“I came out to LA, then I broke into the entertainment industry all on my own. I had a bit of a chip on the shoulder for no real reason except for that I never wanted to owe anyone anything, and so I got into the entertainment industry with no connections whatsoever, just my resume and portfolio.”
Jessica Hawthrone-Castro – CEO of Hawthorne Direct; What makes a great CEO; Building work culture; Work / Life balance; On being a mom.
Segment 1: (Length :04:00) – General Updates; Introduction to Jessica Hawthorne-Castro and her journey as an entrepreneur and CEO; Breaking into the entertainment industry; transitioning to work with family.
Jessica’s finer points:
“This agency was founded over 30 years ago by my father, Tim Hawthorne, who was a documentary filmmaker. I grew up in the Midwest, and for those of you in the Midwest, you grow up with a good, strong work ethic.”
I came out to LA, then I broke into the entertainment industry all on my own. I had a bit of a chip on the shoulder for no real reason except for that I never wanted to owe anyone anything, and so I got into the entertainment industry with no connections whatsoever, just my resume and portfolio.
“I was actually nearly laughed out of the room because I was so professional in how I came in, and they were used to mainly friends and family contacts. I rose really quickly in the agency world because I was dead set on becoming a talent agent at that time. I was one of the youngest female agents in this pretty much all-male agency. I loved my clients.”
“I was a television literary agent, writers, directors, producers for TV. I, at that time, represented writers on the show called Entourage. I don’t know if you guys remember it from back in the day.”
“There was a transition period of this agency that my father had. I mentioned he was a director. We never thought we would work together. If anything, he thought that I would probably represent him as a big Hollywood director.”
“Dad said he would go back to his roots. Other folks within the ad agency were looking to transition it to the next iteration of what it was going to be, because 30 years is a long time for any company, and especially an agency when things are moving so quickly.”
I took the opportunity. I came in on the client side, noting again that I would never have thought I'd work with my father. I'm an only child because it was never in the cards, and I never also wanted to owe anyone anything.
“I came in and we actually never had any of the dynamics that people typically have with a child or someone coming in with the family, that they seem to be … have more of an advantage over others, because if anything, I came in and had a stronger work ethic, just that was in my DNA than really anyone in the company.”
“I set the standard, by example, of how I expected people to work, communicate and the speed of which I started out on the client side, then, at one point, went back to get my MBA part time while I was working full time. I managed literally every single client in the company. I just took them on.”
Having too much work is never in my vocabulary, because I do love work and what I do, so people are always shocked by that, but you can never give me too much. I always just take more and more.
“I transitioned then parallel between the client side, the operations side, and then decided to focus my … I was basically representing all the clients, but I decided to represent the agency and all the employees instead. By that point, then I moved over to the operations side and then transitioned to CEO and then took over ownership a couple of years back.”
Segment 2: (Length :08:00) – Talking with Jessica Hawthorne-Castro; What makes a great CEO; Understanding operations is key.
Jessica’s finer points:
“When I started out, and this is probably true for most CEOs unless they have a very traditional educational background where they’re Harvard MBAs or Stanford MBAs, you don’t necessarily aspire to be a CEO; it just ends up the natural progression of what happens.”
What I feel is a strength as a strong background and can actually translate through any industry is becoming very, very good at operations.
“That was really the key thing. I had actually an art background. I literally majored in fine arts at UCLA. I was also a realist, so I was this interesting combination because that’s not always true about artists. I was an artist, so I would painting and photography, but as a realist, I could say very clearly, “I’m good but I’m not great,” right? At art specifically. What I found is that I could represent artists and know their work very well and also help them when their careers. That’s actually why I became an agent.”
“Also, now in advertising, most people at this point even forget — or they don’t even know, some of them — that I even have this visual background. They just think I’m pure business and straight to the point because that’s how they know me, for the most part, now. I’d come in and redo an entire campaign very quickly, comment on the visuals. Obviously in advertising, it’s very important. I started on the client side.”
“When I transitioned to the operations side through getting my MBA, that gave me some of my core business skills. I already had them, but it was just a good, solid background and foundation to have.”
