Workplace mental health

#67 Purpose led creativity, James Wright, CEO, Havas Creative Group Australia

Jun 29, 2024

Passionate about building mental fitness and helping us navigate life's challenges, James Wright, CEO of Havas Creative Group Australia and the Chair of Gus Worland's Gotcha for Life Foundation, encourages all of us to build our mental fitness so we can better cope with life's ups and downs.
"Our most important asset is our people. We want them to be able to turn up and be the best version of themselves physically and mentally. And so, we spend a lot of time working on supporting them with their own professional and personal growth."
- James Wright


  • What caring in the workplace means for James
  • How to build our mental fitness so we can better cope with life’s ups and downs
  • The need of an organisation to be purpose-led and make a social impact


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, James Wright


Graeme Cowan  00:03

It’s a real pleasure to welcome James Wright to the Caring CEO. Welcome, James. Great to be. James, what does care in the workplace mean to you?


James Wright 00:16

Well, Graeme, we work in the field of marketing, advertising and PR, we don’t sell a commodity, we sell strategy and ideas. And so that means our most important asset are our people. They’re the people that walk in and out of the buildings everyday, or the virtual buildings or rooms every day. And so, you know, we want them to be able to turn up and be the best version of themselves physically and mentally. And so, you know, we spend a lot of time working on supporting them with their own professional and personal growth, they spend so much time obviously working with us and working on client business that, you know, it’s important that we’ve got them set up for success. And so we do a lot of that from in terms of investment in in their career development, also investment in ensuring that they feel supported and their mental well being, and that belong for working with us is, is a high priority. So it’s super, super important to me, it’s probably the number one factor that comes up in, in many of my conversations with people is, you know, how do we keep up, or how we keep performing. And that means we’ve got to ensure that we, we look at care very holistically.


Graeme Cowan  01:30

And you’ve been in leadership for a long time, I read online, I’m not sure if this is true, but you were the Managing Director, 26 years old of a very large PR organization, how has your approach to leadership changed since that first initial big role.


James Wright 01:48

Yeah, you know, when when I was 26, 27, I was sort of given sort of very significant leadership roles as an MD as a member of a board. It was around about the period of the GFC. And I think, you know, as much as you learn about, you know, how to be a great CEO, and how to be a great leader, you also learn how not to do things. And so, you know, I witnessed of that as well, on that side of side of things with not not necessarily with my agency, but with some of the clients that we’re working with. And, you know, at that time working in London, and on your commute every evening, seeing people with boxes, having sort of lost their jobs was quite confronting. I think it makes that made me quite an empathetic leader, I think, you know, I’ve always been quite smart around taking everything in and saying, actually, you know, there’s ways to do things, and go about things with great respect and understanding. And, you know, I’m sure I still can, you know, make mistakes, but you know, I like to think that I’m learning all the time, and certainly, that experience, how to ensure that you go about things the right way, it’s not often not what is done, it’s how it’s done. And so I think the how is such a massive part of, of leadership, and I was always taught that, you know, 80 85% of the job as a CEO is, is in your skills and experience and the 10 15%, which actually is the biggest differences in your behavior. That’s where, you know, the great great leaders are there, they’re so great in that 10 15% of, you know, just just having great soft skills and management skills, and their behavior is everything that you want to see in a leader.


Graeme Cowan  03:45

I saw also that you refer to HEAT as really important elements to how you manage you were just explaining to our audience what that is. Well,


James Wright 04:01

yeah, I mean, who doesn’t love a good a good, acronym? It’s, we all you know, we all look for ways in which we think about this as a as a concept to being a better leader. And I guess, you know, I just used that as a way to frame it for people right. So for me, it was it was just sort of how I thought about it, and we just talked about empathy and I think that was a real critical part of that. But you know, transparency of course, is super important too, making sure you take action with your work as well. So you know, not saying you know, and talking about what you are going to do but actually go about doing it so the whole key concept really is about you know, being true to yourself, getting out there leading from the front end and really delivering on then what you say to people.


