Amani Duncan, CEO, on the power of difference, empathy, and instinct in hiring.
Music and entertainment marketing executive Amani Duncan joins Roy for a conversation about empathetic leadership, why she chooses to be a mentor-manager, how the justice, equity, diversity and inclusion movement impacts the kind and quality of the work you’re doing, and much more.
Amani has more than 20 years of experience spanning a variety of industries. She began her career at Def Jam Recordings. She navigated a time of sweeping change in the music industry as she worked with iconic companies like Bad Boy Entertainment, C.F. Martin & Co, Virgin Records, Capital Music, and MTV/ViacomCBS. Most recently, she served as the CEO of creative agency BBH USA, where she and her team delivered data-driven, full stack marketing and strategic partnership support to leading consumer brands. Today, she serves on the board of Fender Music Instruments and FYLi.
Listen to the podcast
Highlights from our conversation
- How hiring happens in the music industry (5:55)
- What leaders can learn from the ever-evolving music industry (8:32)
- How being a mentor-manager influences her hiring approach (10:09)
- Balancing gut with calculated risk when hiring (13:20)
- Red (and green) flags when assessing a candidate (15:12, 27:29)
- How Amani and her team set a vision to diversify BBH… (17:16)
- …And how their success transformed the business (20:41)
- The “spark” she looks for in candidates (24:27)
- How Covid impacted hiring…
- And how she handled mis-hires (29:04)
- The benefits and pitfalls of references (30:31)
- What teams need from leaders in this moment (33:33)
- Amani’s advice for candidates (38:08)
SHOW TRANSCRIPT – PODCAST WITH AMANI DUNCAN
[00:00:00] Amani Duncan: I’m not looking for perfect. I’m not looking for a soundbite king or queen. I’m looking for a human
[00:00:09] Roy Notowitz: Hello and welcome to How I Hire, the podcast that taps directly into the best executive hiring advice and insights. I’m Roy Notowitz, founder and CEO of Noto Group Executive Search. You can learn more about us at NotoGroup.com.
[00:00:27] As a go-to firm for purpose-driven companies, we’ve been lucky to work with some of the world’s most inspiring leaders as they’ve tackled the challenge of building high performance leadership teams. Now I’m sitting down with some of these very people to spark a conversation about how to achieve success in hiring and create purposeful leadership for the next generation of companies.
[00:00:49] Joining me today is music and entertainment marketing executive Amani Duncan. With over 20 years experience Amani’s worked with Bad Boy Entertainment, C.F. Martin & Co, Def Jam Records. Virgin Records, Capital Music, MTV, ViacomCBS, and is currently a board member with Fender Musical Instruments Corporation.
[00:01:11] Most recently, as CEO of BBH USA, she and her team delivered data-driven, full stack marketing and strategic partnership support to leading consumer brands nationwide. Amani and I dig into how hiring happens in the music industry, why she values an empathetic approach to leadership and what it means to be a mentor-manager.
[00:01:34] Hello, Amani, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It’s great to have you here.
[00:01:39] Amani Duncan: Oh, Roy, thank you for having me. I’m really excited.
[00:01:43] Roy Notowitz: I’m just happy to be able to interview you, and I’ve been looking forward to this for a while.
[00:01:47] Amani Duncan: Same, same.
[00:01:49] Roy Notowitz: You’ve had an incredibly exciting career journey in the music and entertainment industry as a marketing leader, board member, and CEO. So I’m interested if you can just take us through some of your career highlights and the path that led to where you are today.
[00:02:06] Amani Duncan: I have now referred to myself as a “foreigner and foreign lands,” and what that means is basically I’ve gone into about five different industries throughout my career without tenure in any of them, and I’m really proud of it because it’s just so many tools that I’ve added to my little rusty toolbox at this point.
[00:02:29] And the reason why I went into so many different industries was a result of being in the music industry. I was never someone who had an ambition to be in the music industry. I wasn’t even sure as a kid, but you could make a living in this industry. My destiny — that I thought — was to be a lawyer. I was one track minded.
