When It Comes To Agency Culture, We Learned From The Best

July 18, 2011

When I founded Fast Horse in 2001, I envisioned creating a place where people would feel valued, the environment would be fun and creative, and that we could expect excellence from ourselves and each other every day. I wanted to create a place where I could continue to grow personally and professionally, and where those who would sign on to be a part of this crazy journey could expect the same.

In short, I was trying to preserve the very best parts of the culture I was about to leave.

In 1989, as I started looking for places where I could begin my professional career, word on the street was that one local agency, Mona Meyer & McGrath, was THE place to be. MM&M, as it was called, had a reputation for great work and a nurturing culture. That’s where I wanted to be. And that’s where I ended up. For 12 years. The agency changed a lot over the dozen years I spent there. I experienced numerous name changes, office consolidations, explosive growth, national and then international expansion and, with the birth of the web, aggressive pushes to remain on the cutting edge. I grew accustomed to the notion that the only constant would be change. For someone in his formative professional years, working in the Minneapolis office of what would become known as Weber Shandwick was a thrill ride and an unbelievable learning experience.

The one thing that did not change throughout my tenure was that remarkable culture. As the suits in London and New York who now owned the shop asserted increasing financial and organizational demands on the Minneapolis office, the local leaders fought to keep politics to a minimum and continued to direct resources toward things that truly mattered: people. During those years, I learned a lot of critical lessons about the importance and fragility of agency culture. I am forever indebted to the amazing leaders who fought so hard to preserve a culture that was truly nurturing: Dave Mona, Scott Meyer, Dennis McGrath, Sara Gavin and Mary Jeffries.

And their legacy lives on.

The Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal recently published its list of the “Best Places to Work” in the Twin Cities. Not surprisingly, with Sara Gavin and Dave Mona still fiercely protective of that culture, the list includes the Minneapolis office of Weber Shandwick. And this year, for the first time, the Best Places to Work list includes Fast Horse.

I’m proud of that. We’re proud of that. The leadership team here, several of whom also cut their professional teeth at Weber Shandwick, has worked very hard to create a place where people feel valued and can grow. We are a very different agency than the one that launched in 2001. And in the face of great change, we’ve learned first-hand how difficult it is to feather along a culture and vision.

So, to Dave, Scott, Dennis, Sara and Mary: Thank you for showing us the way! We would not be here without every single one of you. And without all of you, we might not realize that we still have a long way to go.