Graeme Cowan  04:59

Humanity, empathy, authenticity and transparency. I love that. And I had on my guest previously, Mike Schneider from from Bunnings. And he talks about his four H’s, which is humility, helpful, happy and honest, there, he’s, it’s the way that he guides it. And I think in a very busy time, and lots of changing situations, it does really pay, to be able to, you know, connect with what you believe is really important, and how you interact with with your people, but also your clients, you’re obviously in a very client focused business and meeting the needs of clients is really important.


James Wright 05:42

Well, you’ve just talked about, you know, the concept of few  HEAT and actually the concepts of battery just being human, because and actually, that’s how we advise clients is actually not think of your area as a brand, but more as a human brand. How would you actually interact? How would you as a, as a person like to be interacted with, and therefore the brand’s behavior should be more human in that sense. And I think that that’s particularly something that we’re seeing more and more of, you know, you don’t necessarily have a cookie cutter approach, there’s obviously a lot more personalized experience that you have with, with it with a client with I’m sorry, with a brand. And that’s how we advise clients. And I think, you know, those ways in which you’re managing or people now I think has become a big factor in, you know, how a brand’s reputation. And so, if you’re a good employer, generally, you’re quite a successful brand, right? And Bunnings, you just mentioned great example, where, you know, I’m sure that that what you see and hear from leadership is actually what you feel from their people, when you actually go into the store, you know, certainly as a customer of Bunnings. Of course, you feel that too. And I think that’s super important. And that’s where the authenticity comes in, right? Because that’s where the what you feel in store, in your experience of that brand is actually also what you’re hearing and seeing from the staff and from the leadership of that organization.


Graeme Cowan  07:11

Was for our listeners, can you give a quick overview of your career? I mean, every single role, but I guess, the evolution of it might be interesting to just put things in context. 


James Wright 07:22

Yeah, well I started off in straight out of the university as an entry level, PR account executive. And so I started my career really in PR before sort of branched out more into broader marketing and advertising. Started in I was I went to university in Leeds in the UK and ended up at an agency in Leeds very quickly, within two or three years, actually, was given the opportunity to to lead their London office, it was only a small agency, about 50 people. But I then was the agency was bought by a bigger group called Huntsworth, and was merged into a, into a much bigger agency called Grayling, and, and they gave me huge opportunities to accelerate in my career and, you know, in the next few years, raised up through the ranks and was was was, was given a role on that board and made MD as a 26 year old and then kind of had a, they were an international agency, I’ve got to travel around the world, work on some fabulous clients, launch some incredible product product products and services. You know, for the likes of BT for Jaguar Land Rover, for HSBC, for Santander, for Sony, fantastic kind of brands to work on. And really, I guess, set my sort of stall out for my career and, and then in 2011, I moved to Havas and was given the opportunity to run their PR agencies across APAC, but also learn about the advertising and media side of their business. And so was given an opportunity to become the group COO for all of the agencies in ANZ as well as running the PR agencies across APAC, and did that for a number of years. And then they kept trying to move me to the opposite to become the global boss for the PR group and Havas which eventually I decided to do in in 2018. And so I was in New York for for four and a half years before returning back to Australia recently where I continue to run the PR group but also now sort of look after the creative network here for Havas across Australia, New Zealand so it’s it’s been a fantastic ride. And you know, through that time got to meet so many fantastic people work in so many fantastic brands and, and be part of some real kind of huge cultural moments as well with both my clients but also with with with with some of the opportunities that our group has been able to give me so now that it’s been a it’s been 20 plus years now. And you know who there’ll be another 20 to come.


Graeme Cowan  10:04

What was, you know, like, you were obviously in New York during a very turbulent time and COVID. And New York was obviously really badly hit. And that was put lots of challenges on how you led teams there not just locally, but also globally. What were some of the difficult things you experienced? And did you find something that really did help and all the, all the experimenting, what have you, what really helped?