[00:02:53] I went to university, got a degree in political science, got into law school and literally had a meltdown on my parents’ couch. I will spare all of that painful details, but
[00:03:05] it was a really challenging time. I grew up in a very musical household.
[00:03:09] Roy Notowitz: Oh, cool.
[00:03:10] Amani Duncan: And one day I woke up and said, I’m going to work in the music industry. I didn’t even know what that meant. and with a lot of guts and boldness that young people have, I called a little label called Def Jam. and the person who answered the phone at the time was the Senior VP of A&R Tina Davis. Wow. And she just cut me off in my little, I’m a recent college grad speech and she said, show up the next day and hung up the phone, and the rest is history.
[00:03:42] They quickly thereafter moved me to New York to be the promotions manager and I stayed with Def Jam and then Island Def Jam when we merged for about 10 years. But I realized how people want to put you in a box. I didn’t want to be known as the music industry person. I just wanted to be known as like a really smart business woman and I caught the bug of going into different industries and loving that entrepreneurial spirit when I went to work for Sean Combs. After I had left Capitol Music Group and I was the Senior Vice President of marketing there for the Pop/Rock Division, I went to work for Sean Combs and it was absolutely incredible.
[00:04:29] I oversaw all six of his brands, ranging from spirits to fragrances to TV and film endeavors to his clothing empire. Every day I was faced with a new opportunity. Every day just was something new and exciting, and I was like, “that’s my thing. That’s my thing. I’m just going to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone and go into various industries that inspire me.” When I talk to people and they say, what industry are you going to go into? And I’m like, at this point, the industry doesn’t even matter. It’s as simple as what is the creative opportunity? What is the challenge? Who do you want to be when you grow up? And so having that spirit has taken me into foreign lands.
[00:05:19] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:05:20] Amani Duncan: Who would’ve thought a young black girl would go work for the oldest American guitar manufacturer, Martin Guitar, and then go over to media working for ViacomCBS, and then my most recent endeavor at BBH USA as first, their president of the New York office and then doing the CEO role for BBH USA.
[00:05:43] So it’s been an amazing journey and at each point in my career, I’ve used something, some learning, some insights from the different industries.
[00:05:55] Roy Notowitz: I’m curious, the music and entertainment industry seems, you know, obviously super exciting. How does hiring happen in that industry?
[00:06:04] Amani Duncan: The industry has changed so greatly. You know, I started my journey there as an intern back in like the early nineties. When I was coming into the industry, it was almost like the school of hard knocks. You had to figure out how do I get into this almost secret society club? And most of us started out as unpaid interns because the best way to learn about the music industry at that time was on-the-job experience. You know?
[00:06:34] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:06:34] Amani Duncan: That really made or [broke] you. Now there’s courses, which I love to see, but it’s still a relationship business. You still have to find a way to be discoverable. So you have to do your homework, you know, you need to show up at events. You need to find networking opportunities. You need to be, again, a student: read everything you can and really find a way in, and that could be something as simple as showing up at a talk that maybe Kevin Liles, who’s the Founder and CEO of 300 Entertainment is speaking at, following everyone on their Instagrams, networking, going to clubs, like really getting into the fabric of the industry.
[00:07:23] People seem to forget it’s all a relationship industry.
[00:07:26] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:07:27] Amani Duncan: It’s all a relationship business. Whether you’re in manufacturing, to media, to advertising to the music industry, it’s all about relationships and that is something that you really need to hone and foster. People reach out to me, honestly, Roy, like randomly. I get so many random LinkedIn messages from people, and I love that because I believe that fortune favors the bold. I try to respond to as many as I can because I think that’s important. And I do know a lot of other executives do the same. You have to find a way in, because these jobs are far and few, and they’re very coveted. It may sound old school to some people, but you gotta put in your 10,000 hours.
[00:08:12] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:08:12] Amani Duncan: You have to.
[00:08:13] Roy Notowitz: And do it with enthusiasm and learn as much as you can.
[00:08:16] Amani Duncan: Absolutely. I’m constantly curious and easily bored, and I’m a forever student. I get scared when I come across people who think they know it all.
