Chapter 45: Shared Leadership

Blog / March 9, 2020

This is an excerpt from Rethink the Business of Creativity.

If you’re playing the long game, learn to share the load—and the leadership.


Rethink doesn’t have a CEO, and we’ve never had a president.

This was a deliberate choice on day one. We believe having one person in charge of a company—especially a creative company—is a potential landmine. Who is the single person in charge, and what part of the business do they represent? Many advertising and design agencies, despite being in the business of creativity, are actually run by account people who are trained in the business side of the business. This has always struck us as more than a little counterintuitive.

From the beginning, we’ve structured the company to share leadership among a small group. For us, less is more. A group of two, three, or four is small enough to be nimble, but large enough to represent all sides of the business. In Rethink’s case, Tom represented the business side, and Chris and Ian the creative side. For our first decade, it worked remarkably well. Now, twenty years since our founding, we’re making sure that this shared model is scalable well into the future.

We started by adding new partners to the mix. In many businesses, becoming a partner is an onerous and protracted experience. Potential partners often have to pay their dues— in both time and money. Some have to mortgage their homes to buy shares in a company. At Rethink, we gift equity to our partners. This makes the idea of partnership far more accessible, so more people (and particularly young people) can realistically aspire to one day make it to the top.

We had an employee go from intern to partner in only five years—proof that Rethink is a meritocracy, not an autocracy.

We now have close to twenty partners at Rethink, each of whom owns real shares in the company. They come from every office and every part of the company—from the Creative Department, to Strategy, to Account Management, to Production.

From this group, we assign a smaller group of Managing Partners to run their respective offices. The MPs are meant to reflect our founding leadership structure, with a small group of two, three, or four partners in charge. The MPs in each office report to the three founders, who now act as the company’s hands-on Board of Directors.

It’s a structure that can be handed down to future generations, and replicated across multiple locations. It will also protect Rethink’s independence, which is the root of our success.

Rethink the Business of Creativity is available in-store and online from Indigo or Amazon as well as bookstores across North America. Find out more about the book and why we wrote it.