In conversation with…Louise McLaren

Louise is very busy at the moment. We sat down to congratulate her on starting a new position as Managing Director at Lovebrands.

She has so little time, and yet she takes the time to coach and help others. We originally met her at a coaching session a few months back and wanted to hear her story.

We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

What was your first-ever job?

I started out at a small agency that specialised in marketing for SMEs. It was a great introduction to all things marketing – I got to jump between tasks, clients, and roles. But I was thinking about how I could build my CV to really stand out at the same time. I had this inkling that I needed to become more appealing to employers to pursue what I wanted further ahead. So, I did a master’s degree in design at St Martin’s College. I can’t begin to say how many people responded by referencing Pulp’s Disco 2000! But it was well worth it: I had a great time and employers loved that I had the grit and determination to balance my first, full-time job with further studies. I’ve always thought that was a springboard for the career I have today.

Who would you most love to share a coffee with / go for a drink with?

This is a tricky one – I can think of so many different people, all from completely different walks of life! I’d have to go with Pablo Neruda, because I love his work and what he represented. My Spanish has grown a little rusty since university, however, so I guess our conversation would have to be in English. If I’d pick anyone for a work-related chat, on the other hand, it would be Rory Sutherland. He always makes me laugh and think about things differently. I sometimes find myself in a group conversation with him at MarketingKind – a marketing organisation where both of us are members. It’s dedicated to educating and inspiring other marketers to use their skills for the good of society and the environment. I’m always interested to hear what he’ll have to say.

Highlight of your career (so far?)

Two things come to mind. The first was early on in my career when I was at Truth working with HSBC. They needed someone to come in and run a large portion of the UK insight team for a period. So, I effectively did a dual role for six months, heading both that team and my work at Truth. It was intense and I don’t know how I managed in retrospect, but I had a lot of fun, learned loads, and made many good friends. My second highlight would be my work with Philips over the course of ten years. It’s great to have been able to sustain and grow an account for such a long period.  I really felt part of their team, but at the same time grateful that I got to be the one always getting my hands properly dirty running fascinating projects. I got to build a good relationship with many talented and fun people, working on a brand for which I have tremendous respect. And I worked on so many amazing projects with them. Such a privilege!

Nature or nurture?

While I’m obviously no expert, I would lean towards nature. I believe that we are, to a great extent, who we are from when we’re born – no matter how external forces try to shape us. I see so many parents who put a lot of pressure on their children – trying to develop and mould them. And I think this approach can only do so much; that there’s a limit to how much you can shape a child and their personality. Having said that, our personalities certainly evolve while our intrinsic values largely remain. We do have agency to shape who we are through how we take on and respond to experiences. I think this is a good attitude to have to work too, making it easier to adopt a growth mindset and a love of life-long learning.

Best advice you ever heard or received?

My coach said something recently that really resonated with me: when you say ‘yes’ to something, you are intrinsically saying ‘no’ to something else. I think this has been especially true during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the boundaries between home and work have often fallen away, it has made it difficult for us to say ‘no’. It’s been a lot easier for work to take over other aspects of our lives, such as spending time on hobbies and exercise or hanging out with friends and family. I, therefore, try to be more conscious now about what I prioritise and what trade-offs I make in my day-to-day life – and reflect on whether I’m really prepared to do this.

What talent do you yearn for?

The ability to express myself succinctly. Which I was now ironically able to articulate very succinctly!

What is your favourite brand and why?

I love the brand ‘Sheep Included’. It’s the world’s first carbon-negative fashion brand and I really like their style and approach.  And their clothes!  I interviewed the cofounder recently within a MarketingKind online panel discussion and was struck by a lot of what he had to say, and how he said it.  I scribbled lots of notes to go away and reflect on.

What book do you most recommend to others?

It won’t be a career-building book. We seem to live in a more intense work culture than ever before, where your career defines you and we’re obsessed with a constant ‘hustle’ and growth mindset. I think it gives a warped idea of success. So, I don’t spend a lot of time outside work reading work-related books. I prefer to engage in popular culture instead and catch a break when I can. The last book I recommended was ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’, by Joan Didion. I gave it to a grieving family member. It’s beautifully written, narrating the period when the author’s daughter and husband die. It’s really remarkable.

What last impressed you at work?

The way my colleagues have risen to the challenge of Covid-19. Navigating the uncertainty, managing the busy workload, delivering quality work, and collaborating remotely – I’m incredibly impressed and proud of this huge collective adaptation.

Which lesson has been the hardest to learn? What failure did you learn the most from?

Learning how to let go of things. It’s a fact of life that the more seniority you have, the less hands-on you can be. You need to manage to quality control while handing over the reins – or you’ll end up micromanaging your team or, worse still, burning out (and making them burn out). It’s a constant balancing act. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

What do you want to do when you retire?

I’m not sure, but I like to think I have options. I would want to do interesting work – but with boundaries that allow me to also dedicate my time to other projects I want to pursue. So, it probably won’t be a formal cut-off from the working world. But it sure does feel a long way away…

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