Last time I interviewed Nicky Bell I forgot to take notes. We were so used to our catchups, jumping topics from resilience to advertising to life, art and all things inspirational, that the bit where I was supposed to produce content from our chat kinda slipped my mind. Pro tip to those of you who write blogs, notes help a lot.
So we met up again recently at Zinque in Venice and I was very focused on taking notes and getting through my questions. Nicky told me I was being very strict but I had to be as we quickly rocketed into the inspiration stratosphere.
Nicky is a powerhouse. She is one of those people who has achieved incredible career feats as a young female in the advertising industry. Let’s just say, for those of you outside the industry, this is NOT an easy career path. Given this it would be fail to expect her to be pretty tough, kindof aggressive, maybe a little closed.
And that couldn’t be less true. Nicky is warm, open, curious and has this energy that just sucks you in. I am quite sure she has managed her teams through a complete and utter desire to do their best work for her. That’s all I feel in her company, a compulsion to do my absolute best.
Nicky is currently the Managing Director of R/GA in LA. She has the utter, utter, utter privilege of working with the incomparable Bob Greenberg <so jeals>. She and I both (relatively) recently made big career and city (or in her case country) moves, so that was my first question to her…
So Nicky, first, holy shit you look AMAZING, LA really suits you! Talk to me about the LA move, what compelled you to make that massive shift (from New Zealand as CEO of Saatchi's NZ).
I love the business I’m in, I want to do it for the next 20 years, which means I need to work for the most progressive companies: growing and stretching myself.
Taking on the role of CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi NZ was a big growth opportunity for me because, although I’d managed large global teams while I was in New York, I’d never actually run an agency. I loved it. The challenge, building the team and enabling our own culture. But it was time to get on my edge again. LA was our #1 choice in the search for our next adventure. It’s an incredibly interesting and exciting market right now because of all the surrounding disruption. Everything, from who gets to tell stories on what media platforms, to who the influencers are is being disrupted. There is such energy around the reinvention of storytelling and the backdrop of technology that democratises that. R/GA is a company with true vision and an insistence on constantly evolving the model. I couldn’t be happier to have made the move.
I’m obviously a huge proponent of making the big uncomfortable shifts in life. Most people find every reason not to. You moved with your whole family, how do you overcome all the reasons not to?
We have always been a pretty self-contained family unit. The girls (our twins) were born during our decade in New York (which sadly was as far away from the grandparents as we could have been) so from the beginning we’ve been our own gang. We’ve always said that as long as we are together and are happy we will benefit from these big adventures.
Ultimately, Cameron and I know that building resilience in our girls is important for how they will fare in the world. Has it been easy? Does it happen automatically? No. But we are figuring it out together, and six months in, it’s feeling good.
There is our magic word - resilience. Talk to me about that. From the outside world you look like you have it all in order and figured out. I know that’s not true for me, where are you on the perfect-spectrum?
“I am so messy around the edges” (ooooooo - love that). The truth is, from a young age in the industry I made sure I always presented myself professionally, which, especially as I was so young in the business, gave me confidence. To be honest, I kind of find it shocking that people extrapolate that to me having it all figured out.
Early days I focused on keeping up with the boys, but at a point, I finally realized that I don’t need to try to be like anyone else. As corny as it sounds, you realize that being different, being yourself could be really valuable, it brings a different perspective.
So perfection is not a goal for me. There is literally NO ONE out there that is perfect. Now I coach people to simply try to be the most amazing version of themselves, and not to try to emulate one narrow model of leadership. (boom - right freaking ON).
Ok, so now you see why Nicky is in the badass club. Sooooooo, the big question then, if no perfection….what do we do with that big ole ugly failure thing. How do we deal when it doesn’t work out?
You know, it’s rare that there is a catastrophe. Really. We need to learn to be open and humble to things not going the way we want them too.
FULLSTOP. Love that. For me it’s more about staying inspired, because then there is always something else to go and try not to fail at. So then I ask Nicky how she stays inspired and it was interesting. She wasn’t sure. We meandered around a number of things she does but she kept pausing, like the museums and beach walks and time with her family wasn’t the right answer. It was a cool moment watching her wrestle with the question. Then I said, Nicky, I feel like you have created your life to be inspiring. It’s everything….
She lit up. Visibly.
“I love what I do. And to try to do what you love is really important in a career and in life. That’s all I need to teach my girls.”
So I guess that would be my last question. You have had in some respects a “classic” career working your way up in an industry. But you are a squiggler because of your attitude and approach to life. That you do what you love and allow that to take you where it needs to take you is what squiggling is all about. What is your view or advice on career planning VS opportunity creation?
I am not a planner, per se. I think it’s important to do what you love and stay as long as you love it and are still learning. When it’s not great anymore, it’s time to look around and question. We have this saying in our family – we have no plans to stay, and no plans to go. That’s not to say we aren’t committed, but we don’t believe we should make strict plans and timeframes that we become slaves to.
Woohoo, I made it. This has been a great new beginning to Squiggly Life. Apologies for the delay between blogs but we are back and if you have suggestions of people you would like me to interview or questions you want answered - tweet me @claudiabatten #squigglylife and we will work on it for you.