Leading From Afar

Friends and strangers ask “What about school for the boys?” as a first question which is in reality not a “what” question but actually a “how” question to comprehend our big adventure. It’s a lot to get your head around; for us too! The second question is, “Who is going to run your business?” which is also a fair question.

A few table-setting fundamentals:

  1. I’m not checked out.
  2. I’m leading, but differently.
  3. I have very high expectations for the business to grow this year.
  4. Saxum has always been about the team.

When I think about all the challenges this adventure poses logistically and strategically, the one area I’m the most comfortable with is the strategy for serving our clients and growing Saxum. Call me naïve, but I’m not worried about Saxum because Saxum has been preparing for me to be physically absent for the past 18 months.

Let’s go back to the beginning of my vision for this to happen.

I have had a front-row seat to the massive changes going on in our world for the past 15 years. As a consultant, we benefit from the opportunity to work with many different types of businesses which means we get a dynamic perspective of the challenges and opportunities that are a sign of the times. The role of a consultant is to be a subject-matter expert. I’ve enjoyed the responsibility and the trust shown to us by clients manifested in the act of hiring our company to help them through – how should I say – “sticky” situations. Sticky situations are my favorite! The important thing to remember is being an “expert” is in the eye of the beholder which requires the consultant to be an active listener, clear communicator and savvy researcher. There is always work, usually heavy lifting, to be done to retain the title of “expert”. When a consultant’s business stops growing, it’s probably an early indicator that the value being provided has waned and the “expert” title has been revoked.

Starting a business in 2003 was good timing. The tech bubble had burst, the shock of 9-11 was subsiding and the global economy was recovering. At the same time, Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006) and Apple’s iPhone (2007) changed the way people engaged with content online. In the middle of America, oil and gas prices ran up to their highest prices in a generation, spurring a downflow of economic opportunity to anyone who did professional services. As a young CEO on the cutting edges of the global changes taking place in marketing and communication, Saxum was well positioned. The question was then, as it is now, would it scale?

Fast forward to 2014. Our company had grown consecutively for over a decade. However, I started to see troubling signs. Not short-term, but long-term. Despite our growth, the world continued to shrink. The outsourced talent that completed websites down the street was now cheaper and better from India or eastern Europe. Talent, because of the internet and the ease of moving around, was now coalescing in new ways, disrupting the traditional role of “agency.” Despite the fact that our company continues to earn our distinction as “experts,” I know the scale and role of agencies like ours are going to continue to change. All the global agency metrics point to this. It is not something to fear but to lean into.

Of course, I have equally compelling personal reasons for the big adventure, but my business reasons are just as great. What is the future role for agencies in the world? Will it be easy or hard to source talent and project management from remote locations? Will we retain our ability to be “experts” as other experts become more easily accessible online? Are we offering the right mix of integrated services? Can we move into less crowded, global markets where our expertise may be more highly valued? Could the business grow if I wasn’t physically there?

These questions and dozens more permeated my brain. It was time to stretch myself and do something wildly different. In December of 2016, I announced my plans to the team. My family and I would be leaving the United States to live abroad, traveling around and exploring our shrinking world. It would be disruptive but in a good way. For 18 months, Saxum would use consultants and executive coaches to get ready for the change. Key hires would be made. Compensation and incentive programs would be implemented. Our mission and values would be reaffirmed.

In a world where we struggle to see beyond our to-do list (me included!), Saxum embarked on the most intentional journey we have ever made to truly transition the business away from my day-to-day oversight to one where a dozen people oversee and own the future of the business. It is exciting for my leadership team, for our clients, for our other team members and me.

The week before I left I wrote a salvo for the Saxum team. It is covered here.

We are still in the beginning stages of the adventure, both back at home at Saxum and here for me. The “how” has been well-prepared for. The fun will be watching it play out.

– Renzi

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