Black Men and Women of The C-Suite: “Give difference the benefit of the doubt” with Doug Melville of TBWANorth America
Give difference the benefit of the doubt. Keeping a limited mindset based solely on what you know — whether it stems from the city you grew up in, what college or university you attended, or what clients you have worked with — is how you get stuck. The best ideas and outcomes come from being willing to extend your thinking, opening your mind, and resting not just on what you know, but believing in the unknown.
As a part of my series about “Black Men and Women of The C-Suite”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Doug Melville. Doug is the Chief Diversity Officer of TBWANorth America, and works with the North American collective of agencies on diversity efforts across talent outreach, culture and creative vendor relationships. He’s presented two TEDx talks on the topic, and has driven TBWA’s supplier diversity efforts, which has led to over $165 million in spend with female and diverse owned-and-operated businesses in the creative space. Prior to joining TBWA, Doug held positions across the entertainment industry. He was Founder and CEO of RedCarpets.com, an online resource for large-scale event signage, step-and-repeats and red carpets. He also worked alongside Earvin “Magic” Johnson as VP of Business Development & Marketing for his portfolio of partners, and for his New York Times best-selling book, 32 Ways to be a Champion in Business. Doug was recognized by Advertising Age as a “Top Twentysomething in America” and was also the recipient of the 2014 American Advertising Federation (AAF) Educator Award. He currently sits on the ADCOLOR Board of Directors, the Eventive Marketing Advisory Board and the Executive Committee of the AAF as Vice Chair of the Mosaic Council. Doug is a graduate of Syracuse University in New York.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career as TBWANorth America’s Chief Diversity Officer sparked in a somewhat nontraditional manner. Five years ago, The Wall Street Journal ran a feature on the startup I was running at the time with my best friend Bill, called RedCarpets.com. I’d come from the entertainment industry background, while Bill had built a career in digital marketing — and after years of watching people pose on generic, brand-less red carpets we decided to combine our skills and start RedCarpets.com to fill the demand. After reading about our journey in The Wall Street Journal, TBWA’s CFO reached out about a new role they were creating — Chief Diversity Officer — which was something I knew I could bring a lot of passion and energy to. With that, we met for lunch, and the rest is history!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Right after I graduated college, I took off on a 1,000 day cross-country road trip that extended across three different jobs — and was fortunate enough to travel to each state at least three times, which was a virtual MBA in American Culture. I spent the first 400 days driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, (hold for laughs). Next, I became an assistant tour manager (miraculously as my friends would say) on the Britney Spears “…One More Time” Tour. When the tour wrapped I continued my career on the road helping entertainers & pop artists create and scale their brands and aligning marketing projects. The work experience I gained was priceless — but beyond that, my “1,000 Day Journey” was hugely significant in the way it changed me as a person; not only did it open my mind to so many different perspectives, it shaped my understanding of the United States and its mosaic of different subcultures and ways of life. The tour was somewhat of a happy accident that ended up being my way of transitioning to growth. You can learn about culture from your screen or from stories — but learning through travel is maturing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I think we all make in the beginning is believing that we actually know what we are talking about. That old Einstein quote, “the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know,” is so true. The unmitigated confidence of not knowing, but thinking you know, is powerful.
On my first day as tour manager, I remember being blown away by all of the different jobs and careers of the many individuals on tour — eyebrow technicians, hair, makeup, dancers, choreographers, wardrobe, stylists, vocal coaches. I’d just graduated from Syracuse University thinking I knew about all of the careers and jobs and fields I could pursue — mostly limited, I thought, to desk jobs — so to meet dozens of people with real jobs I never knew existed really opened my eyes.
Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important for a business to have a diverse executive team?
From a business perspective, diversity equals dollars. Both Harvard and McKinsey have proven that diverse companies financially outperform those that aren’t diverse. Diversity is a domestic emerging marketing. Multicultural America is the general market of the very near future, and will cause a shift in culture in our lifetimes. Executives should be ramping up.
