Future-Focused Leadership

In 2009, Debbie Schramm and I had been working together for about a year. Debbie’s background was impressive, having served as the former chief of staff for Oklahoma City’s Mayor Norick in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing and as Chief Communication Officer at the public company Kerr-McGee. I had momentum as a young entrepreneur and was seeing a lot of my vision and hard work start to come together into something meaningful. No slouch myself, but my accomplishments were more entrepreneurial in nature as opposed to positions I’d previously held. We were both strong leaders navigating our partnership at Saxum.

“So, are you going to be the client contact or am I?” Debbie respectfully said one day to me in a firm voice that I recognized as serious.

“You, of course,” I said.

“Then stop doing what you are doing and let me lead on this. We cannot both lead.” It was a wake-up call for me and also the first time I had to relinquish something I enjoyed doing for the good of the company. I did want Debbie to lead on strategy and execution. I did not know that every time I stuck my nose in the middle of her work it undermined her authority, and by giving her the space to lead, it inevitably led to a better outcome for the client.

Lesson learned!

Approximately two years later, one of Saxum’s biggest clients complimented me on the agency’s ten year anniversary. “The team here is great, Renzi, but this business is Renzi Stone.”

That comment was like a dagger. What kind of entrepreneur am I if the perception is that our business is based on the reputation of one individual? I thought I knew next-to-nothing about this particular client’s work, but he saw me as the driving force behind our success.

I am doing something wrong, I said to myself.

I am a believer that perception is reality, so I decided to do something about it. Though it has taken me eight years of thinking about it, three years of acting on it and six months of preparing to announce it, Saxum’s succession plan has been a long time coming. The feedback I’ve received has been incredible. It includes, “you know, no one does this” to “those are some impressive women you have running the company” to “what took you so long?”

As a result, I wanted to share a little context on why I decided, after 18 years, to relinquish my CEO title with a series of “if/then” statements (which is how I make most big decisions).

  • If I believe the company is more than one person, then I have to prove it to clients and the world.
  • If I know that I have an uber talented senior team that is capable of more, then I have an obligation to challenge them in new ways to grow their careers.
  • If I want to grow my own professional career, then I need to get out of my comfort zone and take on new challenges both inside and outside of Saxum.
  • If I have given Saxum my absolute best over the past 18 years, then maybe it’s time I take a different seat and let someone else drive.
  • If not now, then when?

As we come off our best overall year in agency history, I want to highlight each of our exceptional senior leaders, who are uniquely positioned to lead and support our business and our clients.

Debbie is the perfect leader to take on the CEO duties. We align on goals and though we get there by our own circuitous routes, we always find our way to the same desired outcomes. Clients love Debbie because her counsel is always sound. Team members gravitate to Debbie because she teaches instead of telling people what to do. Debbie will do amazing and positive things in this role for Saxum.

Amy Pyles has earned the right to be the President of Saxum. With a background operating larger agencies, thinking through the digital transformation of clients and doing it all with an entrepreneurial flair, Amy is what a modern agency leader looks like. When team members work with Amy, they use words like “efficient” and “direct” and “on-point”. Amy is a rising star in our field.

In addition to Debbie and Amy, here are the other outstanding and talented leaders driving Saxum’s future forward:

David Schuermann, CPA | Chief Financial Officer
Jeff Risley | Chief Growth Officer
Sara Walker, SPHR | Chief Talent Officer
Houda Elyazgi | Chief Client Officer
Allbriton Robbins | Executive Creative Director
Jennifer Monies | Senior Vice President Public Affairs & Oklahoma Growth
Zachary Gilliam | Vice President Digital & Marketing Technology
Michelle Lory | Vice President Project & Resource Management
Jessica Robbins | Senior Director Innovation
Aran Bruce | Director Business Development & Marketing

The last 18 years have been some amazing years of growth, learning, and change, but I know that Saxum’s best years are still ahead and I can’t wait to see where this team takes us next.

About the author

Renzi Stone is the Owner and Executive Chairman of Saxum, a digital agency obsessed for good. You can follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn for insights into digital innovation, change management, and leadership.