Women In Business Q&A: Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer, FCB

Susan Credle/FCB Global

Susan Credle started out as an intern at BBDO and moved up the ranks to become EVP, Executive Creative Director. In 2009, she moved to Leo Burnett USA, where she was credited with the shop's creative resurgence.

As Global Chief Creative Officer at FCB, Susan furthers Carter Murray's ambition to burnish the agency's creative product and reputation. Susan is one of the industry's leading creatives and an important voice representing women. She has received numerous industry accolades, including CAF's Chicago Ad Woman of the Year in 2013, Advertising Age's 100 Most Influential Women, Business Insider's Most Creative Women in Advertising and induction into the AAF's Hall of Achievement.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Life isn't a straight line for anyone. I'm no different. Sometimes, the challenges we face can be daunting. The irony is that, as I look back on my biggest challenges, I can't really remember the fear I know I felt at the time. And if I do, it is with a bit of absurd laughter. Experience has brought me perspective and empathy. As a leader, I try to bring both. I have also learned that the best way to shape people (and companies) is across time rather than in the moment. Patience, ironically, can inform progress. As my dad says, make haste slowly.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at FCB Global?
In 1985, with a racing heart, I walked into BBDO NY and became a temporary receptionist, the position that I more aptly titled, "the bathroom break girl." For three months, I was able to observe the entire agency. It was an incredible education. I remained at BBDO for 24 years. What I learned was invaluable. Being in such a large agency, I was able to observe so many leadership styles. During my long tenure at BBDO, I experienced culture shifting-- sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. I witnessed brilliant accounts dim and saw unexpected brands take off. I learned there was opportunity everywhere. When I took the Chief Creative Officer job at Leo Burnett Chicago, I wasn't sure running a group with five brands and 25 people would translate into running a creative department of 300 across a myriad of brands and companies. At Leo Burnett I learned the art of delegation and trust. Benjamin and Rosamund Stone Zander's book, The Art of Possibility, shaped my leadership style in Chicago. When you believe people will succeed, there is a much greater chance they will.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at FCB Global?
I began my job at FCB on January 4, 2016. The interesting thing I have observed is that every challenge has led to a highlight. For example, I was faced with some top talent exiting the company the first of this year. We were challenged to fill those positions quickly. The highlight is we now have some strong new teams ready to lead. Another highlight has been working with the global team to answer the question, 'Why FCB?' I am more committed than ever to the concept of a global network.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
I chose advertising because I thought that as a woman, I was joining an industry that embraced, lifted up and ultimately followed women. Mary Wells, Diane Rothschild, Charlotte Beers, Yvonne Smith, Nancy Rice, Penny Hawkey, Diane Cook-Tench, the list went on and on. My belief that this industry wanted me to succeed is perhaps more than half the reason I did. We should never ask, 'WHERE are the women in advertising?' We should always say, 'HERE are the women in advertising.' Don't come into this business with a chip on your shoulder; join because you love this business, you believe in this business. Authentic passion trumps everything.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Be generous to the work, to the people and to the industry.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I'm writing for you, Huffington Post, on a Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining and I want to take a walk in Riverside Park. But as I sit typing and reflecting on these questions, I realize that my work is my life. When I separate them, I resent the work. When I adjust my thinking and realize that this work fulfills me, being asked to answer questions about work on a day off isn't a frustration but a privilege.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The biggest issue for me in the workplace is the unconscious bias I have about myself. When I imagined how far I would go in advertising, I would never have thought Global CCO. In fact, that thought would have been laughable to me. And yet, here I am. Dream big for yourself. Take chances. The worst thing that will happen is that you will fail. Which reinterpreted means that path wasn't suited for you. That's a pretty good lesson to learn in life.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I was never aware of mentors. Though I started to notice I had fans. People that opened doors for me, advised me, included me. There was never one person. Over 30 years, there have been so many people who have pushed me, shaped me, given me confidence. I have learned from people all around me -- sometimes more senior, often more junior, support staff, friends and especially family.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Female leaders I admire? Where do I begin and where do I end? Carol Folt, UNC's 11th Chancellor. I do not know her well, but I love that she took on this job with such aplomb. She is fierce and charming. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest. Over her career, she has managed herself beautifully in a world that makes advertising look like kindergarten. Cindy Gallop, Entrepreneur. Cindy likes to blow shit up. She doesn't care what people think about her. She believes in her mission. She challenges us all. She makes us feel uncomfortable. And I, for one, have taken more responsibility in this world because of her. Shelley Zalis, Founder of The Girls' Lounge. She has taught me that just by doing, big things will become. She is driven by her intuition, which she has branded The Female Quotient. She is proof that a woman's intuition can create amazing things. Wendy Clark, CEO of North America for DDB. I have known Wendy for almost two decades. I admire her sense of adventure in life and work. Her career has moved from client to agency to client to agency. She creates cultures that make that work/life balance question subside. Whenever you are with Wendy, you feel one thing -- important. This list could go on and on.

What do you want FCB to accomplish in the next year?
Globally, I want us to embrace a clear and inspirational mission. When we are clear about the kind of work we want to create and why we want to create it, we attract talent and clients who share our belief. People who want to partner with us to make a difference. The best work I have done in advertising has been with partners over time. Great brands that are built on big ideas are telling stories that should never end. They just need partners to write the next chapter. I hope in the future, FCB writes a lot of them.