In this blog, we speak to Aimee Luther, Managing Director of The Liberty Guild. Aimee talks us through her career, her love of Art and finding a place of work that lets you be exactly who you want to be.
I joined Ogilvy and Mather as a graduate in 2000 and spent six very happy years there.
However, as I surveyed those around me, there were few people in my department that I wanted to emulate. And just as my feet started to itch, the phone began to ring and I was headhunted to join the Boys of BMB.
The agency was just a few months old and the energy, self-belief and rampant desire to make bloody brilliant ‘work that worked’ was palpable. I stayed there for twelve of the happiest years of my life, six of which I was Managing Director.
But all good things must come to an end and after leaving to have a career break ... I was asked by an old Ogilvy colleague to set up and run the European arm of Fortnight Collective. And it was as fun as it was exhilarating, but it was tough. As the only full-time employee amongst a Collective of freelancers, I was an entrepreneur, a Managing Director, an Account Exec, a planner, a financial controller, a traffic and production whizz ... you name it. Anything that needed to be done – I did. And it was fab. In 20 months we won The Oystercatchers (second) Best New Agency of the Year Award – no mean feat.
As much as I was hurtling along happily, I also had a desire to get this family thing started too. Mother Nature had seemingly gone on strike and so I was staring down the barrel of IVF and a thousand injections. And so I needed a change of scenery, a change of time-zones, a support network around me and somewhere that still made me leap out of bed each morning knowing that I have the job I’d always hoped for. Enter The Liberty Guild. A curated platform of the finest creative minds in the world whom our Clients can engage as and when they need. More than that – The Liberty Guild was set up by an actual ‘guild’– a mutually beneficial organisation to help freelancers get the most out of their role and have the work-life balance that they dream of having.
And so here I am. I’m Managing Director of The Liberty Guild. I’m mid-way through IVF and am lucky enough not only to have my colleagues draw up my syringes each afternoon but to be given full pay maternity leave (if I get there) and more love and support than you could shake a stick at. All of this proving that you absolutely can have what you want and what you need.
What made you choose this career/industry?
I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do but knew want I didn’t want to be chained to a desk wearing a suit and each day washing wave-like into the next.
Instead, I wanted to be surrounded by the most imaginative, fascinating, creative, spirited, odd and clever people in the land. All pooled together in one industry. And that is advertising – and I defy you to find another industry that even comes close.
And all these people working together allow us to use creativity in all its guises to impact businesses with very real and measurable results.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
There was one minor blip with a female bully when I was a grad. She said ‘I looked stupid’. Now, if she was berating my status reports, filing or U-Matic tape tidying – I would have taken it on the chin. But changing my FACE was going to be a toughie. Anyway, it was nipped in the bud immediately by my brilliant boss at the time and I vowed never to look at her again. Yes – decided she would never give her the small pleasure of my eye contact again. So if we ever crossed in the corridor, I looked at the floor and likewise in a meeting or in the bar. 10 years later she popped up in reception at BMB, where I continued to deny her eye contact – much to my delight. Oh, and I also ensured that she never worked with BMB again. Petty? Probably. But bullies never win.
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
I feel passionate about always employing those who you believe, one day will be your boss. Or, as David Ogilvy said, “if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants. #DubzforPM
What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?
I had a fairly typical upbringing. My parents separated when I was very young, which bonused a wonderful step-dad, went to the local State schools, self-funded GAP year to teach English in HK and then on to Uni.
But before I arrived on the scene and into my early years my Mum was a legend. She invented the Screwball ice-cream (a plastic cone with bubble gum at the bottom and filled with cream), brought us up to be balanced children despite having to cope alone and always had immaculate hair and nails. In my book that is an inspiration.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
With a lack of women on top in our industry, I can still be a source of inspiration to those aspiring to follow in my footsteps.
What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?
Be kind and empathetic. Over time you’ll overtake the mean-spirited, those that trample on anyone to get anywhere and those who are all talk. And you’ll rise to the top. And importantly – stay there.
Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?
I love art and have collected (some would say hoarded) pictures and sculptures since I got my first pay cheque in 2000 and a bought a signed Tracey Emin for £100.
Every promotion, new role or disastrous romantic break-up I have treated myself to a ‘little something’. I have the most wonderful pieces from Harland Miller, The Connor Brothers, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Alison Jackson, David Shrigley, Mason Stone, Peter Blake ...
My latest artistic adventure is to ‘update’ a 1947 Matisse that I bought drunkenly at an auction. I hate it – both because it looks like something from Athena c1989 and because I had to pay with my overdraft on my Switch card. So after hiding it from myself in the loft, I have now handed it over to The Connor Brothers (James Golding and Mike Snelle) to perform a ‘posthumous collaboration’! Matisse x The Connor Brothers... and I can’t wait to see it (and quietly hoping they haven’t drawn a big penis on her head).
Do you have a mantra you live your life by?
-Choose a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
-Don’t be a dick
What is the best bit of advice that you have ever been given?
“If you have to eat sh*t, don’t nibble”. There are always the tasks and meetings that we dread doing. So take it on, swallow it whole, with no fuss and move on. Painless and efficient. And then you can get on with something far less smelly.
Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?
Now, more than ever, there are initiatives, workshops, societies, accreditations, schemes, blogs and clubs fighting for equality in the workplace across all manner of ‘diversity and inclusion’ issues.
Where gender is concerned, I think we are now in a place (thanks to all the above movements), that companies are now so aware of the issue and the impact that having a lack of balance that they are self-policing. They are embarrassed that 90% of the board are male and are consciously doing something about it. Hopefully, a representational balance of ethnicity, LGBTQ+, neurodiversity, faith, education etc will follow this lead too.
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
You can have it all. You can love going to work, be uplifted by those you work with, laugh on a daily basis, achieve big goals, constantly learn, have a family and earn well. You just need to find the right place for you to flourish. When Jon was talking to me in a Fulham pub about joining The Liberty Guild, I thought I’d put him off by telling him the truth – that I was doing IVF. Au contraire. He looked me in the eye and said ‘God willing it works’. He went on to prove he meant it with full-pay mat leave, the office helping administer the constant stream of drugs and emotional support you’d only normally get from actual relatives.
Rather like finding your husband or wife, you need to find a place of work that lets you be exactly who you want to be. And one that knows that the whole place is a better place for you being a happy, contented soul.
What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Remember, you’ll grow into your parents!