Forward thinking Featured

6:09am EDT April 25, 2006
Tony Bucci talks a lot about change, about anticipating it, creating it and staying ahead of it. For him, success is all about looking out to see where you’re going, not where you’ve been.

Bucci’s belief in the certainty of change has led him to transform his agency’s structure, acquire agencies in four cities outside Pittsburgh and push MARC to the top spot as the largest ad agency in Pittsburgh, with $40.7 million in gross profit in 2005 and capitalized billings of nearly $345 million. In addition, Bucci’s orientation to change forces him to look to the future and prepare his company for whatever may come — controlling change, rather than being controlled by it.

Bucci spoke with Smart Business about hiring great people, getting their best and managing change so it doesn’t manage you.

Collaborate and evaluate.
I think my management style is twofold. One, it’s very collaborative. I like to bring people into the decision-making process and engage everyone in it.

But the other part of it is, at the beginning of the day, it’s about opportunity; at the end of the day, it’s about results. So part of it is about trying to inspire, trying to create a shared vision, but at the end of the day, you’re ultimately accountable for making something happen. By making very clear to them what the expectation is and what the desired end result is, and then letting them know that they have to meet the goals that are set, you hold people accountable.

Seek out builders.
Our organization is a growth organization. What we have today is not what we want to be, it’s only a piece of where we’re going.

I find that there are basically two kinds of people ... one group are the builders, people who enjoy taking what you have and trying to create something bigger and newer out of it. The other kind are managers, and those are people who just manage what you have.

I look for people who aren’t managers; I look for people who are builders. And I talk to them that way. I need someone who gets joy out of building something because the business we are today is only a part of what we want to be. We’ve built the framework, now we’ve got to build the house.

The other part you need to do that well is someone who is intelligent and hardworking, and another piece of it is that you want good people. If people are difficult to work with, if they’re just self-centered and don’t care about other people in the organization, they don’t survive well with us, nor do we want them. You can be very talented, but if you’re a jerk, I’ll give up the talent, I’ll go out and find someone who has just as much talent and is good to work with.

We’re collaborative, so we need people who know how to work with other people. Again, some people don’t like to do that and don’t do it well. That’s fine, but they shouldn’t be in our organization.

Beware of the wisdom of the crowd.
I was invited to speak at a conference. This was probably in the early ’90s, and the advertising business was not doing well, but we were doing pretty well.

After the big main session where I spoke, they had some breakout sessions. I went to one of them, and there was a group talking to advertising agency executives. This group was talking about how agencies work — process redesign, bringing more efficiencies to them and all that.

At the time, I was looking for a new way to do business. I just felt that agencies had been doing business the same way since they had been invented.

These guys were talking about a new way of doing our work. It was just really inspiring to me, and it really led us to creating a whole new structure for advertising agencies. We were the first agency, literally in the world, to change the structure, and all that inspiration started at that breakout session. The funny thing was that at that conference, that session was the lowest-rated breakout session at the entire event.

Basically the reason was that the management of those agencies didn’t want to hear about doing things differently, specifically for them to do things differently. But it really led to our growth as we changed our whole structure. It was a dramatic change for us.

Look past today.
My role is a couple of things. One, create the long-term, you know, the five-years-out vision of what our company should be in the future, what it needs to become. And the other part of it is finding talent, be it people we bring in or by acquiring other companies that will help us get to our goal faster.

My role is to be always looking ahead, so I don’t think about what we’re doing right now, whether it’s good or bad. If it’s good, great, but five years from now, is it going to be right? I’m always looking for something new, looking for where the market can go, looking for how we can do what we do better.

My belief is you just can’t keep doing it the way you’re doing it forever. Change is going to affect you one way or the other. Change is always going to happen, so you either have to be prepared for it or try to anticipate it. As opposed to managing what I have, it’s more like, what do I need to be?

Take control of change.
There’s a culture of change in our organization, so change isn’t a scary thing for us, nor is it something that is revolutionary because we literally are always trying to change. So change is a comfortable thing for our organization. It’s not disruptive.

And I always said it’s easy not to make any mistakes; just don’t do anything. We’ve always tried things. Some of them have worked really well, some of them haven’t worked. Again, change is a constant thing. You need to control the change, or the change controls you. I’d rather be in control of it.

I think it’s incumbent for me to be looking all the time for what might be a new opportunity for us. Hopefully, you’re in front of that change and you’re ready for it when it does come.

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