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"Set any entitlement aside" - With ROOK/NYC Co-Founder & Managing Partner Rebecca Christou | #GettingToKnow

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An AutoCAD nerd at heart, Rebecca Christou's journey in the creative industry starts in a very far place from branding: the magical (and sometimes tough) realm of architecture. After meeting her now husband and business partner Mark, Rebecca went on to enter the branding industry with Wolff Olins – and the rest is history.

Still daydreaming about making plans in AutoCAD, Rebecca now heads ROOK/NYC as co-founder and managing partner alongside Mark, working relentlessly to make the industry more diverse and, because "everything happens for a reason", with absolutely no regrets.

Today we are Getting to Know Rebecca Thomas Christou, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at ROOK/NYC, to learn more about her inspiring story and what it means to lead a successful business.

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Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

There’s no “typical” day in my life. Balancing motherhood (I have a 3-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son) while running a business means I’m rolling with the flow on any given day. I also wear many hats when it comes to the business, so one day I might be forecasting financials and another day I’m feeding into a creative review (spoiler alert: I prefer the creative but have a natural strength when it comes to organization and numbers, so I’ve naturally fallen into the ops role at ROOK). I’ve learned to embrace the art of organized chaos.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

My educational background is in Architecture and Interior Design, and I worked in the Architectural industry for nearly 4 years post-graduation. I loved it but there are hidden realities of working in that field that I found untenable.

It was the impact of the crash of ’08 on the development industry that gave me the push I needed to get out of that field and into something new. Meeting my (now) husband and business partner, Mark Christou, I learned about the branding industry and was fascinated and determined to break into it. I applied to interview at several branding agencies, and it was Wolff Olins who decided to give me a chance. That was the single biggest challenge to getting to where I am today… convincing a big agency to take a chance on me even though I was coming from a completely different field. I’ll always be grateful to them for giving me that chance. And I may never stop daydreaming about drafting plans again one day (I’m an AutoCAD nerd at heart!).

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

I’m from a small town in Northern Virginia and was raised to work hard and be respectful.  My Grandfather was a very successful entrepreneur and has always been a huge inspiration to me. This coupled with the strong values my parents instilled in me from a young age has absolutely gotten me to where I am today. I owe them a lot.

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Mark & Rebecca Christou, co-founders of ROOK/NYC

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

There have been a lot of little wins along the way, but our partnership with Sundial Brands and Bain Capital was a big one - taking a $250M revenue business through a period of rapid growth to eventual acquisition and revolutionizing the creative output for the entire organization across 4 brands with ~1,400 SKUs over a global footprint while building out a 360-degree internal creative agency. The experience of holding a leadership role inside a substantial organization experiencing rapid growth was challenging, but very rewarding. The biggest career-related loss I’ve experienced was the initial impact of COVID-19 on our business. We went from a full roster of clients to nearly everyone pushing pause. We were scrambling, but we made it through, and are busier today than we’ve ever been before. I’m so grateful it was only a short-term loss and that it came with an upside – we learned to quickly pivot, get creative and think on our toes. It was survival tactics for everyone.

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I’ve always been inspired by Stefan Sagmeister and more recently, Jessica Walsh. She’s such a strong female voice at the forefront of the industry with a distinct art direction that’s so ownable to her and on the pulse of culture. There have been female industry leaders before, but I think she connects with and inspires the younger generation in a way no one else has quite yet. In addition, Massimo & Lella Vignelli will forever be my ultimate industry heroes.

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If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?

Never. No regrets. I believe that everything happens for a reason and none of us would be where we are without our past experiences. 

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

I’d probably still be nerding out in AutoCAD. 

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

More female and diverse voices at the forefront of the industry!  

What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?

Work hard, set any entitlement aside and be kind. This will take you so much farther in life than talent alone. Skills can be honed, but attitude speaks volumes. It’s the first thing I assess an interviewee. 

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What are your top tips for other creative leaders?

Take the time to get to know your team and listen to them. There’s no one size fits all management approach. Different team members need different things to keep them motivated and moving on an upward growth curve.  Also, org charts matter. You can’t have more than a small group of direct reports and give them the attention they need and deserve. We’ve made that mistake before.

When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?

That they feel valued, appreciated and heard. Everyone’s opinion is valid. At ROOK, everyone feeds into creative reviews, from directors to interns. And from our perspective, what matters most is that they bring a good attitude and passion to the table. 

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

In the absence of the quality time I wish I had to read and research right now, I’m taking most of my inspiration from the city around me when I’m in transit from one place to the next. The architecture, people, streetwear, storefronts, nature, art…It’s amazing the inspiration I can pull from seemingly ordinary things if I just put my phone down and look up.  

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