[00:08:25] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:08:25] Amani Duncan: Or they think they have it all figured out. I’m like, I’m a CEO and I’m still figuring it out.
[00:08:32] Roy Notowitz: How did the change in terms of how we consume content and the business model in music change or influence the way that you were building or developing teams once you were kind of rising up through the ranks?
[00:08:46] Amani Duncan: It was hard, to be honest. You had people who may not have the right skillset to fully embrace the next “next.” I think a lot of industries can take note of what happened in the music industry and the changes, the rapid fire changes that happened, and the resistance that the executives faced all of the change. We did have to hire new people and create new roles. That’s why digital marketing became such a hot ticket within the music industry. And so we had to just prepare. And it goes back to being that forever student. The ones who were successful, armed themselves with new knowledge so that they could pivot and still be relevant within the music industry. You have to pay attention to the trends. You have to embrace change. We have to force ourselves, especially as leaders, to see maybe what we don’t want to see. And to embrace what we feel is uncomfortable because change is uncomfortable, but you have to view it as friendly because it’s going to happen. It’s the only constant in life is change.
[00:09:57] Roy Notowitz: I’m curious, you’ve been exposed to different hiring processes in a variety of world-class companies, are there people or experiences that shaped your hiring philosophy and your process over the years?
[00:10:09] Amani Duncan: I mentioned before that I’m a mentor-manager, and I learned that through my first series of bosses. You know, it was Kevin Liles, the Co-Founder, CEO of 300 Entertainment, Julie Greenwald, the Chairwoman of Atlantic Music Group, and Lyor Cohen, who’s now head of YouTube Music. They were mentor-managers. They were basically our family because we were so young when we were all starting out. They shaped our view on how to interact with people that we would hire and be responsible for.
[00:10:49] People say that I care too much. I always rebuke that because I don’t believe there’s any such thing. I care in the success of others, and I want people to be successful in their job, so I’m rooting for everyone. My biggest joy would be to promote someone. That was already at the company. I would always look within the organization first, perhaps give a rising star an opportunity, perhaps help someone transition from one department to another department, and then once they’re there, arm them with all of the tools and the support to be successful. If there isn’t someone internally, I would partner with the HR teams to make sure that we’re bringing in the right candidate.
[00:11:39] One of the things that I find even today that is a bit of a discouragement is the unconscious bias that is involved with hiring. It happens. It’s not a criticism, it’s just a human thing that we have to be conscious of so that we can course correct. I would always say like hires, like familiar hires, familiar, and in the hiring process, even back in my early days, people would just simply hire their friends or someone wouldn’t give a rising star a chance because perhaps he or she didn’t tick all of the boxes.
[00:12:19] I’ve hired people that have surprised me in the best ways. I’m like, “yes.” And I’ve also hired people who didn’t have all of the requirements because I knew the type of manager that I am, which is a mentor-manager, that I’m like, you know what, we’re going to get this done. I’m going to arm you with all of the tools that you need, all of the support. I’m going to wrap my arms around you, and then I’m going to let you fly. Most of the time people soar. My biggest joy is when my intern or my old assistant is now a VP or an SVP at another company, and they’ll tell me it was because of the belief that you had in me, Amani, but also the expectation that you had for me.
[00:13:12] Roy Notowitz: Right.
[00:13:12] Amani Duncan: I just wouldn’t let them phone it in. I was like, I believe in you more than you believe in yourself.
[00:13:18] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:13:18] Amani Duncan: I know you’re capable.
[00:13:20] Roy Notowitz: What was it that you looked for to give you the level of comfort in making the leap and giving them that opportunity?
[00:13:27] Amani Duncan: If we’re going to be honest, hiring is a calculated risk. You could put someone through 50 rounds of interviews, which I hope no one does even though I’ve been through many myself.
[00:13:38] Roy Notowitz: I wouldn’t recommend 50.
[00:13:39] Amani Duncan: Yeah, seriously. It’s all a calculated risk and a lot of it is your gut instinct. In the music industry, we would have to be careful and listen for certain trigger words, like, you, you didn’t want to hire someone who was too in it for the wrong reasons, meaning, “I just want to be around the artist.” Oops. Trigger.
