The Marketing Institute: What does a CEO at TPI do?
Colin Culliton: A good CEO should be focused on the overall strategy and direction of the business. The day-to-day running of TPI is handled by senior executives within each business function. I oversee and support these efforts, push hard to hit targets and work to ensure a collaborative culture is developed and maintained by the team. A CEO must have a laser sharp vision of the future direction of the company and be able to communicate the roadmap that will help the entire team navigate towards their goals and achieve company objectives.
MII: What were your key career moves to get to your current role?
C.C: I started at the very bottom. I worked in a gaudy van selling Branded Tax Disk Holders to Motor Dealers around the country. In the 80’s, in the middle of a deep recession, car sales were low, so this was a hard sell! But I happened to do pretty well. I had studied Marketing in college and I really wanted to do something better that combined that interest with my commercial strengths. Two sales jobs later, in better businesses and with a bit of experience under my belt, I found myself at the tender age of 25, as the Owner Manager of a small printing start-up. My first job, while pretty crap, gave me ambition to do better, and to be better. With TPI, I had the opportunity to sell marketing solutions to a vast range of clients, it was perfect for me. I wouldn’t change anything of my humble beginnings. Hunger is the best sauce.
MII: What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?
C.C: We operate in a very fast moving environment. Customer requirements and needs are evolving all the time and we have to keep up with that, to keep relevant. The lines are blurring and we have to constantly change to offer a deeper, more dynamic marketing solutions menu. This business has seen dramatic change over the last 10 years. My biggest challenge has been to guide the team in these new directions, to change behaviours, to evolve the culture and maintain some of the values that have made The TPI Group a great company to do business with, and to work in. Change is hard, it’s unsettling, some days I think the only people who like change are babies with dirty nappies!
MII: What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?
C.C: At the risk of using a cliché, communication is vital. We have 136 people over 6 companies in our Group. Under pressure, they look to me for leadership and guidance. Energy and passion flow from the top down. I want everyone in this business to feel passionate about what we do and to live that through all customer interactions. Teams work hard when they are fighting for a cause they believe in. The key skills I’ve had to develop are leadership, communication and delegation. This last one has been most difficult, but if you want a business to thrive, there are times when you have to simply let go.
MII: Describe a typical working day.
C.C: I wake at 6.30am. I row. I shower. I shave. My working day starts off at about 7.30am when I check my emails as I eat Breakfast. Anything urgent is handled there and then, but mostly the stuff outstanding can wait until I’m in the office. The six MD’s are well able to handle most challenges. I have a 45-minute drive in from Enniskerry to Fonthill, which is a good time for Thinking. I normally get to the office by 8.30am and try to avoid any meetings until 10.00am. The first hour and a half is mainly reading and writing emails. Then a series of review meetings would normally kick-off with my managers. I try to have at least one outside or off-site meeting a day, sometimes a catch-up with a vital client, sometimes a NBD pitch, sometimes a visit to our off-site company Pluto, our experiential Business in Clonskeagh. At about 1pm I like to have my lunch break alone, at my desk or in a nearby pub, as it is a good time for me to shut up and re-group for the PM. On a good day, I get to walk the offices and factory floor of Font House early PM. More often than not walk-ins and unplanned stuff has me running a little tight for time. I always try to finish the last couple of hours at my desk normally reading and writing emails. I head for home at around 6.30pm and get home in time for dinner with my wife and kids just after 7pm – this is my favourite time of day. I used to do a little work after dinner, but I decided I was unproductive when working too much, so I try to keep my mobile and laptop off in the evening time. I recommend everyone try this.
MII: What do you love most about your role?
C.C: I get a kick out of variety. I love being involved in so many different aspects of Marketing. We do consumer experiential campaigns, large scale event management, customer experience design, graphic design, print and even branded merchandise. Having different companies deliver solutions in different areas means you are involved in some of the most creative campaigns for some inspirational brands. When you have passionate customers and passionate, driven teams, you can’t help but get the buzz from it.
MII: Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?
C.C: All things going well, I will do another 5 years at the helm here. Then I will step aside and let a younger person drive The TPI Group. I will never retire, it seems to be deadly for many busy people. I have a lot left to give and I’d love to share what I’ve learned with other up and coming businesses. I like people and I like business, so I could see myself trying my hand at executive coaching, speaking, teaching or maybe even starting another business, just to test myself! I’m not destined for, nor do I desire a quiet life. But that said, they say if you want to make God laugh make a plan.
MII: To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?
C.C: I love sport and I like passionate leaders. So, the likes of Brian Cody, Joe Schmidt and Jurgan Klopp are guys I see as authentic leaders that I admire. In business, Willie Walsh, of International Airlines Group, is an Irish guy who has faced adversity and still excelled over many years, in a very tough industry with some fierce competition. Whenever I feel sorry for myself I thank God I am not a Paddy working in Britain who runs three Airlines, all whom have to compete with Michael O’Leary and Ryanair!
You can read all the A Day in the Life features here.