James Wright 10:35

I was reflecting on that first few weeks when the pandemic was called, in fact, the first few weeks that ran up to it, and then when it was eventually called in, in early March 2020, I’ll get my dates correct. And it was going a bit crazy. In the US, we we obviously had President Trump at the time, giving kind of daily press conferences around what was happening, some of which was was helpful, some of it less help. And, you know, also kind of conversations around how airports were going to be closed countries were going to be closed, there was going to be a two week complete stop of everything, and then it was going to restart. And, you know, once the decision from the WHO was made, a lot of businesses, you know, closed their doors pretty quickly. And suddenly, then you saw a lot of business transformation. I actually think in our business in strategic comms, and I talk primarily here about my role as a PR leader, working with clients was, that’s really where, you know, you come to the fore, because actually communicating, you know, to all of their different stakeholders, what they are planning to do at a time, when it’s very hard actually, to know what to do, you know, means that you’ve become a very significant and important strategic adviser to them. Because we didn’t know when things were going to reopen, we didn’t know actually, whether some of the staff will continue to work beyond a number of weeks whether that business would still be a going concern. You know, in a number of weeks or a number of months, there was so much happening in terms of messages that were coming out of government’s, out of health organizations, obviously, the media was speculating, left, right, and center, of course, retail outlets had all, had all closed. And then you know, what, I think this is where it’s at times of great challenges that we as humans become more and more creative. And about, actually, how do we think about how we can keep, you know, the business moving forward and going and obviously, kind of essential services like supermarkets, pharmacies, they need to still be accessible, particularly to people who perhaps were less comfortable with, you know, the likes of online shopping, which, of course, you know, has accelerated massively in recent times, and was further accelerated through through COVID. So it was less of a coping piece, it was more like the, the stepping up to the challenges as using your strategic and technical capability as an expertise, to actually affect positive change. And you know actually at Havas we also, you know, you know, later that year, became the agency that helped the rollout, of the first Pfizer vaccine, which was fascinating, you know, in PR, there’s a joke that, you know, it’s PR, it’s not ER, but actually, during that time, suddenly, actually, the ER, part of it, you know, was actually kind of quite real for for some of the, with some clients, you know, who are working in that type of space. But, you know, of course, you look for, for personal ways to get through it and being stuck in your apartment in New York, a lot of people a lot of people were in this in this boat is, it’s hard, it’s a small. Yes, is that often the apartments are quite small, I was fortunate to, to have a view out the window of my apartment building and, you know, you were supposed to leave one hour a day, or be given the opportunity to go for one hour a day, and you couldn’t let you know, couldn’t travel more than a mile from where you were living. So there’s all these things that were happening at the time. But you know, one thing that was quite comforting is that everyone was in it together, right? I mean, almost having to manage that manage that situation. So, you know, go out for, for a run every day, just to try and get out and about, run around the reservoir in Central Park a couple of times and then sort of return and, and then get back into into into work and actually, I really dove into work to be honest, because like I say so many of our clients were looking to us for help and support because, you know, we were essentially kind of like I say a really key part of the solution of how they were going to talk about and go back to on find new ways of going about doing their business and keeping their workforce motivated at a time when, obviously, a lot of workforces were super concerned about jobs, but their health, more importantly, probably their health and set out and safety of themselves, you know, being able to perform their role, particularly those people that were working in, in factories on production sites, construction sites, you know, where actually your job, you know, by definition involves you having to be around other people.


Graeme Cowan  15:34

And that massive uncertainty and change means that, you know, there’s high levels of stress and people having some really difficult times, how did you keep your finger on the pulse of how your teams were going?


