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10am, Tuesday 24th August 2021

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HAMSTER WHEEL: “It Was My Baby for 20 Years”

  • Steve Smith realised after almost two decades, it was time to take a step back from Ear to the Ground…
  • …and it wasn’t without its fair share of emotions.
  • Steve will be sharing his story of going from CEO to chairman, and what it was like to let go of his ‘baby’.

After almost 20 years at the helm of Ear to the Ground, Steve Smith decided it was time to ‘let go of his baby’ and take a step back.

“About five years ago, I decided I didn’t want it to be an all-encompassing life. When you work 80 hours a week, dealing with clients and staff, and it’s a small agency, you’re dealing with everything,” says Steve. “And I just thought, I don’t want this to be my future.”

“I’m a creative at heart and want to explore new things – and a business isn’t the best place to do that as it’s usually disruptive for everyone.”

Since 2018, he’s stepped into the role of chairman, which has given him a new perspective on the agency.

“I have the luxury of not being in the trenches. Instead, I’m in conversations with key shareholders and members of the board, looking at the business more strategically,” he says. “I’m not implementing things, but I’m helping shape them, which is really exciting.”

However, the shift from CEO to chairman wasn’t without its difficulties.

“It was an emotional step because it was my baby for 20 years,” he admits. “I spent the first year not really saying a lot. I think every time the other guys made a decision, they would look over their shoulders and expect me to crash through the bricks at any moment and tell them to do it my way.”

“People who lead creative organisations, they love saving the day. But it’s probably the worst thing you can do – and you’re not always right. It’s an emotional journey.”

To make the journey as smooth as possible, he made sure he had the right team in place to take the agency forward.

“I had a few gaps in the business, and it took me a while to fill them. But the team are fantastic, and it was an evolution in terms of who could do what, and how they could do it,” he says. “The business is now doing fantastically well.”

We’ll be chatting with Steve about the emotional rollercoaster of taking a step back, and how his life has changed now he has more time on his hands.