[00:14:02] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:14:02] Amani Duncan: No, we don’t need any sycophants. You want to hire someone who really wants it more than expected. For instance, I met someone when I was interviewing to be my executive assistant when I was SVP head of music for Viacom/MTV, and I love this guy. Like he was so impressive. He was humble, but yet he was all about team and collaboration, which is super important, and I just fell in love with his attitude, his can-do attitude, and his winning spirit.
[00:14:38] After the interview when I hired him, I found out that this young man, straight out of college, he wasn’t from New York. He actually flew himself-
[00:14:49] Roy Notowitz: wow.
[00:14:50] Amani Duncan: -from Iowa to Manhattan to do the interview. That is someone you want. That’s a hustle hard attitude, get it done, “I want this more than you realize.” But he didn’t even share it in the interview, which showed his humility and that he really wanted to be judged on his own merits.
[00:15:12] So for me, there isn’t a magic formula, but there are things that over the years I’ve added to my toolbox that I look out for and could cause a red flag. But at the end of the day, yes, you want someone who is qualified. You want someone who probably ticks more of the boxes than not. But I always leave room for those people who may not tick all the boxes that I see the potential in them, and I want them to be a part of the team because they will compliment the team. And that’s also something really important to think about when you’re adding new people to your team: you do have to take the team dynamic into consideration because you’re building a high performance team, so you want all stars. You want people that are going to suit up every day and get on the field with you, with full enthusiasm and with a winning spirit. That our goal is just to get that ball down the field and through the goal as quickly as possible. Really, the question is: does this person add to our existing team to make it even better than we could imagine?
[00:16:27] Roy Notowitz: Hey everyone. I’m headed to Austin, Texas, April 24th through 26th for the Momentum Impact Summit, also called the MO Summit. And I’ll be facilitating a panel discussion that’s similar to a live version of How I Hire, where I’ll be talking with executives and leaders about how they hire and how they’re experiencing the current market and building their leadership teams. For tickets, you can go to mo-summit.com, use code NOTO to get a discount, and I look forward to seeing you there.
[00:17:03] As the CEO and president of BBH, you developed a fresh vision for the firm and set out to build a significantly more diverse team. What was your approach to doing that?
[00:17:16] Amani Duncan: I believe we have to be intentional. Intentional is a big word for me and I use it often. I was very lucky as the CEO of BBH USA to have an amazing leadership team standing with me and what made it even better was that we were really all aligned with the vision and where we wanted to be. I walked into, or virtually walked into an agency two and a half years ago that wasn’t as diverse as we wanted it to be. It didn’t look or feel like New York. We really talked about it and addressed those unconscious bias concerns because again, familiar hires familiar, like hires like, and we became very intentional and I started to work with my head of HR and put in some new practices.
[00:18:10] Before we pull the trigger and say, “this is the candidate that we want to hire.” You have to prove that you interviewed successfully a minimum of two to three candidates that identify as Black. It really comes down to being that specific, that intentional, and I’m proud to say that the agency is 48% diverse in race and 58% female. When you add diversity to a room, when you add diverse thinkers and people from various backgrounds, mark my words, your work and your performance will simply grow. And our work went from good to great, and our clients loved the diversity at the agency. We got more work because of it, because every single thing became more elevated. So it really comes to just being very intentional. It’s comforting to hire someone that looks like you or came from the same university or has the same friend group.
[00:19:20] We’re at the end of the day, we’re pack animals and we like to travel together, but we have to break that. And it really comes down to being very intentional and also being brave. We have to be okay with having those tough conversations, and it really starts with leadership. And I’ve literally seen this in every single industry I’ve been in because most of the times when I enter as a foreigner in foreign lands, I’m usually the first and the only.
[00:19:51] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. Wow.
[00:19:53] Amani Duncan: So there’s still a lot of more work that needs to be done.
[00:19:55] Roy Notowitz: How did you emphasize the importance of diversity in hiring and also mitigate that unconscious bias?
