As Dashboard turns 10 in January of 2011, Barry Hillier, our CVO, looks back at the company on where we were and where we are going.
It’s good to be Canadian…
Being a Canadian and independently owned company can be a negative at times. For instance, many clients seek a global company with multiple offices to coordinate a broad, global strategy. Those multi-national agencies also have deep pockets in bad times. While they are concerned about quarterly profits, they also protect their investments over the long term. But, there are times when it’s good to be an independent. For instance, many global clients want the secret sauce that comes from small, boutique shops. Many people want to work at a company that treats employees like family, especially in hard times. Also, we tend to be nimble and not connected to management that is making and basing critical decisions for Canadian offices based on market conditions in New York or London.
In spite of the past two years, 2010 seemed to be a year of recovery… but maybe not. We thought things were getting better… but maybe not. Depending on the day, week, month, you read how a big turnaround was just around the corner. Then you flipped the page and found out that a critical piece of the economy dove tailed and we were potentially facing the “OMINOUS W”. Needless to say, I’ve been a big believer in two personal guides to the direction of the economy. The first is my clients’ business. If they are seeing improvement across the various categories that we manage, then my confidence in the general economy improves. My second guide is from my Father and two Brothers. They work in structural steel plants and they are my “canary” in the economic coal mine. They feel the surge and the retreat very quickly in a pick-up or slow-down. And in 2010 their hours at the factory started to improve dramatically. These two guides provided reasons why my confidence level was guarded, but high on the economy continuing to improve.
This attitude was also due to our new business efforts over the past few years adding some great clients to our roster, including the Atlantic Lottery Corporation, Mother Parkers, ING Direct, Torstar, Due North (Milk, H&R Block, LCBO, 3M), Sharpe Blackmore (Home Hardware), Dentsu (Toyota) and John Street (Tetley). Our previously existing clients were expanding again and our offices were truly full. You can never throw caution to the wind, especially when you have staff that count on you for their mortgages, rent and so on. But you also can’t be fearful when opportunity presents itself. We began discussing expansion again in the summer of 2010 and negotiated an additional floor in our building.
Through 2009 and 2010, many of the multi-national agencies maintained hiring freezes, regardless of the amount of work the agency maintained at the time. This meant two things; we had exceptional talent looking for better opportunities to help build and grow their own careers and make a mark in an agency and, it also meant that we could pursue business with the knowledge that we could get the right talent to grow Dashboard, as opposed to finding bodies to fill positions. We could grow without hurting our clients. In fact, we could increase our talent base substantially for the entire agency.
We used this time to our advantage and continued to bring on extremely talented staff on board. In January, 2010 we hired Catherine Baird as Associate Creative Director. She was formerly co-creative lead at Henderson Bas and had returned from an agency in Paris. She was on contract in late 2009 and we felt she would be a creative leader to really accelerate our growth and work. Catherine brought her former partner at Henderson Bas to Dashboard, Julie Stolberg in early 2010. We were creatively armed with world class senior and junior talent. Tim Arney left Dashboard for personal reasons (we still stay in touch, but miss him) and we brought Ralph Reefke on board as head of Technology. Ralph had worked at MacLaren McCann for the past 10 years and he rounded out our leadership team. Our entire leadership team maintained substantial credentials at some of the top agencies in Canada and the world. As fall approached, we were ready to expand into new territories with an additional floor and expanded client base. Dashboard was finishing the decade stronger than ever.