Richard Hytner, Deputy Chairman of the global advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Executive Fellow at London Business School, tells Richard Brass how values can sharpen a company’s competitive edge.
You have been part of numerous leading-edge companies, from Publicis and The Henley Centre to Saatchi & Saatchi. How important are values in such firms?
Tremendously important. At Saatchi, we talk about being purpose-driven, having a really clear purpose. Typically what differentiates companies is less what their goal happens to be and much more the kind of character, personality and beliefs that drive them.
Do some companies stand out in this regard?
Virgin’s an easy one to quote, but also note Southwest Airlines and, these days, the Amazons and the Googles — they have values that in some way make it really clear whether you belong or you don’t. They’re kind of lighthouse companies.
And Saatchi & Saatchi?
Of course. We have what we call a spirit, which is: “Nothing is impossible.” That’s a spirit that’s quite topical. We just celebrated our 40th birthday with the original Saatchis, Maurice and Charles, who coined that mantra. It’s something we have held very dear since they left.
How do you get that kind of thinking across to your clients?
Like anything else, values are best demonstrated as opposed to talked about. You have to be a little bit wary about shouting about values because, quite often, you can protest too much. If I want to make you feel that I’m funny, I tell you a joke. I don’t say I’m funny. Values work like that.
Saatchi has developed the concept of ‘Lovemarks’ instead of brands. Have they become part of your values?
We have eight core beliefs, one of which is that we believe in the power of creativity to earn clients’ loyalty beyond reason. Everybody who comes to Saatchi, if they don’t buy into the fundamental idea of Lovemarks, then they’re not really going to have a great time with us.
How do you instil those values?
By a massive commitment to training and development. In the last three years, I have personally overseen the training of 3,500 people. I’ve been to every continent in the world to talk about the purpose of the company. Everywhere we go, we get the purpose out first. Our chief executive, Kevin Roberts, is fantastic at referencing the purpose in pretty much every communication he has. Whether it’s one-on-one or an all-staff communication, it’s always rooted in “We are this kind of company, this is what we’re trying to do, here’s what we believe and that’s why we’re making this decision.”
Are values more important in business now?
I think they are, because people today have huge expectations of the companies to whom they’ll lend their talent, particularly Gen Y. That kind of generation is simply not going to gift their talent to companies that aren’t really clear about what they stand for. And increasingly, if they don’t stand for making the world a better place, then they will just be rejected.
What does Saatchi do in terms of contribution to the community?
For years we’ve encouraged our creative talent to unleash their brilliance on social causes. We have huge pro bono programmes in place that allow people to do fantastic work for causes they care about. That’s number one. Number two is that, three years ago, we launched a programme called ‘Do One Thing’, which is to give people a mission to do one thing every day that they think is going to make their lives, their immediate families or their communities feel better. That was launched in a spirit of real optimism. It isn’t saying: “you must stop drinking water out of bottles” or “you must stop bringing the car into work.” It’s much more giving people a sense of “we want you to do one thing that’s going to make you personally happier and feel better” because we feel these movements are best done in a spirit of optimism as opposed to fear.
What do you do to contribute to the community?
I personally chair a sustainability educational enterprise in Sierra Leone, and I went there this year to have a look at how our kids are doing. I’m currently chairing the Mending Broken Hearts appeal for the British Heart Foundation for a big piece of pioneering research. And Michael Hay at London Business School has a thing called the ‘Business Bridge Initiative’, and he’s asked me to be a trustee of that.
Should values be part of business school education?
I do and I’m really encouraged, because I have been in the privileged position of seeing the emergence and development of London Business School’s own ‘Vision and Values’ project. One of the great things that Sir Andrew Likierman is bringing to the school is a really strong sense of values. He’s leading the values from the front, he’s encouraging strident debate, he’s encouraging diversity of thought and he’s letting people have their say, which I think in a business school is so important.
What values have guided you in your career?
I believe that emotional intelligence is every bit as important as intellectual intelligence. I’ve always believed in family first. I believe in the power of humour and humility in business. These are the kind of things that I hold dear and try to practise as best I can. As you get older and wiser, you get more sure-footed about what works for you and, more importantly, you get more unabashed about living the values that you hold dear, which makes it much easier to navigate your way through the tough times and complexity in business, because people begin to see what kind of person you are, what it is that’s going to really bring out the best in you. I’ve shared this thought with my kids and with anybody who seeks out advice: get on with being who you are — just get better and better at it.