Leaders

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Steve Aldridge on the value of empathy, modesty and curiosity

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There are few leaders like Steve Aldridge. Endlessly curious, humble and driven by an ardent passion for creativity, Steve feels like a misfit just like the rest of us, and that is precisely what makes him such a successful and empathic leader.

Steve believes that every interaction is a chance to learn something new and that is why he encourages himself and his team to talk to as many people as possible during the day.

Today we are Getting to Know one of the Annual Awards' Top 100 Influencers of 2020 and the chief creative officer of Wunderman Thompson UK, an agency which to Steve feels like a perfect fit. Because in some corners of the industry, "it doesn't matter where you come from – as long as you're passionate, curious and full of ideas."

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Tell us a bit about your role!

I oversee the entire creative process and output at Wunderman Thompson UK. It’s my job to keep teams focused on making great work but importantly to make it fun.

Creativity is about creating the right environment. I want teams to build their careers here and make the best work of their lives. 

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

Wunderman Thompson felt like and still feels like the perfect fit for me. I’ve had a career with one half spent crafting stories in digital and social and the other building brands. Topped by the experience and knowledge you get from building a new agency and creative culture from the ground up. When you’re bringing together two huge brands in Wunderman and JWT, that expertise has been invaluable, but I think it’s quite rare to find. I don’t believe there is another agency in the UK where you can create ideas from a TV ad and print campaign to building an app, an experiential idea or digital experience. 

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

To be frank working in a creative department saved me. I went to art school, but I don’t have a degree. When I found advertising, I found a place where you were not just celebrated for being a misfit, but you could earn a living from it. I’m proud to see that our industry is beating that drum harder than ever right now. It doesn’t matter where you come from – as long as you’re passionate, curious and full of ideas.

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

Painter and decorator? There is a brush involved. I’d love to be an Architect.

What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?

Encouragement, confidence and belief. If you can give people those things, you’re a long way into keeping them inspired and motivated. I also try and talk to as many people in my day as possible and that’s something I encourage my team to do too. I believe every interaction is an opportunity to learn something new. My other inspiration tip would be: when you take a break… look up. I’ve walked up and down Camden high-street hundreds of times, but I’ll always see something new; an old inscription above a shop door, a piece of street graffiti, messages hanging in windows. Just look up.

How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

I believe a leader’s job is to inspire and it’s a lot harder over video link. What I’d be able to achieve from doing a loop around the office and talking to the team in half an hour, has become back to back meetings on my laptop. I miss the spontaneity, but I see it as a duty of care to keep in touch with my team, so whilst it’s harder, it’s entirely possible.

What is your one advice to aspiring creatives looking to be successful?

To paraphrase Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck.  ‘Don't be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all’.  I believe success is built on 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration – you make your own luck in this life.

How do you recharge away from the office?

Well all time is away from the office these days!  But when I close the laptop, I coach the under 11’s football team on a Saturday, with modest success! Gareth Southgate is under no pressure!

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

To have more fun.

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