Getting to Know... Sam Hawkey, Saatchi & Saatchi London's CEO

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It is always inspirational to talk to someone who 'made it'. Saatchi & Saatchi London chief executive officer Sam Hawkey may not want to admit that he belongs to that category, but you can tell from his words that he genuinely loves what he's been doing for so many years. And that is possibly the highest form of fulfillment a creative can get to.

Balancing creative teams and business goals is a hard challenge, but Sam's drive would easily keep anyone engaged and it goes to show how much loving your job matters in the grand scheme of things.

We've had the chance to have a chat with Sam about his current role, challenges, burnout and what it means to be a chief operating officer in the first place.


Tell us a bit about your current role.

I look after the London office with a particular focus on how we get to the best work, how we innovate and how we make money.

As an account man at heart I’m still heavily involved in several of our brilliant clients like BT, EE, Visa and Betway. It’s vital to keep a proper hand in and stay close to the work or you lose touch. This applies to all of our people, top to bottom.


How did you get to your current position?

Hard work, questioning and challenging what went before and most importantly having people who trusted my potential and who gave me opportunities above my station. This is really rare and a big reason I’ve been with the Saatchi family for so long.

It’s probably the thing I’m most conscious of paying forward. Give talent as much opportunity to be great as possible, allow them to bet on their ability, take ownership of the wins and learn quickly from the losses.

It has to be a meritocracy and that’s so important to me. That means the only thing that matters is impact.


What was the biggest challenge? 

Burn out. It’s something I think a lot about when it comes to our people and you have to apply the same level of thought to yourself. Our output has to be better, faster, cheaper than ever before and that puts a unique stress on everyone involved which is not always the best bed fellow of creative environments.

It’s only about people and right now our challenge is to give them the environment, tools, processes, trust and time to do the best work.

In turn, I’m constantly looking for ways to balance my own energies and find new ways for our people to do things so we can get the absolute best possible creative product out the door whilst making it a place you love to work.

BBDO’s mantra was “The Work. The Work. The Work.” but for me this misses the point. It’s only about people and right now our challenge is to give them the environment, tools, processes, trust and time to do the best work.


What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

My mum has two principles in life. You make your own luck and a positive mental attitude gets you 10-15% more out of yourself and those around you

Blend that with the hefty dose of “healthy” paranoia I got from Magnus (S&S Global President) and I think you’ve got the starting point.

Outside of that my other two loves are sport and design, which are of obvious use in the world I now find myself in, even if I did drop out of art college.


If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’ve thought about this many times when I had less faith in what I’m doing and the answer is always the same. I’d have been a policeman

I love our business because it’s about people. I get all my energy from them and being on the beat means you’d get to meet so many different types of character and background.

I also fancy myself in a custodian helmet!


What’s your secret to staying inspired and motivated? 

Doing things differently and challenging the accepted wisdoms of what went before, and then seeing those around you doing the same.

What is the one piece of advice you would give to creatives    looking to be successful in the industry?

Really craft the idea. Spend time making it perfect. If you start there and do it properly it will liberate you executionally. 

And if I had two, which I know I don’t, I’d say start from the bottom up. Approaching it that way always throws up unpredictable ways of cracking things.


Tell us something about your professional life we don’t already know.

I originally started as a developer so I know a bit of PHP and ASPX. That and a little bit of Flash for building games back when that was cool...

What’s the work achievement you are most proud of?

I’m most proud of what Saatchi is becoming and how far we’ve taken it in three years. We have real momentum and a way of looking at businesses and brands that is more relevant than ever.

More specifically I am really proud of the BT win last year. That was a massive moment where we, as an agency, showed our best self everyday consistently across the teams.


How do you recharge away from the office?

The kids and family help a lot. The weekends are precious too. I try not to work on weekends if I can possibly manage it. Two days is quite a long time. You can rebalance. Nine times out of ten the opportunity that was there on Friday is still there on Monday morning. In fact a little bit of time to reflect, adjust and focus can mean you make better decisions.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the creative industries?

That we again show people why having a big creative idea living throughout your business, executed brilliantly is so incredibly important. 

It's the thing that consultancies can’t create and what makes marketing instrumental, not ornamental, to the businesses they serve. 


Sam Hawkey is the Chief Operating Officer at Saatchi & Saatchi London


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