Geometry Global network for four years and winning awards at every international show.
Walsh’s client management experience spans a vast spectrum of sector-leading businesses and he is a pioneer in the brand experience and activation space, as well as a regular writer and speaker on all things commerce and experiential. He was named one of the network’s Leaders of the Future.
How would you define leadership today?
No leadership books or guides could have prepared us for the ups and downs of the past few years, and the ability to adapt and find solutions has been paramount. As a leader, defining the vision of an organization and setting the cultural tone and rhythm day to day has always been a key differentiator of success for me. Trust is more critical than ever, especially with the fragmentation of workplace locations. The ability to communicate effectively through many different channels with teams, remotely and face to face, demands focus and consistency.
What’s the most important decision you have taken as a leader?
To be authentic. I’ve been lucky to have worked under some of the best leadership mentors throughout my career, [getting] tremendous guidance and advice. I’ve also worked with some terrible leaders, and this was also an important learning experience. The way people get into leadership positions is not always positive. Playing politics and being an authoritarian is not in my nature, so I decided early on that I wanted to lead by sticking to my values and principles, with empathy and compassion.
Additionally, I made the decision to get to the top of the organization I have worked for for my entire career believing in the process and not jumping ship or shopping around at the first sign of adversity. I have been fortunate to participate in leadership training throughout my career and have a strong understanding and affinity with this organization; this enables me to be an authentic leader.
What’s the one decision you wish you hadn’t made as a leader?
I moved to a senior leadership position relatively early in my career and, looking back, I know there were moments I could have done better. I was still learning and continue to learn to be a better leader.
The one decision I wish I hadn’t made back then was to continue to support other seniors who didn’t behave correctly. It’s crucially important to get the right group of leaders together and surround yourself with quality people with similar values. They must all adhere to the leadership culture and behavior, not just upward but every day towards their respective teams, and that’s something I will always demand of senior leaders now.
In your opinion, who’s the most powerful leader globally today?
‘Powerful’ can be a dangerous word in leadership right now, especially on a global scale.
For me, powerful leadership is strong ethics and morals that transcend borders and set examples for others. Looking at the complexities of the world, I admire the way Jacinda Arden, the PM of New Zealand, a very small nation, is setting global standards, leading with simplicity and clarity. She refuses to believe you can’t be both compassionate and strong as a leader, and that is powerful to me.
Who’s your role model?
I really respect the global leadership in Ogilvy; people like Steve Harding and Claus Adams played an important role in my career, as did Eddie Moutran who sadly passed last year. More recently, the leadership of our new agency group VMLY&R set a wonderful cultural tone that is inspiring for me.
What’s the most important quality that every leader should possess?
Empathy is the most important quality. Empathy helps us to communicate our ideas in a way that makes sense to others, and understand others when they communicate with us. People will always remember how you made them feel as a leader.
What’s the one mistake that leaders most commonly make?
In this region, to surround themselves with people just like them. We are in the most wonderfully culturally diverse market on the planet and the opportunity to create truly global teams is unique. We have nearly 40 different nationalities on the team at VMLY&R Commerce and it’s inspiring to work collectively as a group to succeed.
What’s the most critical threat that every leader in our industry should pay attention to today?
To stay relevant to all people under your leadership. Take the time to understand people, cultures, races, religions… as, to be a great leader, you need strong emotional intelligence, and you find yourself dealing with many unique situations that you may never have faced before. The ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict is key.
What’s the most important risk you took?
Moving country; leaving the UK and heading to Dubai enabled me to forward my career. I have had more autonomy and exposure to all business aspects and, ultimately, I was made responsible much quicker. I’ve also taken a risk by taking on a more specialized, rather than generalist, leadership role. These are two factors I believe have expedited me into a leadership position.
What resources would you recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
Get a leadership coach and surround yourself with mentors. There are plenty of excellent leadership books, but I prefer to discuss one to one with people I trust and who know me as a person. Great leaders will always give their time to others, but you need to ask for it.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow as a leader?
I continue to work with my leadership coach, Sally Henderson, who was instrumental in guiding me through the growth phases of my career. I’m very ambitious and set quite aggressive goals for myself. Leadership takes effort and time; you are always learning and understanding what it takes to move to the next level. I’m a big believer in LVB (leadership vision boards) where you set out your personal leadership vision and define how to achieve it. This has certainly helped on my journey to where I am today, and I think all these elements coupled together will continue to propel me (I hope!).
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
As a leader, you can never have a ‘bad hair day.’ Always remember your role as a leader is to inspire. If you’re having a bad day, manage it yourself as it can destroy the morale of the team. Additionally, and this is important as you move up leadership ranks, give yourself the role. Too often as we move up, we continue to behave the way we used to lead and that will hold you and everyone back.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever given?
I always ask prospective leaders who have been their mentors and their mentees during their careers. This gives me wonderful insight into how they have been molded as a leader. So, my advice to everyone is to always surround yourself with positive mentors and identify mentees you can develop into future leaders.
You can see the full ranking and methodology here.