Advisor Insights with Rob Sherlock: Certified Chair™, Global Advertising Executive

Advisor Insights

Published 10 June 2020

Rob Sherlock is an Advisory Board Certified Chair with global advertising experience. After nearly 40 years in a fast-moving and often fickle industry – how do you stay current and continue to add value? For Rob, it’s all about avid self-innovation and a fascination about what’s next.

In this Advisor Insights conversation with Louise Broekman, Rob shares his 30+ year journey in global advertising, and how becoming an Advisory Board Chair “ruined his retirement” by allowing him to continue to deliver on his passion, purpose and potential with a healthy dose of fun along the way. Rob’s insights deliver serious business impact while valuing the connections with the people within the organisations he serves.

The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

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Read the transcript

Louise Broekman: Welcome to the Advisor Insights. My name is Louise Broekman. I’m the Founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Centre and I’m very fortunate today to have a special guest Rob Sherlock a Certified Chair based in Singapore. Welcome, Rob.

Rob Sherlock: Thank you very much Louise. Great to have this opportunity and a pleasure to be a part of it.

Louise Broekman: Rob, let’s start off with you sharing a bit of your story.

Rob Sherlock: I am from the Advertising industry. I have been in it for 40 years, but it’s very much on a multinational basis. I was born in the UK. I was raised in South Africa. I lived in, worked a lot in Asia, in the States for about five years, but I’m a naturalized New Zealand and eventually, we plan to go back there. So my story is the breadth and the intensity of advertising. If you can imagine what it was like 40 years ago, it was just after the madman era coming up to what it is at the moment where the fragmentation of media and the complete change of the landscape, especially when you get into social media and influencers, et cetera.

It’s been an interesting journey. And you know, it’s one that I’ve been lucky enough to be very much engaged with throughout my years and especially in the latter years. I would say I’m in the winter of my career because to be in advertising at my age is very unusual. But I certainly try to stay engaged and up to date and relevant and you know, this journey has eventually led me to the Advisory Board Centre and yourself because I obviously had an opportunity to become the Chair of an Advisory Board in Australia with an advertising agency.

Louise Broekman: It’s such a dynamic environment. You’re based in Singapore, chairing an Advisory Board in Australia and also chairing an Advisory Board in Singapore as well. Just more recently, tell us about your experience in Advisory Boards and being a Chair.

Rob Sherlock: I think anybody who’s been in any industry for a long time automatically by default has to be relatively successful in the industry. Otherwise, you still wouldn’t be there. So you naturally become a sort of mentor or advisor. So I thought an Advisory Board was just, “Oh, I’ll give you some advice, et cetera, et cetera”. I didn’t really understand the structural integrity of it and the differentiation between the Governance Board and Advisory Board. So my experience was that in my last role with a Japanese multinational, I was both the global CEO and then became the Chairman and then became an Executive Advisor, which I must admit in the Japanese context is not the same as any other.

That was my recent experience before I took part in the Advisory Board Centre Certified Chair Executive Program. Then it all changed. Obviously, I learned a lot, but I also was able to understand the role, the responsibility, the differentiation between what an Advisory Board is, should and shouldn’t do, et cetera, et cetera. And a Governance Board in which I’ve been involved both in America in Japan.

Walking into your door on, I think it was the Monday morning and then walking out on Tuesday evening, it was a transition. I think the journey that you took us through and, you know, I do share the sentiment of everybody else in that last class was phenomenal. Now I do feel equipped.

And subsequent to the program I Chair a board of advisors in Australia and on the Advisory Board for a Singapore M&A entity. It wasn’t just the learning, but refining how I engage and add value.

Louise Broekman: It’s interesting, isn’t it? Where you look at your professional career and then your career as an Advisor being able to build on your experience and build on the individual experiences as you go. You constantly learn and refine your craft, don’t you?

Rob Sherlock: You do. I’ve always said that experience is a great thing, but the experience is also an encumbrance because you are more automatic. You sort of go back to your experience and you flip it forward and say “well, I went through this situation before”. Now, as an Advisor, you obviously have that as equipment but try to nurture the company and the individuals you’re advising to let them ultimately make the decision. You steer them obviously into the direction you believe based on your experience but let them find their own way too.
If you’ve been a leader in a Governance Board or in the C-suite it’s a different engagement and it takes a bit of tact and it takes a little bit of stepping back and knowing what your role is as an Advisor. There’s certainly no lesser value, it’s just a different role.

