Sherri Wilkins is the chief creative officer at Carling Communications. She talks about how she learned that the best leaders are only as good as the performance of their teams.
What was your biggest break?
My proverbial big break came in 2001. I moved to New York City six weeks after 9/11 with no job, with job freezes happening all around. By some miracle, I found myself working as an editorial assistant in something called “med ed.” Needless to say, I figured it out and parlayed it into a copy career in pharma advertising.
Of course, my biggest break to date was meeting Didi Discar, CEO and founder of the Carling Group of Companies, whom I have known now for two of my agency lives. It doesn’t feel so much like a job as much as it feels like I’m part of a movement.
What’s the best and/or worst part of your job?
The best part of being CCO for Carling is being able to work with a really bright team of folks who are choosing to be where they are, yet they all come with completely different personalities, goals, and skill sets. They all bring a different part of the toolkit to the table, and the trick is figuring out how to maximize all those tools in harmony. Everyone on my team wants to do good work, and my job is to help them have the bandwidth and knowledge to do it.
I suppose the worst part is not being able to be everywhere and with everyone at once. If anyone has that figured out, please let me in on your secret!
Who is the person you admire most in your area of work?
I always refer to my first creative director, Joe Garamella, formerly of Sudler & Hennessey, when this question comes up. He was always so cool, calm, and collected — and he really commanded a room and client respect. I am ever grateful to have known him as a junior writer and to still collaborate with him from time-to-time to this day.
What’s the view like from your office/work area?
From my office, I see a floor of incredible talent working hard and continuously laughing together. Carling really does have an amazing culture and really beautiful people, inside and out. And, surrounding us all, there are floor-to-ceiling windows that bring in amazing light and the view of palm trees and sunny skies all day.
How long is a typical meeting with clients?
I don’t think we ponder so much how long a meeting is, as much as we consider if we have enough time set to meet our objective while we have our clients’ ear. And if time is tight, we ask how do we ensure we maximize our clients’ time and still meet the objective. And that really boils down to preparation.
Where did you go to college? Did it help you prepare for your career?
Anyone who knows me even for a minute will quickly learn I am a proud Tar Heel. I grew up on Tobacco Road, and I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I attribute so much in my life to my time at Carolina. This encompasses anything from analytical skills, rhetoric, and organization to spontaneity, social skills, and an appreciation and respect for diversity of culture and opinion. I also love maintaining my personal connection to Chapel Hill and to our larger alumni base by serving as chair of the San Diego Carolina Club.
What books are you reading?
The books that are currently on my night stand/sofa/travel bag include Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow; Victuals: An Appalachian Journey, with Recipes by Ronni Lundy; and an alarming pile of past issues of The New Yorker that would cause anxiety for even the most voracious reader.
What was your greatest professional challenge?
I think the greatest challenge for me, especially as I was learning how to manage others, was learning to delegate. When you are specialized at what you do and when you’ve got it down to a near science, it’s hard to start letting the work go and entrusting others with your baby. But what I’ve learned is that it’s way harder for everyone when you hold things too close to vest, and the best leaders are only as good as the performance and knowledge of their team. So, while it wasn’t easy at first, I slowly learned that I wasn’t giving anything up by taking things off my plate; I was really helping to grow other people’s capabilities, which, in turn, allowed me to be of greater service to my agency and my clients.
This interview has been edited and condensed.