Murray Streets isn't the stereotype of an advertising boss. He doesn't have the slicked backed hair, perfectly tailored suits or annoying knack for an endless stream of perfectly timed one-liners.
There's something almost nerdy about him. He has a cerebral quality that seems more focused on doing what's right than what's likely to win fans in the playground. While people with these qualities are usually happy to take the backseat, doing the hard work as someone more conventionally charismatic runs the show, this hasn't been enough for the experienced advertising strategist.
"I've wanted to be an agency boss for a number of years now," he tells the Herald.
Those ambitions have, at times, been scoffed at in an industry where strategists and creatives simply aren't viewed as leadership material.
Streets admits the perception persists that agency leaders should come from the account management department and that only suits are capable of doing a good job in this space.
"My belief is that good leaders can come from anywhere," says Streets.
"You don't have to come out of a specific discipline, because the art of leadership is an entirely separate discipline. It needs to be studied, trained for and it's actually a practice that you keep working at."
Streets says that four or five years ago when he first started signalling his intention to become an agency boss, he encountered resistance from senior managers who just assumed that strategists and planners don't make good industry leaders.
"I just never really believed that. I felt that because of the changes in marketing and the fact that selling ads is such a tiny fraction of the value that agencies can offer clients, I just struggled to believe that you had to be a suit to run an agency. It seemed myopic to me."
A rare opportunity for Streets to prove this notion wrong popped up earlier this year when not one but two leadership roles became available at ad agencies in Auckland.
One was for FCB, the agency which Streets was working for at the time, and the other was for BC&F Dentsu, which was founded by industry legends Daniel Barnes and Paul Catmur before being sold into the Dentsu Aegis Network.
Streets didn't hesitate, throwing his hat in for both roles. And while he would ultimately miss out on the FCB gig to Paul Shale, he did enough to convince Barnes and Catmur he was the right person to take ownership of their legacy.
Streets' departure from FCB came off the back of a tumultuous time for the agency, which saw former boss Dan Martin depart after only a year in charge.
In that time, FCB lost a number of important accounts and saw an exodus of numerous senior staff members.
Streets wouldn't be drawn on commenting on that experience specifically, saying that tough times are simply part of the advertising business.
"To be honest, that wasn't the toughest time in advertising," he deflects, saying that he had many more challenging experiences earlier in his career with agencies that ran into trouble.
"What I try to do is see the tough experiences as learning opportunities… Disappointments and falling short seem like hell at the time, but what I learnt over time is that you can choose to learn tonnes from that experience. They're often the best ways to learn."
He adds that observing the actions of executives when things took a turn for the worse also offered an important formative experience.
"I've had moments in my career where I just didn't understand why my bosses were making these decisions. And I guess what you do is say: 'That's exactly what I'm not going to do if I get into that position'.
"Learning what not to do is almost as important as learning what to do."
Streets says one of the most important leadership lessons he's learnt lies in not entering a business and immediately looking to tear up what came before for the sake of being seen to be doing something.
"It's important to find that balance between understanding, taking action where required but resisting the urge to take too much action too quickly," he explains.
He says that new bosses can sometimes feel compelled to walk in and start doing things because of the fear of being viewed as not doing quite enough. He believes good leadership needs a more strategic approach.
"If you don't have a structured plan as to how you are going to transition into a new role, you can very easily succumb to the pressure of busyness and action, which can be very disruptive to the business. Alternatively, you can you just be too reactive and seduced by things you're personally interested in versus what's actually right for the business."
He says all executives are driven by personal biases and the trick is to become aware of those, so that you don't let them dictate the decisions you make in running your business.
In stepping into BC&F Dentsu, Streets enters an agency with a strong track record of clever creative work, most notably for Hell Pizza.
Asked whether we'll see the edgy approach employed on Hell Pizza spread a little further, Streets offers a measured response.
"What BC&F Dentsu has always been good at is producing distinctive work, relative to the particular brand they're working on," he says.
"Hell is an extreme example and it's pretty rare in the market. But the reason that work is that way is because that is what the brand is and that's what the owners of that brand are designing it to be. Controversial work is not the right strategy for everybody and it's not right if it's not authentic."
Streets says that BC&F's work across Meridian, Boundary Road and Independent Liquor shows that the agency isn't only about being controversial.
"We want to do stand out work that works… People sometimes say we live in an attention economy, but I think it's a distraction economy. And it's our job to stand out."
Streets may only be a few months into his new role, but getting his clients to stand out will go a long way toward proving that a nerdy strategist is capable of leading one of the more famous names in New Zealand advertising.