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Bossing It: Figuring It Out along the Way with Simon Hewitt


Orange Panther Collective's founder and CEO on honesty, authenticity and being earnest

Bossing It: Figuring It Out along the Way with Simon Hewitt

Simon is founder of the Orange Panther Collective, an integrated creative communications agency focusing on helping Scale Ups make the leap into the mainstream. With 20 years experience working on some of the biggest brands in the UK and the world, from McDonald's to Red Bull, The IOC to the BBC, Sainsbury's to Guinness, Simon and the OPC team know what it takes to be a powerful mass market, mainstream brand, and believe that it's time to share that knowledge with the next breed of brands.

In his previous life, Simon was client managing director at Engine, running the Red Bull and Olympic content businesses. Before that he spent 5 years helping lead the McDonald’s UK business at Leo Burnett. Going further back he worked at BBC Creative, AMV BBDO and M&C Saatchi.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Simon> I assume being made a class monitor at the age of 11 isn't what you’re after here? So my answer would be when I got promoted from account exec to account supervisor at M&C Saatchi, waaaay back in the early noughties.


LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Simon> I’ve always been a big believer in thinking about what life’s like when the shoe’s on the other foot, so I always knew that empathy and compassion would form a large part of my leadership style. Aside from maintaining that as my golden rule, the rest I figured out as I went along. 


LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Simon> Working on the McDonald’s business at Leo Burnett. At one point I think we had about 25 people exclusively working on ‘Maccers’, so we were effectively an agency within an agency. The majority of the team were in account management (about 16 or 17 I think) so, as one of three business directors (under the watchful eye of a senior CSD) leading one of the busiest and highest profile ad accounts in the UK, we learnt a lot about team and leadership.


LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Simon> As soon as I committed myself to a career in the advertising industry I knew I wouldn't be able to settle until I was running my own show (or co-running it, as is the case with the OPC). But the prize wasn't so much about becoming a leader, it was more about having the autonomy to make decisions that myself and our team believe in, and to create an agency where everyone has a say in the direction we’re taking. That was the prize. So a mix of masters of our own destiny and altruism was the motivation, not autocracy or basking in the glory.


LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Simon> As with all things in life I think it's a mixture of nature and nurture. Anyone can become a leader - admittedly some may be a bit more predisposed than others - but the speed at which someone gets there is what stands out to me, and that’s usually informed by a combination of skill, self-belief and a tough enough skin that you don’t get knocked down too easily, as there will always be hurdles to overcome.


LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Simon> Self-belief is still a challenge for me. I think back to my days playing 7-aside football down in Dulwich - whenever I didn't overthink things I played really well, but whenever I thought about how I was playing I’d often misplace a pass or scuff a shot. Apologies for the slightly lame parallel to football (appropriate as it may as I’m writing this during the World Cup) but I think it rings true in my working life. When I go with my gut and trust my take on things it feels good, but when I start overthinking what I’m doing I can lose faith in my decisions. The great thing is I then have brilliant people around me to help steer the ship.


LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Simon> I’m not sure I buy into the word failed, maybe more ‘made the wrong decision’. I don’t mean to be pedantic but I think failed carries such heavy negativity, the kind of negativity that can bog you down, and I believe that’s one of a leader's biggest enemies: doubt and weight slowing down the ability to make big decisions swiftly. Oh and yes, I’m sure I’ve made a few wrong decisions, haven't we all. The trick is to shake it off and bounce back quickly.


LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Simon> I always err on the side of honesty, authenticity and being earnest, and firmly believe that's a fastrack to building integrity and trust with your clients and team alike. What I will say though is I have tempered my openness over the years, as I believe oversharing can undermine your gravitas and respect as a leader.


LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Simon> I have never had a mentor per se, but there have been a few people I have worked with who really inspired me. Sarah Douglas, Susan Cooper and Crispin Butler at AMV, Emily Sommers and James Joice at Leo Burnett, and most recently Dave Roberts at Engine, all taught me a fair few things and have helped shape who I am and how I work with people (and how to run a business beyond the people).


LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Simon> We set up the OPC in early 2020, just as Covid was becoming a reality, and in the same year I lost my mum to cancer. So compared to that everything else feels like a breeze. But I appreciate that’s just me, what about the team? I know it’s tough and we are all feeling it but we always talk about real life beyond the day job and I make sure the team knows that they can voice concerns, ask for help or just chew the fat at any time. Crucially I think it’s about being available and encouraging honest conversations.


LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Simon> I am frustrated with the industry as a whole as I believe we should be faster than most to action change, given we are meant to be at the forefront of the social zeitgeist. But we are managing our own house pretty well. At our core of five people we have three mums, one dad and one dogfather. We have an ethnic mix that spans from China to the Caribbean via India, the UK and Ireland. We are also looking to bring in our first junior placement. And every time we look to hire new people we ensure our brief is genuinely open.


LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Simon> Define culture… If you mean encouraging openness, inclusivity and having mutually respectful relationships between all of the team, then yes we have a good company culture. And if you mean having a regular natter about the trials and tribulations of real life, often over a coffee or something a bit stronger, or giggling in the office about another brilliant ‘real life’ anecdote from our Head of Creative Ops (he has soooo many), then yes we have a good company culture, and it’s crucial for our existence.


LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Simon> The people around me, especially my co-founder Lorna and my wife Christine, and my gut.

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Orange Panther Collective, Wed, 30 Nov 2022 18:30:45 GMT