Louise Broekman: We’ve had many discussions about the difference between understanding a business or a leader versus judging them. And the role of the Advisor is being able to give them that space. But you’ve got to give yourself space to not jump in and try and solve problems for other people.

Rob Sherlock: That’s exactly right. My biggest thing is “shut up, Rob”. I should have that flow. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Trust me, if I see a nail, I will hit it.

Louise Broekman: It’s a very genuine experience too, isn’t it? You’ve got to be yourself and trust in the process and trust in the people that are around the table.

Rob Sherlock: You’re so right. I think we all understand the process of certain things and if you follow a certain sort of protocol or process, eventually you will get to a place. I think being an Advisor, there’s almost that periphery, where you have to understand the emotion as well. You have to understand some of the factors, the angst and everything the business owner is feeling. Because the beautiful thing is you’re removed from the day-to-day. You’re removed from the direct governance and the fiduciary responsibility. And therefore you can take on a role where you provide a more empathetic understanding and based upon those emotional principles I think are more refined and defined advice and not just this sort of business major/quarter result based leadership,

Louise Broekman: It’s the human story that sits behind the numbers, isn’t it? What advice would you give business owners, Rob, where you’ve got top three?

Rob Sherlock: I do think that business owners should, first of all, understand exactly the difference between what an advisory board does, should do, and delivers in comparison to a Governance Board. I would say define the playground. In other words, what do they specifically want out of an Advisory Board? And that can take on many shapes.

Clarify expectations. In other words, what did they want with the help of the Advisory Board, where will the company be within “X” amount of time. Set the rules of engagement both physically, rationally and emotionally. Because you know, I think as an Advisor depending on the engagement you’re also a bit of a mentor and a little bit of a coach. You’re also a little bit of a General, you can throw in other stuff. But I think you’ve got to define that. And it also manages to define itself when you start speaking with a business owner. But this is up to the advisors to clarify or help business owners clarify the engagement.

Louise Broekman: The role of the Chair is critical in that, isn’t it? To get that clarity in thinking. You’ve been really successful in this space in a really short period of time. So what tips would you provide other Advisors?

Rob Sherlock: I’ve often said that there are three things in life. That’s your passion, your purpose and your potential. Your passion is what you love. Your purpose is what you do and what you experienced, everything that you’ve learned. Your potential is where you’re going, your outcomes. It’s exactly the same for advisors. First of all, unless you’ve got the passion for the opportunity, in other words, to make a difference, to really engage with not just the head but the heart as well. It’s not just a job. I have got to be emotionally engaged.

The other thing is I do believe that it’s important to set both for yourself and for the entity you’re working with, to set short term achievable goals. Define this often for yourself and with who you’re working with. For example, after three months this is how I want to be playing or this is how much I want to be contributing, et cetera, and make sure it’s goal orientated. And it could be six months, it could be nine months. You can correct it if things are wrong or not going the way you want, but it’s for yourself and for the relationship and your engagement.

And the third thing, and I have been having a lot of this which has always been a big part of my life, but have fun. I’m having a lot of fun. I was talking to the business owner of the company I’m chair of the other day. And you build up a relationship and we’re talking about life, about families. And this is sort of off-script, I know but we have fun and we know what we’re there to do. I know what I’m there to do, but it’s important to enjoy it.

Those are my sort of three rough and ready tips if they can be that. I think you asked at the end of the program earlier this year for everybody to give a little bit of a summary of what they got out of the program and how they feel going forward. And I basically said, “Well, you’ve absolutely ruined my retirement.” I said half-jokingly, but it’s fantastic. Thank you for ruining my retirement. I seem to be connecting to more and more opportunities where I can exert my passion, my potential. It’s a good journey.

Louise Broekman It’s really wonderful to rescue you from retirement! There’ll be plenty of time that you got too much work to do, too much to give. It’s just wonderful seeing your journey in such a short period of time and the impact that you’re already having and being part of the founding members in Singapore. It’s great to see these communities really thriving and making an impact on a global scale. It’s a very exciting journey.  Thank you for sharing your insights and I look forward to doing another one of these chats and hopefully you won’t be in retirement. You’ll be just kicking on doing even more.