James Wright 15:49

Yeah, well, I very quickly, each week, I would put like, an hour aside a day, during the week, every day, to call two or three of my team just to check in on them. And there was no agenda, it was just hey, how are you? How’s things going out the family, and obviously, you know, I can’t go, I can’t do that with every single employee that works for me, but hoping that actually then some of them, the people I was calling would then call, you know, their sort of direct reports. And so I called all of my direct reports every week, and then the next level down. And then sometimes, if I heard or had had a call with somebody else who was on that on, on a client with me, I would then just call them as well, just to say, hey, look, I know, we spoke earlier today in a group, or just just checking in how you doing, you know, how’s things, and I think that was, you know, as, I’d like to think that was a comfort for them, and show that I was caring, but also actually, it was good for me as well, you know, just just to get your, like you say fingers on the pulse, but also, that gave me someone to talk to my family was was in Australia for big periods of time during COVID. So I was often kind of quite sort of on my own. In, in, in New York, and it was really the center of the pandemic for for a considerable period of time, a lot of people left the city as well. So it was, for a short period of time, probably about four or five months really was a sort of strange experience, you know, particularly know how you know, how things picked up so quickly in New York. And, you know, I was there for four and a half years, moved back to Australia last year. And I went back to New York, you know, I go back pretty regularly every two or three months. And, you know, it’s back where it was before and people know, it crazy to think about how different city was for that short period of time.


Graeme Cowan  17:51

Yeah, it’s quite surreal, isn’t it remembering, or even just, you know, seeing Sydney and Melbourne and just how, you know, back to normal AR, and, you know, except for Friday, I think Friday has remained a very slow day in, in many of the big cities. I love that. You know, it’s such a simple thing that you did to reach out and have a phone call. And it’s funny, isn’t it, that phone calls can often, I think, lead to a deeper connection, because, you know, you’re not distracted by the picture of someone on the screen, you’re listening to tone of voice, you’re listening to things that could be going on in the background. And and I think that it is a bit of a forgotten way to build that care and connection. And I have no doubt that, that the people that you called, you know, would then call others to sort of sort of spread that. And that’s a wonderful way to build that care, connection and belonging, because it was that belonging that was really compromised, you know, over that, over that tumultuous period. How have you landed now, in Australia as a leader in the, you know, remote office hybrid spectrum?


James Wright 19:08

Well, I think now we’re, we’re probably embracing the hybrid culture. I mean, we we are in the business of strategy and ideas, and we do the best strategy and ideas when we’re together. So in the amount of time where where we’re working, brainstorming, strategizing, bouncing things around together in a room. And so, you know, now we’re in the office Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Generally, if people want to work from home on one of those days, because actually, they’re just got a series of meetings with people that aren’t going to be in the office, so they’re just gonna be on the screen all day. Then, of course, stay at home and do that. But generally, we’re in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, people do a lot of people who come in on Mondays as well. You know, I’ve got agencies all over the world and we have challenges still in certain parts of the world. The US in particular in New York is probably the new number one problem for us in terms of getting people back into the office. But we haven’t found that so hard in Australia, you know, a lot of people who come in on Mondays, but definitely, you know, we have a full house most Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays and like you say, Fridays are pretty, pretty slow in terms of people being in the office, although you have people working and active and, and being effective on Fridays as well. And, you know, that’s fine, we just, we just accept that. And it is the way it was. And also, it is the way it is. But also, it was kind of the way it was anyway, I mean, we are often talking with global clients, often talking with global colleagues, and we were using, you know, we were very well set up, I think, as an industry to, to embrace, you know, remote work, because we do so much of our work on a screen anyway, and talking to people in different parts of the world, or different parts of the country. So, you know, I’m really, I’m really happy though, that the way that people have come back to the office here, and, and, and bring their best selves to work. And I think that, that that flexibility that they can still work from home, if they will want to is there and so that I think gives them ownership of their own day and out their own week. And, you know, we have to trust people that they’re going to do it, you know, do things in the right way and be respectful of the work that they need to do on a bit of their team members. So yeah, it’s, it’s been, it’s been really good for us, I think I’d kind of enjoy that the hybrid working.


Graeme Cowan  21:37

You’ve also become chairman of Gus Wall and Scotcher for life, you know, I guess a real passion outside of the communications sector. And that’s all all involved in communications, you know, spreading that message as well. But how did you become involved with that? And why do you think it’s important at this time.