[00:20:02] Amani Duncan: Lots of DE&I training. There were mandatory courses that all of the hiring managers had to accomplish and we were rigorous with it. So again, it really came down to us being very intentional because we wanted to protect our diversity so much. Once you bring in diverse people into an organization, the work doesn’t stop. One of the things that I wanted to be very conscious of was to create a safe space for people of color, for diverse people, so that they felt, “okay, this really is a place for me.”
[00:20:41] Roy Notowitz: What are some examples of how having a diverse team helped the firm to achieve new heights?
[00:20:47] Amani Duncan: Oh wow. First of all, the work. We believe that all roads lead to the work and the work begets work. By having those diverse voices at the table, it really influenced the type of clients and the type of work.
[00:21:01] I think a lot of people are familiar with Google’s Black-owned Friday initiative. We partnered with them back in October of 2020, like, a couple of weeks after I had just started and we collaborated on this amazing idea to say, during the pandemic, one demographic that was so greatly impacted by Covid was small Black businesses, and what a simple idea to try to tap into Black Friday, the nation’s biggest spending day, and positively influence people to redirect just some of those spending dollars towards Black-owned businesses.
[00:21:40] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:21:40] Amani Duncan: And the rest is history. But we wouldn’t have been able to do that successfully if we didn’t have diverse voices at the table because it really was rooted in authenticity. Black-owned Friday was my number one favorite campaign. Both of my parents were small business owners, and I watched my mom and my dad struggle to keep the doors open of their small business. I have an entrepreneurial spirit myself, and I think back like, “gosh, what if they had a vehicle like Black- owned Friday?” Wow. It could have made all the difference between them keeping their doors open or shuttering them. I cannot attest more to the power of difference to make a difference, and that only can help when you don’t have “same” at the table.
[00:22:30] Roy Notowitz: Yeah, and I think obviously with the justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion movement that’s been happening has had a really positive impact. But as you said, hiring is one thing. Really creating a safe space and engaging and creating the opportunity for people to feel safe within those interactions and within their teams, and that their voice is something that can make a difference, is important.
[00:22:56] Amani Duncan: Absolutely. You can’t say you want diversity within your organization, but you don’t have diverse leaders. People need to see themselves in your leadership team. They need to feel that there’s some commonality, that it’s not just lip service. This isn’t a panacea, it isn’t one stop. It’s continuous work, and we have to hold ourselves accountable not just for a month or an occasion, we have to stay committed 365 days of the year. So I really hope that we can keep applying the pressure and the intentionality around diversity because if not familiar is just going to keep hiring familiar.
[00:23:47] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:23:48] Amani Duncan: And that is not the change that most of us want to see.
[00:23:52] Roy Notowitz: So do you have a sequence or method for how you get to know a candidate in the selection process?
[00:23:57] Amani Duncan: I do have a process. I rely heavily on the hiring team: “only bring me the candidates that you feel are the front runners.” And the only reason why I’m comfortable doing that is because we’ve done the work. We’ve been rigorous in our communication and understanding the type of candidates that we’re looking for, that we’re looking for a diverse pool and the requirements. So that took a bit of time to get us to a place where I felt comfortable stepping back. But I love meeting candidates and my questioning is usually a bit different because I’m looking for things that necessarily aren’t on the job description. I’m looking for that spark.
[00:24:39] Roy Notowitz: What does that spark? How does that show up for you?
[00:24:42] Amani Duncan: It shows up in authenticity. So I firmly understand that interviews are tough. I also give people grace because I know sometimes you’re so nervous. You’re so nervous.
[00:24:56] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:24:57] Amani Duncan: And you may not show up in best form. I try to make it as easy and conversational as possible. Disarm: get people talking in a very relaxed way, and that’s a skillset in and of itself.
[00:25:12] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:25:13] Amani Duncan: And I also make myself available for follow up conversations, which people do take, which is amazing. I had one candidate who went through the process and when she finally met with me, she asked me the things that she wasn’t comfortable asking the male interviewers. She was a new mom and it was really about work-life balance and she came on board happily and was one of our most valued team members. So for me it’s more about the nonverbals, the real, honest, stripped down conversation because once it gets to me, I’m looking at it from a different lens of, can I see this individual joining our family? Can I see this individual adding value to the team? And is this person authentic? Are they just going by what they think they should say?
