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My Exit Interview
Yes, it’s true. As the month of December begins, it marks my last month at Simantel, the last month of a 37-year career and 15 years of agency ownership.
When I was asked to write down some parting thoughts for Simantel’s blog, it was utterly overwhelming. Where do you even begin to put so much time into words? Honestly, I was still trying to wrap my head around the fact that so much time has flown by. My career feels more like a novel. But I’ve always prided myself at being a good organizational thinker and someone who could whittle down thoughts and ideas into a few bullet points. But where to begin?
Over the past few months, I have been thinking about all the employees who have come and gone from Simantel, who moved on for one reason or another. They were asked for an exit interview as a way for us to learn about their experiences and keep getting better. Personally, I have never in my life had to complete one. Why not give it a try?
So, I tracked down our HR Director and got ahold of an actual Simantel exit interview. So here it goes:
Name: Susie Ketterer
Position: Creator, big thinker, competitor, energizer
Job Title: Owner, partner, zookeeper, cheerleader, juggler
Future Employer: Self (I will always be my own boss)
Future Position: Unknown (but so many ideas…)
What were the best aspects of your job?
There were too many to count, but I can think of a few biggies.
- Never the same day twice. I’m asked often, “Why did you stay for so long?” Seriously, in all those years, things were always new and different. Every day brought new opportunities and challenges. There was always something to conquer, something to learn, new ideas to dream up or something to kick across the finish line. Things we had never done before. I liked this a lot. In fact, I thrived on it.
- The journey. This sounds a bit trite, I know. But looking back, it couldn’t be truer. Especially when the odds to succeed at something were stacked against us. Many initiatives and challenges come to mind. The ones where somewhere in the middle of the work we (practically the whole team and sometimes even the client) were ready to hang it up. Seems like the harder we all worked and the more we had to overcome, the sweeter the victory was (and the memories that came with it). Roll-up-your-sleeves-in-it-to-win-it; isn’t that what our website says? There is such satisfaction in that.
- The friendships forged. There are so many incredible people over the years that I was fortunate enough to meet, work with, learn from, be inspired by. On the top of my list is my work partner Kevin. He and I could not be more different in personality. When we were considering teaming up to purchase Simantel in 2003, we did hear advice from some saying, “Don’t be in a partnership, they never work.” But ours did. Trust and respect held it together. We had a common work ethic. We stepped into the unknown of ownership together. And he taught me so much.
My list also includes many employees, clients and people in our community. They touched my life, if even briefly, and I remember. Some go back to our earliest years. It includes people I have met through our network, AMIN Worldwide. The inspirational and supportive agency leaders from around the world, many whom I consider lifelong friends.
My list is so very long. But why wouldn’t it be? We work in such a people business. No doubt, the best part of the job.
What were the least favorable aspects of your job?
I suspect similar with many owners, my least favorite had to do with dealing with people when things were not going right. It was awesome when you knew you had something to do with an employee’s success. But it was sometimes devastating to have to deal with the opposite. I mean, we’re talking about individual’s livelihood here. There is sometimes a sense of failure, and most often, valuable lessons learned that aren’t forgotten. I did come to know that as difficult as it was for those who did not work out, there was always a better opportunity that fit their needs.
Who are some individuals that stand out to you as making a real difference? What do they do well?
No names here, just descriptions of people who made the hard work more enjoyable and rewarding for me:
- The creative rockstars. I’m not just talking about the folks who have “creative” in their job title. Innovative ideas can come from anyone. This means anyone, agency or client side, who could think a bit differently. It could be an idea on how to get something done faster, deliver a better solution, use data or technology, change a process for the better or go the extra mile for a client. They didn’t check their brains at the door or turn on autopilot when given work, but instead were always trying to innovate in ways that really mattered. Their ideas, both big and small, made a difference.
- The Plan B folks. The scrappers. The ones who will find a way and not give up. If we didn’t or couldn’t go the first route, they could quickly pivot and come up with another option. With the same enthusiasm. They didn’t get so wrapped up in their own ideas that when things changed, they couldn’t see another path. They always impressed me.
- The ones “who made coffee.” I could never understand why the coffee pot at an agency is often empty. Sometimes it was crazy that the same people made numerous pots a day, almost as if making coffee was beneath a job description. But everyone can make coffee! The same applies to teamwork. Everyone is capable of helping in some way when there is a need. These are the people willing to jump in, often on the most mundane tasks, if it meant helping out the greater good. An example: very early in my career we were working with a CEO of a large regional insurance company planning a surprise event for his employees. No one in the entire company knew. The night prior, our team realized we needed to inflate balloons…lots of them. With a few helium tanks and a pile of deflated balloons, that CEO joined us for a few hours in the task. It shocked our team but spoke volumes. The outcome for us was not only a successful event, but a personal relationship with a company leader. He proved that he was in it with us, and down the road, we were willing to work even harder for his success. People willing to “make coffee” teach us a lot about teamwork and loyalty.
