Leader of the Pack

September 15, 2008


Breaking out of the pack is tough when you’re young and ambitious. Some marketers glide to the top while others struggle.

Karen Sauder, managing director of Draftfcb’s Chicago headquarters hasn’t glided nor has she struggled. At age 40, Sauder has arrived at the C-level and serves as the No. 2 executive at the largest agency in the Midwest. She’s responsible for 1,200 people and supervises accounts ranging from the United States Postal Service, Kellogg and Motorola to the Milk Processors Education Program and Paccar Parts.

One of Sauder’s key responsibilities is agency integration. It’s important that the legacy agencies—direct marketer Draft and advertising agency Foote, Cone & Belding, which became one company in 2006—align seamlessly and provide integrated solutions to clients.

Sauder’s father gave her the best advice for breaking out of the pack. “ ‘It doesn't matter where you start. Get in there and show them what you can do. Go as far as you can.’ That was his advice,” Sauder says. It’s been the true north guiding her career.

“In college, they pump you up and make you think everyone is going to be knocking on your door,” says the University of Missouri journalism graduate who struggled to find her first job, a $10-an-hour part-time position for Busch Services, the marketing services arm of brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos.

“I got in there and started working. Somebody noticed my working weekends. They pulled me into another area. The opportunity came up. Everything just happened from there,” Sauder recalls.

She assumed her current role as managing director of Draftfcb Chicago in March 2007.

“I was always interested in leadership. I went to my first leadership conference when I was 14. I studied it. I want to be a good leader. I want to lead people,” says Sauder, who believes that interest in leadership helped her rise to the top.

Sauder is goal-oriented but advises others not to focus solely on career goals. “Often you're so focused you don't take the opportunity to learn what's happening around you while you're on that journey,” she says.

Her career path has been a diverse one. She didn’t work six years on P&G business or 12 years on General Mills business. Rather, at Anheuser-Busch, she quickly moved to outside marketing services, where she spent five years in field operations managing distributors and wholesalers, helping them with local marketing plans. She next moved to Pepsi-owned Frito-Lay, spending three years in sales and distribution and leading an organization of 160 sales people. “I learned a lot from an operational, facility [and] manufacturing standpoint,” Sauder says.

When her husband took a position with the PGA Tour, Sauder moved to Florida and joined Zipatoni, a marketing agency. She learned about the Zipatoni opportunity through a former Anheuser-Busch colleague who recruited her.

“They were a boutique creative shop doing promotional work and interactive advertising. They were privately held at the time. They were small. They sold to IPG not long after I arrived,” Sauder says.

In her eight and a half years at Zipatoni, Sauder rose from account director to president because of her drive and flexibility. “There were days they wanted to throw me out. I came from a PepsiCo company to this very raucous, wild group,” Sauder says. “I had to learn to change my management style 180 degrees from where it was when I was managing teamsters at Frito.”

She credits her rise at Zipatoni to understanding how the agency works from top to bottom, in every department. She is interested in it all. She cares about the clients.

“You’ve really got to understand your clients. You have to understand what makes them tick and why they hire an agency,” she says.

The most critical factor in Sauder’s breaking through, she believes, was her ability to work with people.

“People. Bottom line, in order to run an agency you’ve got to be able to work with people. That’s what we are. That’s what we do,” she says. “There are a lot of good agency principals out there that understand the business side. The really great ones are the ones that are inspirational.”

Every executive that breaks through to the C-level faces challenges; Sauder is no exception. Yet Sauder seems ready to handle the problems as well as the opportunities of leadership.

“Becoming a leader means understanding the role and the value of individual versus group contribution. Influence is the currency of leadership. It’s not a title. It’s not a job description. It’s walking into a room and having an impact on the people around you. You could be feeding the poor or [be] a political activist. It’s about having an impact and getting people to act or think differently as a result.”

If you’re stuck and are having trouble breaking out of the pack, Sauder has solid advice. “Figure out what’s holding you back. Is it something you are doing or something management is doing? Is it a business culture issue? Is it a boss or supervisor? My advice: Tackle it head on.”

“I had a great opportunity with Anheuser-Busch. They were good to me. I felt I was stymied by the culture. So I chose to go. Going to Frito-Lay and working seven days a week and driving a truck I learned a lot of different things,” Sauder says.

Did she always want to be in communications?

“I originally wanted to be an attorney,” she says.

She likely would have broken out of the pack there, too.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com or news@ama.org.



 ©2008 Marion Consulting Partners