[00:26:15] Roy Notowitz: Right.
[00:26:16] Amani Duncan: Or are they really genuinely excited about the opportunity? I had this one candidate say to me, I asked her a question and she said, “oh, permit me to take a moment to collect my thoughts.” Wow. I was like, I’ve never been told that in an interview.
[00:26:36] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:26:36] Amani Duncan: I was so impressed because it showed humility and it just showed that she was a very thoughtful, measured candidate. Wow.
[00:26:46] Roy Notowitz: Sometimes the candidates who are struggling in the interview are the best candidates, and you have to really try as an interviewer sometimes… give them a little bit of grace to try to understand is this that they don’t have the experience? Is this just not a good answer? Or is it something where it’s an interview challenge, right?
[00:27:04] Amani Duncan: Yeah.
[00:27:04] Roy Notowitz: Where the person really is capable has a great example, but you just need to pull it out of them a little bit more.
[00:27:10] Amani Duncan: Absolutely. I’m not looking for perfect. I’m not looking for a soundbite king or queen. I’m looking for a human who’s excited about the opportunity and wants to learn and grow and be a positive contributor. At the end of the day, that’s what I’m looking for.
[00:27:29] Roy Notowitz: So is there anything that a candidate can say during the interview process that sparks a judgemental hot button or something that makes you really feel like they wouldn’t be a fit?
[00:27:39] Amani Duncan: I mean… [laughter]. It’s not necessarily a hot button. It’s something that came up a lot during my time at BBH and at other companies. It’s when they say they want to come here because of me. As flattering as it may appear, it’s a bit of a red flag because you want someone to be in love with the company, not the person. Because people leave. Things change. Like I came to BBH for BBH, I didn’t come for anyone. I came because I believed in the agency and I loved their history. I saw the greatness that they can be.
[00:28:17] Roy Notowitz: I could see though, given your background and experience, how it would be a draw. Somebody could want to learn and develop…
[00:28:24] Amani Duncan: I know, Roy, it’s a tough one because you want people to come for the right reasons and-
[00:28:29] Roy Notowitz: True.
[00:28:30] Amani Duncan: -sure, that’s a given that you can learn from people. The first thing that comes to mind is, will that person leave if I leave, or is this person really in it for the long haul?
[00:28:40] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:28:41] Amani Duncan: One other thing that just is a red flag for me is when the person doesn’t know anything about the history of the company. You don’t have to know every single thing, but you do need to know when the company was founded and like-
[00:28:56] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:28:56] Amani Duncan: -the founders and the basic stuff. That makes me question your intention. Do you really want to be here or are you just looking for a job?
[00:29:04] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. What insights have you gained from hiring successes or failures, or what are the factors or elements of the process that make a difference in your opinion between great hires and potential mis-hires?
[00:29:17] Amani Duncan: If we’re being honest, there were many mis-hires during Covid. We made them, and a lot of people have made them. You know, let’s remember the Great Resignation, which shifted the balance of power. There were a lot of people overselling themselves, so that made it really challenging. I didn’t have a solve for that. We all made those mistakes because again, hiring is a calculated risk, but when you add that you’re doing this on a screen remotely and that you may never meet this person in person anytime soon, you’re just adding a lot of variables that you just simply can’t control.
[00:29:52] So for great hires, which we made quite a few, you know, it wasn’t all mis-hires. We made a few great hires and I’ve made a few throughout my career. It was someone who embodied a very heightened level of self-awareness. They didn’t come off as an expert in everything. They were active listeners and curious. They were people who built bridges instead of tearing bridges down.
[00:30:25] Roy Notowitz: Are there any other insights that you took from this whole Covid experience that you’re going to apply moving forward?