Being in the day-to-day and the nitty gritty I think is so critical. I know a lot of people in finance or high-level strategy, and if you don't necessarily have that attention to detail, it's hard to really run a business or know all details.
“I still to this day know absolutely what every single employee does, what all their roles are, who’s working efficiently, who’s not, where every dollar is flowing through the company.”
“These are things at some point, when you get to a certain size, that you do want to have … I don’t want to say give up, but relinquish control. Especially in the very beginning, you can’t be hands-off. You have to want and be able to do the hard work.”
“For me, it’s very easy for me and I actually enjoy that work, but I have a … Sometimes it’s hard to do both sides, both the overall corporate strategy and the vision and be able to get down in the minutiae and the day-to-day, but I am able to do that.”
“Still to this day I will get in there, and if we have to prep for a conference room and other people are ready, I have no problem with just getting in there and doing what needs to be done to get the work done. That’s what I project through the whole company, that no one should ever feel above their pay grade or their job responsibilities and everyone should wear multiple hats and get in there.”
You need to be an expert, but when there's a need, you need to get into every detail. Knowing how things work and being a core operator is the foundation, I think, to then becoming a very successful CEO
Segment 3: (Length :10:00) – Building work culture; Managing Millennials versus older generations; Getting ahead on the trends; Work / Life balance.
Jessica’s finer points:
“Back to the MBA thing for a second. I agree it does teach you the numbers, but as you probably know, what an MBA does not teach you, you might’ve taken one class in the initial overview, is overall culture and people management. Once you get out into the real world, that’s basically 99.9% of your job. You get some hard skills, but the rest you’re really learning as you go because as we know, life is all people, right?”
Companies are really all people, even if you're a technology company. You still have people at this point still, programming that technology. Those are skills for me, that I reach out to other CEO networks and support groups to continue to learn those skills and perfect those as you go, because that's the big missing piece of all of that.
“For me, personally, how do I not feel like I ever have too much work or accomplish so much in a day? For me, personally, it is probably because I have … It’s not diagnosed, okay, but I have OCD tendencies. I have extreme organization and discipline.”
“I get probably get more things coming across my desk, emails, information than … not only in the company but anything, any words I’m on externally, anything that’s going on, or even I’m dealing with my son, flowing through me every day. No matter what, every day, even if I’m in the office or in all-day strategy meetings or out at a conference or what it is, I have extreme discipline to organize and go through everything that comes across my plate every day.”
“Also, because I’m so organized in how I approach things, I can very, very quickly filter through information and data. Or if someone’s asking for something, I know exactly where it is and how to find it in one of my thousand folders. That’s, for me, how I think that I’m able to accomplish so much and not feel overwhelmed, is because I tackle everything every day.”
Again, that's extreme discipline. That's not necessarily something that is, I think, taught; I think it's just potentially who you are. That's actually just how I have to be, because if I have a day where I've not done that, I feel behind or like I'm not able to think as clearly and to get to things as clearly.
“I do not like that feeling. Instead, I just continue every day to make sure that I have dealt with absolutely everything and so that I can start fresh. I respond to every email, even if it’s someone reaching out or potential spam. That’s the respect that I like. I treat people like I want to be treated, so for clients or whatever it is, or even just people are out that you know that even it’s a sales position, they’re putting themselves out there, so I do cordially respond to everyone because I just think it’s respectful.”
“Work hard . . . For me, work is fun. It’s not actually worth it if you’re not having fun while you’re doing it. Even I love your opening beats, right?”
“I think that relationships can have some impact, but for me, I actually went the opposite route, like I mentioned, and maybe too much so. For me, I always let my work prove what it was.”
“I never had relationships be the thing that promoted me, because then, for me, I felt that it was not genuine. It always was just a parent that I was working in a more … and more efficiently, smarter.”
I would say hard work, but caveat in that work can and should be fun, and you should let your merits really speak for themselves. Then, also, be in that works with other people of similar minds. Always know what's going on in the world and the community.
“Outside of just your initial company, go to conferences, join organizations, and also be aware of what’s going on in the global scale. That’s what’s really helped me. I have a lot of support … I’m part of things called TED Talks and other things like that.”