James Wright 21:59

So I’ve known Gus, probably for five years now. I was originally connected with him through a mutual friend, I had returned from the US the first year of COVID, to spend some time with the family because they were, they were in Australia at the time. And so I didn’t want to take them to New York or back to New York. So I’ve returned for a few months. And the concept of mental health and mental fitness was really kind of coming to the fore, because actually, you know, there was all of the conversation around obviously, the the impact of COVID as from a physical perspective, in terms of you know, what it was doing in the communities and how it was affecting people. But then also the other side of that in terms of actually how it’s affecting people’s mental, mental state. And so because I was working in comms and in marketing, and they were starting to get a lot of interest in the organization, I was connected with him. And we just hit it off straightaway. And very quickly, we ended up sort of talking most days for a long time. And I did a workshop for him, his board at the time, and his ambassadors and a number of other stakeholders in a cricket club that I was attached to in Northern Beaches in Sydney, which is kind of where he lived, as well. And that kind of, I think, changed things in terms of the really helping them recognize the opportunity, that the concept that we talked about, it got for live, which is mental fitness, the concept of mental fitness and the opportunity for it, and how actually, we need to grasp the nettle and actually kind of get more people focused on that both in government, in education, in business, in the community in sports clubs. And so how do we move at the time, the organization from being a Sydney, even naturally, really a Northern, Northern Beaches based charity to a global force, that can really affect positive change, because there’s a lot of organizations working in the mental health space and are doing a fantastic job. And a lot of them are working really at the squeaky end of the wheel where, you know, actually helping people support them when they’re actually already at crisis point or close to a crisis point. So we’re trying to build mental fitness much earlier in the chain. And so I stayed, and I’ll come back to that in a moment. I stayed in contact with Gus and we were literally kind of probably talk to three times a week, we’d go for a walk as well. Every time I came back, we’d go for a walk, you know, I’ve got become great friends with his wife, Vicki as well, who is you know, big force behind the organization. And over time, just became more and more involved and then back it when he knew I was coming back to Australia. He gave me a call in 2019 and I was I was driving through Texas I just done a keynote speech in a in a in a place that’s close to Fort Worth and Dallas And I was driving down south to meet a client in Austin. And he called me and asked me about becoming chairman. And so in fact he actually didn’t ask me, he told me I was going to become chairman. And that’s which is how he’s like, he’s such a, a force, but also, you know, you talk about caring CEO, he’s probably the most caring man I’ve ever met. It genuinely cares about everyone, and he just wears his heart on his sleeve. And he has this kind of, you know, concept of, you know, never wants anyone to worry alone. Acceptable life is, you will always have that guy that that mate that has got you for life, that person that you you answer the phone, they will answer the phone to you at 4am, no matter what the problem is, they’ll never cheat you, they’re there to support you, they’re there to trust you. And of course, then you actually extend that into actually having not just a got a mate thats got you for life, but actually a community that’s got you for life and, you know, families got you for life and people that will open up and have those conversations, it’s really important. And so we really lent into the concept of mental fitness, which allows us to talk about mental health in a lot more of a positive way. And we, and the reason why is if you think about physical fitness, then, you know, the, the other side of physical fitness is your mental fitness. And so in the same way that you can’t just turn up tomorrow and run a marathon, you’ve got to work at your physical fitness, you’ve got to work your mental fitness as well. And that’s something that you’ve got to work at every day. And so, you know, we want to build strategies and ways for you as individuals, as well as actually community and as a family can help yourself but also each other to, you know, move through life in a more positive and, and supported way. So that’s what, as ovation, do a lot of work. Now, in schools doing a lot of work with sporting clubs, we were the beneficiary of the State of Origin, this last year, we’ve got a lot of relationships in the cricket in the NRL space, where we’re working with our ambassadors, you know, very high profile sports and, and other entertainment, stars, you know, and, and, you know, our board, you know, we have Karl Stefanovich on the board, who obviously, has had some challenges of his own and stuff. So, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of people who really are extraordinarily passionate about, you know, the area of mental health, mental fitness, are really trying to make a big difference. And so, to me, it’s a massive passion. I’ve brought the VR actual charity into my building in The Rocks in Sydney, where their based now, so they sit with the agencies here that I look after. And it’s great for them as well, because, you know, they’re actually, you know, learning from the advertising agencies, the PR agencies, the the media agency, that the public affairs business, and you know, and then of course, you know, they’ve actually got this mental fitness charity in the agency. And so people can actually see actually, not only are we trying to do things at Havas in the right way, but also we’ve got, you know, one of the foremost organizations in Australia based right there on the open plan floor with you, too. And so that’s, you know, I think phenomenal, and it’s just a real privilege to be part of the of the organization.


