Penny Verbe defines herself as a "Hacienda girl through and through," a hardworking woman born and raised in a working class background, who learned the value of hard work really early on in life.
There are few things that can teach you how to cultivate an outstanding work ethic aside from hard work, ambition and determination. Clearly, Penny has a bit of all. She never took anything for granted, and it really shows in the amount of incredible energy she can bring to the table – especially when surrounded by like-minded creatives.
Penny is now the Head of Content for UK & EMEA at CreativeDrive. Today we are Getting to Know the most beautiful and tremendously human side of what it means to be in her shoes, and why most creative teams out there can only wish to find a leader like Penny.
Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?
So I have the grand and mysterious title of Head of Content for UK & EMEA for CreativeDrive, a fantastic content production agency recently acquired by Accenture Interactive. I’m helming the ship, so overseeing all growth, development, performance and success for what once we would call EMEA and now sadly we have to add the UK too, not being part of Europe anymore.
If only there was a typical day… starting a new job in Covid world (Feb 1st 2021) is certainly interesting to say the least. Quite a challenge getting to know the culture of a company without meeting anyone in person or setting foot in the building, I accepted the job trusting my predecessor Luke Hammersley would have chosen wisely and that he did! We have brand spanking new 25,000 sq ft studios and facilities in Notting Hill. I’ve been fortunate enough to come into the office on many occasion recently as we have so much space it’s easy to allow for the restrictions so I can give my cats a break from constant calls with invisible people on screens they keep trying to head butt. It’s been freaking them out.
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
Finding a position like this, without having to elbow someone out of the way to get it. I’d been looking for a role for a while now with great creative partners who had a similar ambition and drive to mine matched with the right backing and ability to scale, so this is the perfect fit.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I’m from a working class background, originally from Yorkshire then spent a few years in Manchester in the Madchester days, for those of us who remember it, I’m a Hacienda girl through and through. Mum and dad always worked hard for whatever they got, that work ethic passed on to me and my sister for sure. Even now my mum has multiple jobs and she’s going to be 75 this year.
Came to London aged 21 and never looked back, I now know I was always meant to be here, but it took a while to realise it as it’s a tough city to know nobody in. Not being from London weirdly made it easier setting up in New York and Shanghai, being an outsider from the beginning means you learn to adapt quickly.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
There are so, so many many, a few highlights, working on Radiohead ‘Street Spirit’, still one of the best bits of film and VFX ever made in my opinion. Multiple Bond films and the first Harry Potter and, warning, massive name drop here, going to the Oscars in 2001. I exec produced a film about the legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff and that year he got an honorary Oscar, plus my husband at the time also got an Oscar for Gladiator. So being there for all of that and gatecrashing the best after parties ever was pretty incredible.
Losses? There have been a few…
As one of the owners and founders of Smoke & Mirrors in 1995, we had a lot of crazy ideas, and set up many mad ventures. One was a software company we thought was going to make us ‘buy an island’ rich. All was looking great, Lucasfilm and MPC bought our software…then came the dot.com crash. There ended that dream. And a lot of cash. Then there was the superbike we sponsored with Chris Palmer and Stuart Douglas. Great fun but also a good way to lose a lot of money and distract my co-directors who all bought bright red Ducati’s which constantly broke down …I recall a lot of annoyed clients and I had many sleepless nights worrying about those bloody bikes!
What’s your secret to remain inspired and motivated?
Being alive?! Working with brilliant people, staying curious and always wanting to learn more.
Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
There are so many amazing inspirational people I’ve had the privilege of working with, to name but a few; Sean, Mark, Jon, my co-directors at S & M, Danny Kleinman, Jonathan Glazer, Anthea Benton, Vaughan Arnell, Kai Hsiung, Tim Marshall, Lizie Gower, Carine Harris, Steve Parish, Jillian Gibbs, all brilliant people, all very different and I’ve learned so much from every one of them and more. Also learning early on that some of the best lessons are learning what NOT to do. My first boss in London for example who was a complete degenerate sociopath and asked his PA to tap our phones. And that was one of the saner things he did.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
Seeing everyone I love so scared and traumatised has been pretty horrifying. Not knowing when it will end and feeling utterly powerless has united us all more than we will ever know I imagine. But witnessing amazing acts of kindess has also given us all hope. A total rollercoaster of emotions pretty much everyday.
What is your biggest hope for 2021?
A life better than we knew before. A real work/life balance for all rather than just talking about/aspiring to it. And travel, god I miss that.
What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creative professionals?
Be nice to people, treat them how you would want to be treated. And if you fuck up, own it and apologise. You learn more from your mistakes than your successes.
Research, research, research. Read, watch, listen, to all you can and everything that sparks creativity and joy in you. It will never be a waste of time and will pop up many years later in ways that may surprise you.
Sorry that was way more than one. I’ve never been very good at doing what I was told.
How do you recharge away from the office?
With great food, drink, music, company and far too many clothes and shoes than any one person should ever own.
If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?
I’d be a writer. Probably a rubbish one. Or a professional shopper, I might be good at that, I’ve had a lot of practice.
What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?
That everyone from every walk of life no matter what their background gets an equal shot. I still count myself lucky I did. Not going to university worked for me, I started younger than anyone else and had limitless energy. People should know going to Uni is definitely not a prerequisite.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
Read the news, the world around us has a way greater effect on everything we do, don’t be in your own little bubble, look outside to other cultures, countries, people and art. Inspiration is everywhere.