[00:30:31] Amani Duncan: Yes. I think one of them is to do a little bit more homework on the candidate. We weren’t really that diligent because we were racing-
[00:30:41] -against a clock most of the time. We weren’t really that diligent in checking references or speaking to others within the industry that may have worked with this individual. I’ve always been a little wary of that because my experience with a candidate could be totally different than your experience with a candidate.
[00:30:59] Roy Notowitz: Right.
[00:30:59] Amani Duncan: So I take it all with a grain of salt, but we do have a trusted circle of people that we can tap into and say, “Hey, what do you know about this candidate?” I’m not saying that is the be all, end all, because I’ve actually heard negative remarks about a candidate that turned out to be a fricking superstar. So you take it with a grain of salt. But I do think just slowing down a bit and going to that network to just test your theory a little bit about this person before pulling the trigger. Because again, in Covid we were running against the clock.
[00:31:37] Roy Notowitz: Right. References for me are more like about confirming themes about what it’s like to work with them. We have to be honest and share that information obviously, but reasons why people leave companies or aren’t a fit for companies. There’s a lot of different reasons why.
[00:31:51] Amani Duncan: So many variables.
[00:31:52] Roy Notowitz: Which could make them a great fit in a different scenario, a different environment. So I think that’s where references are tricky.
[00:31:59] Amani Duncan: They are tricky.
[00:32:00] Roy Notowitz: What I’m hearing from you too is that just spending more time
[00:32:03] Amani Duncan: Yes.
[00:32:04] Roy Notowitz: And really being thoughtful is kind of what you’re talking about.
[00:32:08] Amani Duncan: Which should always be part of the hiring process. I’m speaking specifically about Covid. Sometimes when you’re put in pressure cooker situations like we all were-
[00:32:16] Roy Notowitz: yeah.
[00:32:17] Amani Duncan: -because we were also desperate for talent in the advertising industry during that Great Resignation that we were moving, maybe a little accelerated. So yeah, just slowing down a little bit at the end of the day for me, because it’s a calculated risk, it really comes down to hearing everyone’s perspective that was on the hiring journey, and then gut. Sometimes I will go with the wild card and sometimes it surprises me in a good way, and sometimes it surprises me in a bad way [laughter].
[00:32:46] Roy Notowitz: Right. When somebody doesn’t work out, that’s a big responsibility, right? Because-
[00:32:51] Amani Duncan: Yes.
[00:32:52] Roy Notowitz: -they’re in a new role and you realize it’s not working. So I’m assuming you either try to figure out something that works or you help them. And I think this happens a lot in the creative world especially. There’s a lot of churn.
[00:33:04] Amani Duncan: There is, I never rush to fire. I want to have a conversation — honest conversation — with the individual. I want to try to give them the right tools that they need, and then I want to give them a chance to course correct. And then once we’ve done all of the above and we still don’t see a change, then we have to have a different conversation. These are people’s lives. It shouldn’t be taken lightly when you have to part ways with someone.
[00:33:33] Roy Notowitz: In what ways do you think the current social, cultural, political and economic environment has shifted what employees need from leaders in this moment?
[00:33:43] Amani Duncan: That’s a simple answer: the empathetic leader is in high demand. My philosophy is, it’s safe to assume that someone somewhere is going through something at any given time.
[00:33:57] Roy Notowitz: A hundred percent. Yeah.
[00:33:58] Amani Duncan: And so that puts a lot of pressure on the leader because we still have to be accountable. We still have a P&L. We still have goals that we need to achieve, but we also need to have a very heightened sense of awareness and empathy because we’re living in novel times still, and people are challenged still.
[00:34:25] People have taken this pandemic and really looked inward and reevaluated what brings joy? What makes me happy? Does this make sense for me anymore? And a lot of people are being unyielding with protecting their peace and what brings them joy. As much as we want to go back to business as usual, because as leaders, if we’re all honest, even though the world has changed around us, we’re still held accountable and we still have tremendous pressure to impact positively the bottom line and EBITDA and all those wonderful things that we’re tasked with.