Graeme Cowan  28:15

Yeah, as you may know, I was involved with, RUOK, and we sort of started off with that communications, Advertising Alliance as well with the STW group, which then became WPP. And it was very, it’s a very synergistic, I think, arrangement that benefits both parties really, really well. And this got you for life. I went through a five year episode of depression when I was out of work, never thought I’d ever come back. And after that, insight, or insight after that experience, it wasn’t ever an overnight recovery or miracle recovery. But a really deliberate thing that I did was to really deepen relationships with some male friends. And that was often done through rituals, you know, there’s a, you know, a guy near me here that is a partner at KPMG we, you know, walk most Thursday mornings, I meet some two mates, at Curl Curl, and go for a walk and have a breakfast at an errand. I’ve got another mate Ted, that we often have a really long walk once a month. And, and you know, that being able to know that you can call those people as you say, at 4am in the morning, is just it’s like your scaffolding It is, isn’t it? You know, it strengthens you, but also strengthen them because, you know, as, as I’ve found, the situation is often reversed. It swings between who’s going through a tough time and who isn’t. It’s nice to be able to share it around like that.


James Wright 29:59

Well, I mean, Your strategies for I guess, you know, kind of tackling your own, you know, inner inner challenges, you know, those walks with friends where you just talk about anything, everything. I mean, that’s what Gust does, Gus will go for two or three walks a week with different groups of friends, including myself. And we’ll talk about a lot of that stuff. And it’s, you know, it’s when, when you’re asked, Are you okay, and obviously, you know, Graeme, you came in and spoke to all of my team last year. Yeah, it’s a genuine question. And it’s not just about answering that with yeah, I’m fine. It’s actually being willing to open up and sort of peel back the layers to, you know, actually what’s really concerning for you at the moment, but also, what’s exciting you as well, it’s not just about having this negative, it’s about conversation, often, that’s positive, because sometimes we don’t want to share all the positive things that are happening to us. So I think those those conversations are only, you know, good things that we should be doing, and positive things that we should be doing. And so that’s why I think now, when we’re when I’m advising CEOs and senior leaders in organizations, that whole concept of being more human is so important, because, you know, people relate to people, and that’s, you know, always being true. So, be true to yourself, and be prepared to show a bit of vulnerability. And one thing that the pandemic has done, you know, as CEOs were often, you know, really kind of obsessed with being right about everything and knowing exactly what to do. And that’s what you’re sort of geared up to do as a leader. But, you know, it definitely showed actually, it’s okay to say, I don’t have all the answers right now.


James Wright 31:48

I know exactly what the answer is, or what the route through this is. But you know, what I’m working on. And we’re 110% working on how the best way to go about this business transformation, or this big challenge that’s in front of us. And I think that makes you a more trusted leader. Because, you know, just you know, that in life, no one has all of the answers. So why should any CEO? So, so that that I think is, has been, you know, you’re gonna look at the positives that came out of it. And that’s, I think, one of them, which I think we do have a more empathetic group of leaders in the world today, or at least I’d like to think so particularly from a business perspective, because, you know, when there was a lack of clarity, I would say, from certain governments and certain parts of government, it was businesses really, that stepped up. And definitely this was true in the US where it was really super confusing about what we were being asked to do to stay safe. In the US at that period of time, it was so politicized the concept of, of the of COVID. And the pandemic.  It was businesses that were, you know, taking out advertising, giving up their social feeds to tell us to, you know, wash our hands, social distance, wear a mask, very simple, but that it was came really from businesses, and obviously, that was then also communicated directly to their staff, and their staff would then take that message home to their families and their friends. So that that I think, you know, some of the positives that came out of that period of time.