- Lastly, the ones who don’t take themselves too seriously. This business is tough and demanding. I certainly have had moments when I was frustrated and stressed. We work with huge budgets, have the pressure of meeting deadlines and the challenges of managing things that don’t go as planned. I always had value for fellow team members who knew tomorrow was another day, humor can be a relief and that it was all part of the journey. And no, we weren’t heart surgeons.
Who are individuals you find difficult to work with? Why?
Again, no names, just one description. They are the Negative Nellies. No matter what, “we can’t” and “I won’t”. They tend to complain about everything but are unwilling to change their own behavior or address challenges in a more constructive way. They can drag even the greatest of people along with them. Even worse, they don’t give their opinion in a group, but do their damage behind the scenes.
This business is hard enough…an attitude can make or break things.
How did you feel about your opportunities for growth and advancement?
Funny question. I joined Simantel as a “Production Artist” (a term rarely used today) and sat in many seats in the agency (Art Director, Creative Director, Account Manager, Account Director, Account Strategist, New Business Director) and then went on to ownership. I enjoyed taking on new things and was given many opportunities to go for it. For me, early on, the bulk of my training came on the job and in what I was able to read, experience, observe or learn from others.
Later, learning became more formal with seminars, network meetings and webinars, to name a few. Today’s options to learn are vast and much more accessible. There are even more opportunities to reach outside the boundaries of your title and stretch.
But looking back now, I think I was driven by a very strong personal desire to learn and to try new things. My curiosity always had me wondering, while my competitive side always had me wanting to be the greatest at what we did. And that helped me carve out a valuable position in the agency and a path to ownership.
How do you view leadership?
Leadership is an adventure. It makes you go down paths you never had to navigate before, deal with obstacles you didn’t prepare for and tackle things you may have run from in the past.
Leadership is a springboard. Once a leader, your peer group expands. You have access and opportunities you never thought would come your way.
Leadership can be lonely. Once you are put in a position of power, people are bound to treat you differently. You are no longer an “insider.” And when things go wrong, it can get even lonelier. Surrounding yourself with peers is a must.
Leadership is responsibility. You have to make the final call on things you have never done before, even though your employees think you should know the answer. And they are depending on you.
Leadership is exhilarating. It is hard work. Definitely no nine-to-five. But when success comes, it is a huge source of pride and accomplishment for you and your team.
How would you describe our culture?
Fun. Social. Hardworking. Learning together. Crazy. Giving. A strong sense of pride.
(We always wanted everyone to own it. And leaders to demonstrate it.)
What are your overall impressions of Simantel?
Real people. Authentic. Smart, so smart. Lots of passion and adrenaline. Committed. Big hearts. Good.
What are your suggestions for improvement?
Improvement? Or just what to keep doing? The desire to improve is already in Simantel’s DNA.
A Simantel employee recently said to me “I have never worked for a company where leadership was so hard on itself.” I took this as a compliment because to me it meant we take our need to improve personally. We are tough on ourselves when we feel we aren’t there yet. But the truth is we should never be “there.” That would mean we are standing still.
Every day brings ideas on ways to improve…whether it be a capability, a deliverable, client satisfaction or our culture. So, keep your eyes forward on what is coming but your feet rooted in our past experiences, our people and our clients’ reality. Lean in, change and evolve, but realize what’s working too.
Why did you decide to leave?
Honesty, as with many life changes, there have been periods of emotional ups and downs—from “this is so exciting!” to “what is happening?!” When we stepped into the unknown of ownership in 2003, Kevin and I made a promise to each other that we would begin transitioning leadership well before we were ready. Deciding to leave now wasn’t a hasty decision, it’s been years in the making.
In the end, we were very fortunate to hire so many people who were smarter than we were. Maggie, Tim and Misty will no doubt take the business to new places and new heights. Kevin and I are so proud of that. The key to any successful business is to not be afraid to seriously out-do yourself.
So, how do we know it is time to move on?
- We have accomplished all that we set out to, and then some.
- We can look around and truly smile because our baby is in extremely good hands. The team who is picking up where we are leaving off has the same excitement and passion that we had 15 years ago when we bought the business.
- Because we feel ready for the next new adventure. Or at least figuring out what that will be.
I can say I honestly don’t know what that will be, but of course, I have a lot of ideas.
For more information, see the full press release.