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Founders Inspiring Founders: Joanne Chan

"I’ve given 27+ years to our agency, carrying out the founders’ vision with a team that is fiercely dedicated to our culture, our brand, and most of all, our people."


Joanne Chan, Global CEO of Turner Duckworth


While you are not technically a founder, you are often regarded as one. Why is that?


Despite the fact that my name is not “on the door”, people often think I am a founder, because I was employee #2 in U.S. and have been with the agency for over 27 years.  For 20 years, I worked very closely with the founders and partnered with them to grow our U.S. business and our brand.


Reflecting on your journey, what has been the biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?

There have been two big challenges:

Acquisition & Integration. The founders decided to sell Turner Duckworth to Publicis Groupe in 2014. As COO of Turner Duckworth U.S., I managed the integration of our business with the holding company. The key challenge was finding a way to integrate our operations with step changes, without killing our independent spirit or damaging our culture. Related to that, I had to manage the pressures of expected growth during the earn out and learn how to report up whilst serving as an ambassador of our agency within the holding company. I learned a lot from colleagues across Publicis, and I leaned on partners and mentors who advocated for us and assisted us with change management. I made strong cases for slowing the roll of integration, and with the partnership of our loyal Turner Duckworth team members, we were able to preserve our unique culture, and uphold our primary goals of creative excellence as brand partners to our clients.

Stepping Up. The founders stepped down at the end of their earn out in 2018 and named Sarah Moffat and I as their successors, with Sarah as Global Chief Creative Officer and me as Global CEO. The greatest challenge was taking up the mantel of leadership, finding our own voices, our own ways of leading, managing and inspiring our teams across three studios. We overcame these challenges by trying, failing, and trying harder, and through our mutual respect and our strong partnership. We also need to credit our senior leadership teams in each of our studios.


Could you share one or two key pieces of advice you’d give to aspiring entrepreneurs aiming to become successful founders?


Founders often wear too many hats and carry the entirety of a business on their shoulders. Be sure to cultivate, elevate and trust team members who share your vision, and who can help you evolve and strengthen the business as you grow and scale up.


If selling your company is part of your exit plan, be sure to nurture and train strong successors who embody your values and have been with the company for a significant amount of time. That way, your exit will not cause a mass exodus of key personnel, and it will ensure your legacy lives on.


Based on your experience working so closely with founders, what do you think makes a successful founder?

Absolute dedication to your mission and vision; a level of humility and understanding that you can’t be successful on your own—you need trustworthy and loyal team members; and a clear succession plan if you want to preserve your legacy.

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