[00:35:09] So it’s a delicate dance that we have to try to find the right rhythm and be in step with, and speaking to all the leaders out there, because it was a lesson I had to learn myself, like I made a lot of mistakes. There was no playbook for what most of us went through. Especially someone in my situation who didn’t have any tenure in the industry, didn’t have a lot of allies.
[00:35:36] I was a foreigner in foreign lands in a novel pandemic.
[00:35:39] Roy Notowitz: Yeah.
[00:35:40] Amani Duncan: Made a lot of mistakes, but I decided to give myself grace and approach things with humility and integrity and be the first person to say, “Ugh, I got that wrong. Let’s reboot. Let’s try this again. Please forgive me.” The empathetic leader has to be present in today’s business world. I think we’ve seen the backlash of those who aren’t.
[00:36:03] Roy Notowitz: Yeah. Thank you so much for taking time to be on the podcast. This has been really great. A lot of what you said really resonated with me around where we are in the world right now. How are you thinking about your future and what new or exciting things are you working on currently?
[00:36:21] Amani Duncan: Oh, Roy, first off, thank you for having me. This has been such a fun conversation. What I’m doing now is I am exploring a few key exciting opportunities that you will hear about soon. I am joining a few boards. I am a board member for Fender Musical Instruments.
[00:36:42] Roy Notowitz: So Cool.
[00:36:42] Amani Duncan: Which is simply incredible. I love it so much.
[00:36:45] Andy Mooney, ex-Nike, is the CEO of Fender, and he’s just leading the company into greatness. I’m just so thrilled to add some value to that esteemed company. I also just recently joined as an advisory board member to a company called FYLi.
[00:37:01] Roy Notowitz: Oh, cool.
[00:37:01] Amani Duncan: It is a female founded organization that helps young women founders and entrepreneurs with support and resources to help their companies be successful. So that is really near and dear to my heart. And then last but not least, I volunteer with the Girl Scouts of Greater New York and I’m being honored at the Gold Achievement Gala in New York City on May 9th.
[00:37:30] Roy Notowitz: Wow, cool.
[00:37:30] Amani Duncan: So I’m super excited about that. And then award show judging is underway. I am lucky enough to be the jury president for entertainment at the Dubai Lynx this year, and I’m also on the Creative Marketing Jury for Ad Age A-List Creativity Awards, and I just finished judging Advertising Week Africa, the Future is Female Award.
[00:37:55] Roy Notowitz: Amazing. I am excited to see how your journey continues to unfold. Your story’s so inspiring. What advice do you have for someone just starting out early in their career?
[00:38:08] Amani Duncan: Pace yourself. Don’t be discouraged. Your journey is young. My dad would always say to my sister and I, as we were growing up: “Be like water as it flows downstream and encounters a rock, the water may appear to the eye to stop, but that is what it doesn’t do. It may go to the right of the rock, it may go to the left of the rock, and it even may slow down. But what it never, ever does is stop.
[00:38:41] Roy Notowitz: I’m going to give that advice to my daughter. I love that. That’s fantastic.
[00:38:46] Amani Duncan: [Laughter] It’s been my mantra.
[00:38:48] Roy Notowitz: That’s so true. I mean, and water carves canyons out of rock, right?
[00:38:52] Amani Duncan: Yeah. Yes it does.
[00:38:53] Roy Notowitz: It’s powerful. Yeah.
[00:38:54] Amani Duncan: It’s so powerful and unassuming.
[00:38:57] Roy Notowitz: Amazing. Amani, thank you again so much for being on the podcast. Your wisdom and advice is certainly really valued and useful to our audience, and I appreciate you taking the time outta your busy schedule to be here.
[00:39:10] Amani Duncan: Thank you so much Roy.
[00:39:13] Roy Notowitz: Thanks for tuning in to How I Hire. Visit HowIHire.com for more details about what you heard today and if you’re enjoying the podcast, please let your friends and colleagues know about it. How I Hire is created by Noto Group Executive Search. To find out more about Noto Group, visit NotoGroup.com. Please also subscribe to our monthly newsletter there.
[00:39:38] This podcast was produced by AO McClain, LLC. To learn more about their work, visit AOMcClain.com