Graeme Cowan  31:48

Yeah. How have successful communications that resonate with the public with people has that changed over the time you’ve been involved in the business?


James Wright 33:34

I think the number of channels and platforms that people receive information from has has just accelerated beyond, you know, what we would have ever envisaged. And, you know, the artificial intelligence is going to accelerate it even further in terms of where where you can and where you, and what you what you consume, and where you consume it. So I talk in our agency about one story, many shapes. So you know, our clients brands want to tell a story about their brand about their services products. And we have to recognize that it comes to life in different shapes and different channels, the way in which you would present a brand or Tik Tok is different how you would present a brand on radio. And, you know, you know this anyway, but the reality is that it should all be one story. So it becomes actually that’s my experience of the brand. And so those brands that do that really well, I think that surround sound, do it super, are the most successful. And we have a study at Havas called the meaningful brands study where we we researched several 100,000 people in, you know, 10 plus markets around the world every year, and we sort of monitor it and see what what makes up a successful brand and meaning what what makes a brand more meaningful because there’s a big piece of a big data point that that’s quite concerning for anybody that works in an organization but particularly the Chief Marketing Officers which are often our direct clients, but also obviously the CEO, which is, you know, if 70% 70% of brands disappeared tomorrow, people wouldn’t care become that one of those 30% that people actually do care about and and believe are meaningful, and you know, so you have to look at the functional benefits, the emotional benefits, the way in which that that that brand behaves and makes a difference to my life. So I think the sort of psychology around understanding what a brand can do to to play a positive role in your life, not just beyond the product, and service is super important.


So we actually what’s their role in society in the community and as a, as a responsible employer as a responsible corporate citizen to doing from the environmental sustainability perspective, all parts that have become a lot more important in recent times, as we become more made more aware of, of issues that that are happening in the world, because it’s certainly information to that is much more accessible. But on the flip side of that, there’s also a lot more information and disinformation, which is, you know, a, often a, a lot of choppy waters that brands have to navigate through as you know, as do we, when we’re actually listening to politicians and and other influential people about, you know, decisions we’re making about where our where our community is heading.


Graeme Cowan  36:24

Yeah, great point. And you know, that that HEAT applies to so much of communication doesn’t have the humanity, the empathy, authenticity, it relates very much to messages that resonate now, as well. And the vulnerability you talked about before is just so important, because no one can have all the answers now. And by saying that you do build trust, and you also invite people to step up, and to contribute in a better way. So yeah, great, great points there. My last question is always this, James. And it’s been just a fabulous, interesting conversation. But if you look back to your 20 year old self, knowing what you know, now, what advice would you tell that 20 year old self, to have a have a good life?


