TBWA's Sara Tate: 'I never believed I could do the CEO gig, because I was a new mum'

CEO of Omnicom agency has made annual list of Power part-timers.

Tate: among 25 part-time leaders recognised
Tate: among 25 part-time leaders recognised

TBWA\London chief executive Sara Tate is among those named in this year's Timewise Power List – a selection of 25 leaders who have achieved success in C-suite positions despite working four days a week or less.

Tate explained that when she was offered her current role four years ago on a four day-a-week basis, by TBWA's worldwide president and CEO Troy Ruhanen, she was “genuinely surprised”.

“I wasn’t expecting to be offered the CEO role on those terms," she told Campaign. "Not only was I being offered the role as four days a week, I was being offered it on four days a week as a first-time CEO.

“In all honesty, I felt that back then this was a global CEO (Ruhanen) who was incredibly enlightened. At the time it felt to me like they were taking a risk – but now I recognise that to be presumption and negative thinking on my part.

"In truth Troy and the TBWA collective were simply putting their faith in me as part of their commitment to hiring female leaders”.  

Tate is the sole representative of adland in the list. This year the criteria were tightened to focus on people who were explicitly hired into a role part-time or who have been promoted while working part-time.   

But hark back even just a few years ago and part-time CEOs were an infinitely rare breed – and still very much are. Tate explained that she had even discounted taking on a CEO role in her career, believing that it would not be compatible with her personal life as a mum to two small children. When TBWA headhunted her for the role, however, she was pleasantly surprised at its flexibility. 

“At this junction, when my kids were literally aged zero and one year old, I pre-assumed that I would have to compromise in some way my career or my work-life balance. 

"Thankfully [with TBWA] it wasn’t necessary – four days was the solution. It was great for me and great for the agency. So my advice to all young women is – don’t presuppose, don’t assume it’s not possible, just ask."  

Along with the 25 individuals, Timewise has recognised three companies for their pioneering of flexible working around Covid-19, two of which are agencies: Creature and MediaCom. (Multiplex Constructions was also recognised.)

Creature was noted for taking an outcome-focused rather than hours-focused approach to recruitment. MediaCom was praised for harnessing its people-first culture while its staff worked remotely, by providing them with multiple layers of support. Multiplex Constructions was the other employer recognised.

The judges of this year's list include Marc Nohr, Group CEO of Miroma and chairman of Fold7.

Nohr himself appeared on last year's list after becoming the first male chief executive of a large business in the UK to announce that he worked a four-day week.

As a judge on this year’s Power List Nohr observes: “You don’t necessarily get the best out of an employee by engaging them between 9 and 5.30, five days a week.

"It feels like the tide has been somewhat turning on this in the past year, because of the situation we all find ourselves in. If you can find a working context in which people can work most productively and support the rest of their lives, you’ll get the best from them.” 

Timewise co-founder Karen Mattison MBE noted: "[This is the year] that proved people can work differently. Now it is time for employers to reflect this shift, in how they design and advertise jobs."  

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