7 Questions with Steve Parker Jr
Name: Steve Parker Jr
Current title: CEO & Co-Founder
Current organisation: LEVELWING
Steve is the CEO & Co-Founder of LEVELWING, (https://levelwing.com) an independent advertising agency with offices in New York, Charleston and Nashville providing marketers and their senior leadership teams with a suite of services that deliver highest-quality work, on-target outcomes and unmatched support. Steve leads the vision and sales strategy for the business and has had the pleasure of leading Super Bowl campaign strategy for brands in every Super Bowl since 2008. Steve began his career in digital media and advertising in 1995 and since that time has held roles leading digital initiatives for two Fortune 500 companies, two IPO start-ups and eventually leading to the founding of LEVELWING.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
There are always challenges regardless of business size. And as a business grows these challenges can multiply or change based on the requirements and needs of the organization. I believe most of the challenges in any organization can be distilled down to proper expectation setting and consistent communication. Establishing a clear set of expectations for everyone including, but certainly not limited to, roles and responsibilities as well as accountability and ownership is very important, and ongoing consistent communication throughout the enterprise is critical. This doesn't mean everyone always needs to agree on everything; yet it does mean a level of expectation has been set, therefore the outcome is clear and the communication consistent.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I co-founded Levelwing with Jeff Adelson-Yan. Jeff and I had met in college, and after we graduated we both began our careers in the early days of the Internet - '95 and '96 respectively. After a few years we both ended up in New York City. At some point we discussed starting a business together and that went on for the better part of a year, but the real moment happened one night at a bar on the Upper East Side called Brother Jimmy's. After discussing the business for so long, that night we just came to the realization - the worst thing that could happen is we would fail. Once that was decided we both excited our current jobs and Levelwing was born. We started it out of my apartment. Today we have offices in New York, Charleston, SC and Nashville. I'd like to think that early in my career I was greatly influenced by a number of successful people I have the pleasure to work for including, Tim Armstrong - (former CEO/Chairman of Oath - AOL/Yahoo), Peter Naylor - (current Head of Sales, Snap), Rick Scott (current US Senator), Mary Sculley (current Founding Member, Kindred) and Tod Fetherling - (current CEO, Perception Health).
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Generally speaking, I live by my calendar. It's not the Jesse Itzler Big Ass Calendar (although that's a great concept worth looking into), but my calendar is my daily guide. I put anything I can into my calendar, from calls and meetings to family time, my workout times and I also include perpetual carved out time (or reminders) on an ongoing daily basis that are for certain things I deem critical to my work and life. Keeping a running tab of to do's that are not necessities but things I want to tackle is also of importance to me. As for waking and sleeping. When I was in my 20’s I didn't care when or how little I slept, but I've learned that sleep is important. When you are well rested you always think better. I strive to get seven hours per night. I am naturally a night owl but I've worked to tame that a bit. Since having kids I have gradually made the night an earlier one and what used to be 1am or 2am I have tailored down to 11pm. That said, I prefer to workout in the AM (although I do mix that up from time to time and do PM). When I am home, I always spend time with my kids in the morning or take them to school if possible. Then I focus on work all day. In the evening, I spend time with my wife and kids and I may do some lite work before bed, after others have gone to sleep.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
It's a reoccurring lesson honestly. Don't avoid hard conversations. Whether with a client or someone with whom you work, I believe we all generally have a natural inclination to avoid hard conversations. The problem with that is the avoidance always makes these issues linger, and that can turn into frustration or worse. Having hard conversations on the other hand allows you to meet an issue, discuss it and solve it. You may not always get what you had hoped in those conversations but you certainly grow from them. Great relationships are born from hard conversations. And all relationships that last carry the mark of hard conversations. I truly believe that.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I have two. The book for me that drives my everyday desire to grow is, Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield. Do yourself a favor and buy the paperback, you'll want to read it again. I am not sure you can make a better purchase to be honest. It's only about $12 USD. I tell everyone if you don't love it I'll buy it from you and find it a new home. It's an easy and brief read under 150 pages and frankly you can pick it up at any time and just read one chapter as a reminder. Anyone that works for me has heard me speak about and refer to this book. I have given away probably 200 copies over the years. The essence of Turning Pro is taking control of your life from being an amateur to being a professional. As Steven Pressfield articulates in the book, and you will feel it when you read it - turning pro is free but it's not easy. I'd say it is a demanding quest of self and it will challenge you to be your best. Let me be clear, this isn't your standard pom-poms and cheers to get you motivated for the day book - that nonsense doesn't last. It's a complete and honest assessment and commitment of yourself. I use this as a standard from which to evaluate and hold myself accountable - work and personally. Honestly, I fail at that sometimes. But if you are committed to improvement, as a professional would be, you will recognize that misstep and get back in the pro lane. I often use examples from the book or variations of them from my own experiences in my leadership style. It's not for everyone but it is for those that want to grow and are honest about what it takes to grow. One of my favorite chapters from the book is six words. "The amateur tweets. The pro works." Truly think about that. It's so simple it's just beautiful.
I also have to mention that my favorite book that is a sequence of stories about overcoming real-life challenges to reach the pinnacle of success is, Start With This by Deanna McBrearty. It is the story of someone who became one of the best ballet dancers in the world, performed many years at Lincoln Center for New York City Ballet and did so while overcoming so many obstacles including a scoliosis diagnosis at the age of 12 and told she would never dance again, to lack of financial resources to pay for training to moving away from home to NYC at 16, by herself, with no guarantee of anything. The great things about this book are - 1. it's a true real-life account, 2. the stories and situations are wonderfully expressed, and 3. it's relatable to anyone trying to achieve anything - in business, the arts, life in general. Even rough around the edges guys like me can enjoy it. The author also happens to be my amazing wife, Deanna. And her story is beautiful. Look it up, buy it on Amazon (or her website) and enjoy the read. It costs less than three latte from Starbucks.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
Simply, you need a team of leaders. I have terrific partners in the business and we work with some truly hard working and committed individuals that also help lead. For there to be capacity in an organization you need more time. Time gives you an opportunity to scale. You only get that by having folks that are willing to take accountability and give the time to be a leader. Leadership is tough, you take on a significant amount of accountability when you lead anything. But for any business to grow and sustain over a long period of time you need multiple-levels of leadership.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
There are so many. Some are painful and then there are so many great ones that make you smile, and a few that will make you spit out your drink in shock or laughter. I always love when there is a story of how a few folks rallied around someone on an issue, and help support or solve it together, without myself or anyone else having to ask for it to be done. There is this one story I am reminded of each year (I put the note in my calendar as a reminder) of someone who worked for us for quite a long time. This person was married and they had a child. Unfortunately, the child had some complex issues at birth and it was so incredibly heart wrenching. A number of people on the team rallied around this individual and almost instinctively took all the work off their plate so that they could be at the hospital with the child around the clock, I believe it was for a bit longer than a month. The child didn't make it but I have to believe that time was so beyond value for those parents to be there together at all hours. And those teammates that took away the pressures and burden of any work for that co-worker were simply amazing. Humble and kind people. That's what we should all be about. Those things you have to remember because it grounds you.