What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Canadian business magazine Douglas caught up with Kevin Roberts,Executive Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide, when he was in Victoria, British Columbia, to receive an honorary professorship in Leadership and Innovation from the University of Victoria, the first-ever honorary professorship granted by UVic.

You said leading people today is achieved by inspiring, not by managing. How do we make that part of business culture?

The answer is what Zuckerburg [CEO of Facebook] said last week: “I will not hire a direct report who I would not work for.” So people need to ask, “Wow, does this person have the capability, the leadership skills, that I would work for them, not just today, but in five years, six years?” Does this person have innate greatness in them? … The Peter Principle was a big book when I was growing up. It basically said we promote people to their level of incompetence. We’ve got to stop that nonsense. We’ve got to hire the people who we think have greatness inside them and we need to do that with everyone we hire, because you can’t pile up enough good people to make one great one.

You’ve spoken about the need for radical optimism. Why do entrepreneurs need it?

Colin Powell [former U.S. secretary of state] talked about it. He said perpetual optimism is a force multiplier and he’s dead right. I’m sick of cynics and contrarians, of politicians and negativity. How did that ever drive anything — this constant questioning? The abominable no-man. Crap! What the world needs more than anything else is growth … we’re going to have to create jobs and businesses and that’s going to be done by entrepreneurs. Government’s not going to do it. Big corporations are not going to do it. They’re going to decline, decline, decline, downsize, downsize, downsize. So we’ve got to have entrepreneurs. And if you’re an entrepreneur you’re going to fail I don’t-know-how-many times. So you better be optimistic …. Radical optimism is the only thing that will drive growth in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

You dared a decade ago to write a radically optimistic book that introduced the word love into the discourse on brands. What’s love got to do with brands?

Lovemarks create loyalty for a reason. Actually, lovemarks create loyalty beyond reason. They do everything that brands do from a respect and quality point of view. But then they add three things: mystery, sensuality and intimacy — and they become irresistible and irreplaceable.

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