James Wright 37:21

I think, don’t take yourself too seriously. I think, you know, I think I was I definitely you know, was so obsessed with wanting to get a great start at work. I think I forgot sometimes I think to enjoy it, enjoy it as you are moving through it. And I look back at some of the experiences I was given. And I think I could have enjoyed them about more than I did. I think I was then on to the next thing and, and wasn’t spending time just sort of actually being in the moment enjoying it. But also, you know, recognizing that the balance between the time we spend focusing on our professional life, and our personal life is super, super important. And so making sure I recognize that being present at home a lot more than perhaps I was and and I’d say that really to my 30 year old self more than my 20 year old self, because I think you know, when you start, you know, getting married, having a family, I think those are those are the times when you know, rather than doing calls or working till eight 9, 10 o’clock at night on your, you know, on your computer, you know, you should actually at some point, just switch off and say actually, now is family time. Now, I could have found that, but I could found that balance, I think a lot better. I also think, you know, I have this sort of might be the best piece of advice I ever give people is once you’ve sold shut up and and then trust someone that they’ve heard what you’ve said, and then we’ll make a decision about it or listen to it. I think that I spent too much time trying to almost over explain myself and reason for being and why why I was in the room. I think I think being bit more comfortable in my own skin. I think it was. But in the same way though Graeme I think that comes with life experience too. I think it’s hard to explain that when you’re 20 and you realize just how young you are. Once you’re older you realize, you know, the the arrogance, swagger you had at that age. You missed a lot of that, you’ve got to be able to have the ability to hold a mirror up to yourself. And I talk to a lot of obviously we’re a very young industry, and we do our you know, our sort of annual survey and six months sort of survey check in where you do a pulse on the state of the agency and how people are feeling. And the other piece of it, which I think often comes through with that is that as a young person, because it was true, when I was a young person in this industry, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you don’t know all the decisions that are made and the factors that exist around it, you just live in your bubble. And if it affects you, or upsets you, you don’t realize actually, that actually, there was probably a lot of other factors that were happening. And so where that leads me to is to say, you know, trusting your leaders, that they’re making decisions that actually are beneficial for everyone. And okay, sometimes it doesn’t benefit you as much as you would like. But then, of course, when you’re young, and things do benefit you and some decisions that do you don’t you don’t tend to remember to remember those? Because they were they were good things. The things that didn’t necessarily positively impact you. So, yeah, but I think most of all, yeah, just don’t take yourself too seriously.


Graeme Cowan  41:00

Yeah, that’s a great message. It can be easy, especially when you’re young to, you know, to really think that this moment defines everything. And, you know, one event could define your life, like the result, you get on a, you know, an HSC exam. And, yeah, it’s, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. That’s for sure.


James Wright 41:22

That’s right. I mean, you know, I often will say to people, when we when should often sometimes in, in a boardroom, or in an office, and I’m sat with a CEO, and we’re talking often it’s two of us, or maybe a small group of us. And they’ve got a really tough decision in front of them. I would say to them, you know, what would? What would you do if your grandfather or grandmother, and your only stakeholder was your granddaughter or grandson? What decision would you make if that was the only people left? And that was the decision, and that just make her think makes them think differently about what their decision they’re about to make? I often think that it’s, our politicians should do that. But that is working from one side to the next. But I, you know, I think I’d like to think then, that advice, you know, actually thinking about if your granddaughter or grandson was the only stakeholder in the decision you’re making, helps you make a decision that actually, ultimately, when you look back on, it was the best decision you could have made, because often we’re making shorter term decisions, and we’re not seeing a bigger picture. And we’re not putting the periscope up and seeing actually the bigger opportunity in front of us. So, you know, I find that that’s quite a good way of, you know, looking at it, and not necessarily even that they necessarily, would make that decision that would benefit their grandson or granddaughter. But it does make them think differently. I mean, it has done to make decisions or change their mind based on that piece of advice. But equally, it just getting people to provoke a different way of thinking about something that’s super important. And that’s been a part part of my, the job I do.


Graeme Cowan  43:01

I love the simplicity of that, you know, just thinking through someone that you know, and love and, you know, thinking about how it could impact them, again, just really brings real humanity to it. Thanks for being part of the Caring CEO, James. It has been a pleasure talking to you. And hopefully we will again in the future sometime. Thanks, Graeme. I really enjoyed it. Thank you. Excellent. That was great. Thanks, James. Really fantastic. Flew by very, very quickly. And it will probably be published in about four or five weeks time. We’ll make sure we give you plenty of notice when it when it comes up. But yeah, I love that. I love that, simplicity of you know, thinking from the perspective of the grandparent, or grandchild or early. That’s fantastic. Like, that was always the advice on social media wasn’t don’t put anything on Facebook. You wouldn’t want your grandmother to see. Exactly. Yeah. Good stuff. All right. Well, thanks so much, and I hope you have a great rest of the day. Yeah.


James Wright 44:09

Thanks, Graeme. Speak to you soon. Take care. Thanks for inviting me. Cheers. Bye. No worries.


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