The best, most innovative ideas come from the most inputs and perspectives. In advertising, the teams who are working with a bigger, more diverse range of inputs and perspectives simply perform better because they have bigger and stronger ideas, deeper strategy, and a more thorough understanding of cultural nuances. We want our executive teams to reflect the cultures, audiences and clients that we represent in the rooms with lots of different opinions and perspectives sitting around the table.
More broadly can you describe how this can have an effect on our culture?
In advertising, our goal is to ensure that our clients’ products reflect and inspire the audiences they serve and touch, i.e. their customers and like-minded customers. We drive commerce; and what drives commerce may in fact drive culture. Everything is connected. Creating a great work culture — one that’s inclusive, diverse, and empowering — is so important, and something we want employees to parlay into a great life culture that also extends to their families and communities.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in executive leadership?
1. Give difference the benefit of the doubt. Keeping a limited mindset based solely on what you know — whether it stems from the city you grew up in, what college or university you attended, or what clients you have worked with — is how you get stuck. The best ideas and outcomes come from being willing to extend your thinking, opening your mind, and resting not just on what you know, but believing in the unknown.
2. Look at diversity through what we call the “jury test” lens. When you look around a meeting, do the attendees reflect the many different types of people you’d see on a jury? Your meeting should look like a cross-section of the community.
3. Pleading ignorance is no longer acceptable. Leaders need to have a cultural IQ on issues regarding race and gender as well as a solid understanding of diversity and culture overall. Religion, age, disability, and mental health are big topics — and it’s important for leaders to be in the know.
How do you define Leadership? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership is about 4 things. Teaching. Facilitating. Coaching & Listening.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1 — Be more Intraprenuerial. I.e. Combine the mindset and spirit of an Entrepreneur, with the inner workings of your company and culture to great innovative ideas that you’re passionate about at work.
2 — Focus on the task, not the noise. As you climb up the food chain, make sure to find a north star, even if it changes, and lock in on it.
3 — Everything counts. Don’t ignore the small things (especially online). Google your name and who you associate yourself with. Adjust accordingly!
4 — Partner with your biggest expense. If you are looking to create something, big or small, look at partnering with your biggest expenses in the process.
5 — Invest in yourself. Life is long, and you are your best role model and advocate. It’s important to invest in yourself wisely toward longevity.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start one movement it would be to advocate and create bigger opportunities for women and multicultural-led businesses in the creative space. When you look at music, fashion, art, entertainment, so many of the creators today are women and people of color. Just recently at TBWA we started OneSandbox.com — a first-of-its-kind a search engine for women and diverse-owned businesses, which connects them to agencies and global brands looking for help with creative services — anything from set design, casting, wardrobe, to graphic design, translation, PR & marketing and more. It was an idea I came up with to help streamline and centralize diversity into the hiring process — and TBWA and I sat down together and built it. It’s an important first step in my vision. Our agency has spent more than $165,000,000 with the businesses who are a part of OneSandbox — and I want it to grow to $1 billion.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Today is the youngest you will ever be for the rest of your life — so get started on what you’ve always wanted to do.”
I’ve always loved interviewing people. As a child, I used to dream that I would one day host a talk show — with a set, and a studio audience and guests — the whole thing. So, three years ago, I approached my CEO, Rob Schwartz, and asked him if we could start a talk show in the lobby. Redress the place. With that we created the Disruptor Series podcast, where we sit down with disruptive thinkers and icons and talk about culture, hot topics, creative breakthroughs, career lessons. It was Intrepreneurship at its finest. We’ve been fortunate enough to host Maria Shriver, Snoop Dogg, Former Mexican President Vicente Fox, Al Roker, Charlamagne Tha God, Comedy Central’s “Broad City” co-stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, and more. My interview prep is extensive. Part of my process is to watch every past interview that person has ever done on YouTube — start to finish — before we sit down. I don’t want my show canceled!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d have to choose two people: Jay Z, CEO of RocNation, and Jay Brown, President of RocNation. They are my North Stars for a successful partnership. They have helped so many musicians of color, and inspired such a large movement of culture across the U.S. and globally. I watch their moves closely.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@DougMelville across all channels.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Black Men and Women of The C-Suite: “Give difference the benefit of the doubt” with Doug Melville… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.