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7 Questions on Leadership with Paul Chernin

Name: Paul Chernin

Title: Vice President of Marketing

Organisation: Coriell Life Sciences

Over the past two decades, I have been a force driving marketing and business leadership for organizations worldwide. From promoting and growing high-performing global brands to transforming businesses, rescuing corporations from bankruptcy–and even opening the first casino in Pennsylvania–I have helped advance the mission of more than 70 organizations spanning entertainment, consumer goods, professional sports, high-end automotive, professional associations, higher education, biotechnology, and healthcare.

In doing so, I have earned a reputation as a go-to leader in marketing and advertising. While I have helped some of the area’s leading agencies grow their book of business, teams with which I’ve been involved and led have also served as a testament to the top-tier creative talent in the Philadelphia region that’s deserving of national and international attention.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Paul's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Leadership is not, “one size fits all.” And rightfully so. A team of ten individuals can each have an impressive resume and the ability to skillfully execute different tasks. But what motivates them to continuously do so? Money? PTO? Praise? And what happens when a job is completed poorly? Or not at all? How do you get back on track? Those motivating factors vary, as well. Ideally, for the business, project, or request, the outcome is two-fold: You’ve achieved whatever definition of “success” has been determined and trust and respect are continually earned and reciprocated. That same theory—motivating action to achieve a desired outcome—applies when working with a team of cohorts or higher-ups.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

When I started in advertising as an associate account executive about 20 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. As a Business Management major in college, there was emphasis on leadership principles and business fundamentals but very little attention was given as to how to attain a leadership position and even less on the varying leadership styles that would be needed not just within different organizations or industries but on any given day. As an associate AE, I reported to several account executives and higher. As is the case with some advertising agencies, the learning curve was steep and the time to navigate that curve was minimal. To translate: I was either going to prove myself worthy or I could find another line of work. This happened to be a time of significant growth at this particular agency. We were winning business faster than we could staff it. As a necessity, and in many ways also earned, I was quickly responsible for a book of business and then a support team. My leadership trajectory continued from that point. To the point of “worthy or not,” I’m still in the industry two decades later, so I suppose it’s worked out so far.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

At the beginning of my career, the work “day” could often feel like it never ended. It started the moment I woke up and ended the moment I fell asleep. Occasionally, sleep would even be interrupted by work (or, specifically, someone at work). As I moved further into post-college adulthood, got married, got a dog, bought a house, had children, etc., that lifestyle was no longer conducive to, well, a lifestyle. I now realize that one can be successful, happy, AND have a manageable work schedule at the same time. My days now typically consist of: wake up; various bathroom activities; walk the dog while briefly scanning emails, double-checking the calendar, and listening to a Podcast or audiobook; wake the kids; get them ready for school (or camp in the summer); exercise and shower; respond to emails; complete a task or two from the day prior; have breakfast; conduct meetings; complete more time-consuming tasks; lunch; walk dog; more meetings or whatever the primary task or need of the day happens to be; next day prep; kid activities/family time; dinner; bedtime routine; walk dog; various bathroom activities; read; sleep.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

It’s okay to fail. One particular failure does not define you as a person or your career. You may also work for, or with, less-than-desirable individuals. They’ll come and go and it all works out just fine in the end.

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?

How about 1.25 books? I recently read—well, listened to—"Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones" by James Clear. At a time when there seems to be an endless list of tasks and priorities (personal and professional), accomplishing more by focusing on less has never been more important. Breaking down looming responsibilities into smaller, more manageable tasks goes a long way in how my day is structured and what to prioritize.

The .25 is because I just started reading (actually reading) "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy Seals Lead and Win"—along with "The Official Extreme Ownership Companion Workbook"—by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The title alone gives you an idea of the focus of the book, as told through the experiences of two very experienced Navy Seals.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Skills can be learned. Experience can be acquired. But the true desire to do something over and over again—which, at its core, means getting up most mornings over a significant portion of your life to serve and appease others or oneself—cannot be underestimated or ignored. Know why that desire exists. That will most certainly change over your lifetime but always know your reason because you may need to remind yourself from time to time.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Without going into too much detail, I was let go from a leadership role in which I was extremely effective and successful…on paper. During the initial job interview, I was told the primary objective was to bring the marketing department back to profitability, which it had lacked through prior years. After about a year, I managed to do just that while also adding five new team members, winning back previously lost business, and earning the respect of my team, coworkers, and (some) clients. Unfortunately, none of that mattered when internal politics got in the way. Here’s the long story short part: I did not jeopardize my integrity or that of my team. Because of the financial success I brought to the organization and renewed appreciation for the marketing department, my resume did not suffer. My team, whom I thought very highly of, and I still, years later, respect each other. Fast forward several years and most of that team has moved on to better opportunities. Oh, right, the story. I learned a lot about the type of leader I never want to be and added some new warning signs to the top of my list when considering new opportunities.

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