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Omelet’s Thas Naseemuddeen: I know my talent may leave one day – and in LA, that’s OK

Omelet’s chief executive, Thas Naseemuddeen, always asks her new recruits, “Where would you want to go next?” Here, she explains why an acceptance that talent may one day leave for another job has created a different form of loyalty in Los Angeles.

LA is the land of dreamers and hustlers. Creators and 22-year-olds who come here with a dream and the money in their pocket. Even though it sounds like an 80s cliche, it really is a part of the DNA of the city. Today those fame-dreamers may come in the form of startup founders, but the quest for opportunity is still very much the same. 

So, in a town of triple threats, how on earth do you recruit for advertising?

Talent management and development in the LA ad world is such an interesting and nuanced thing. It’s a different kind of market to New York and London – cities that tend to revere the advertising industry and cherish its legacy. 

Thanks in large part to TBWA\Chiat\Day and Lee Clow, who really put a stake in the ground as the “not Madison Avenue” alternative to advertising, we’ve manifested our own creative world here in LA. We are less tethered to tradition and flooded with an extraordinarily diverse creative set.

This makes for an interesting mix when it comes to bringing fresh talent into agencies, but it also requires a different approach to recruiting and retention.

First off, there are many LA folks for whom advertising is a nice layover on their way to something bigger. They’re not dreaming of penning the next big television advert; they’re writing screenplays at night, they’re designing logos for their friends’ new companies, and maybe they’re even social media influencers themselves.

They are creative beings at their core and it’s not always fully satiated by advertising. And that’s OK. Love and appreciation for this industry grows as experience grows.

I’ve seen this a lot in my own career with friends who have come into advertising from completely different creative fields. It’s not that they’re “selling out” to get into the more commercial form of creativity, it’s just learning a new and different kind of application of creativity. 

Secondly, there is just a different way to manage the life span and cycle of creative talent given the spirit of this town – and I don’t mean solely ‘creatives’, but any of us who grace the walls of a creative company.

We all learn in management school about the importance of retention. Management 101 tells you it’s critical to have low turnover because it means that there’s less organizational disruption, less time/money spent on recruiting and training and so on. Logically, this all makes sense, but creatives are fed by challenges, change and push. And there’s also the unmissable drumbeat of this city, one that’s creatively unsettled and constantly seeking what’s new.

I can speak to this with a bit of authority because, for a very long time, I was very much that person.  I loved almost all of the experiences I had at different agencies in LA, but I bounced around a lot. I had trouble settling into one thing because my brain was firing around and desiring different kinds of problems to solve, things to do, cultures to enter.

But the issue was, I was designing my own life and career without the agencies I worked at ever really participating. And that made me move because I didn’t really know if I was getting the tools that I needed.

Eventually, I shook myself out of the pattern and settled down a bit, but it took having an employer that actually took a real interest in my growth as a strategist and leader to really want to do that. 

This really shaped my perspective as a hiring manager in LA. A question I often ask new recruits is “Where would you want to go next?”

This terrifies some folks (I swear, it’s not a trick question!). But if I know going in that you want to be able to be a research person at a big tech company one day, we can help shape the kind of experience that will give you the tools to reach your next goal.

And as a result of that, we get a kind of loyalty from our people because we’re focused on their growth as individuals. And one day, I know they’ll fly into the thing that they love and will maybe even look back lovingly at their time with us.

Now, it’s certainly not a perfect science, and in a perfect, never-changing world, we’d love them all to stay forever. But I feel like having that kind of mutually beneficial relationship is quite healthy for 2019. And quite necessary for recruiting the best talent in a city like LA. 

We live in a different era of management. I like to think of myself as a fairly progressive kind of chief executive. It’s not about throwing out all the ways of doing things, but it is about looking at talent through a slightly different lens.

Talent management is a two-way street: we are learning from our people as much as they are taking from us. Finding a place of true symbiosis is something I really am seeking out in my tenure here – and anywhere, really.

Thas Naseemuddeen is chief executive officer of Omelet

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