“Where you go and we’re meeting with global leaders and people who are doing amazing things for the world. You’re looking at world trends, and you have to get out of our, just our US environment, because sometimes we forget that even the people who feel like they’re the downest out, even in just the US … Everyone in the US: we’re still the top 1% of the world. You have to get out of that … I don’t want to say self-centered nature, but that’s a natural human tendency. So knowing what world trends are.”
“If you’re looking at technology and you’re looking to make an innovation, that you’re looking beyond just your initial scope but what is that, the current needs, what’s going to be there in five years, 10 years? That’s what I’m always looking at, is that not what we’re doing today, because what we’re doing today is just a result of our past actions. What we’re experiencing today, whether it’s good or bad, is a result of what we did yesterday or six months ago or a year ago.”
Things are progressing so, so quickly, and that speed of disruption and that speed of needing to be competitive in just a very short amount of time, it's absolutely critical to not only succeed but really even to just sustain in this day and age. It's that world view. It's obviously a national view. It's knowing general trends in the marketplace. Just being aware, keeping your mind open. Always be seeking to learn and to go beyond. I think a constant quest for learning is really, really critical, because the moment you think you have it all, you don't.
“I think it’s actually fairly easy to instill in the younger workforce, because they just do that naturally. Sometimes where actually it can be more challenging is a older workforce. That is a place where I do work hard on pushing information out to them in terms of what is going on in current trends and things are going on. I think younger people: they’re just naturally aware. They’re grabbing on to that. The older ones: things did not move as fast, looking at trends and what’s happening.”
“We can’t sit on the sidelines, anyone or any company, and just say that things are going to be moving, and if they don’t get on the train … and this isn’t just my company … they will be left behind.”
“Trying to instill that but without projecting too much fear is definitely a delicate balance and what I work hard on every day to try to encourage that but not demand it too much, because you’re not going to get good work from those folks if you’re pushing them, instilling, because they’re just going to push back against you.”
what I try to encourage is there's always going to be problems, but let's put the problems aside but come with a solution, because I'm always looking to do things better.
“Nothing is ever … can be good enough. We can always try to do it better, more efficiently, and I’m always looking for people’s suggestions on how to do that quicker and easier and, again, have more fun while we’re doing it.”
I think that really comes from the top if that is how you are as a person. I do have to also ask my executive team members to work in that same way and instill that same level. As a CEO, you project it, but you do have to work hard with your executive team to be on the same level, and then that flows to the whole company.
“Segment 4: (Length :03:00) – Hustler Thought of the Day:
Bring your whole self to work. I don’t believe we have a professional self Monday through Friday and a real self the rest of the time. It is all professional and it is all personal. - Sheryl Sandberg
Jessica Hawthorne-Castro – CEO of Hawthorne Direct
- Jessica Hawthorne-Castro is the CEO of Hawthorne Direct, a leading technology-based advertising agency specializing in analytics and accountable brand campaigns for over 30-years. Jessica has strategically positioned the agency to be at the forefront of the new marketing revolution of advertising where art meets science.
Jessica is a true standout under-40/female CEO and working mother. After a successful career as a TV literary agent with William Morris Endeavor, Jessica joined Hawthorne and rose quickly through the ranks. She became CEO in 2014 and owner in 2015.
- In her first year of ownership, she quadrupled EBITDA and has driven strong growth year-after-year. Under her leadership, Hawthorne has just won a “Best Places to Work” award and a “Business Improvement” award.
- Clients include: 3M (Command, Filtrete, Post-it, Scotch-Brite); Audible; Armor All; Carbonite; Black & Decker; Dyson, Gerber; L’Oreal; Hamilton Beach; HomeAdvisor.com; Hoover; Remington; SanDisk; Pella; Transamerica; PETA; United Healthcare and zulily.com.
In 2015, Jessica led Hawthorne Direct to their certification with the Women’s Business Enterprise by the Women’s Business Enterprise Council- West (WBENC). She’s been recognized with the Women’s Summit Awards Nomination” by Los Angeles Business Journal (2016), “Woman of Influence” by L.A. Biz and Biz Women (2016), Female CEO of the Year in Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations”, presented by the CEO World Awards organization (2015), Honored as a “Top 40 Under 40” by Direct Marketing News (2015).