Bossing It: Relying on Your Instinct with Melsie Bourne and Issy Wedlake
Melsie Bourne: With over 25 years working with leading talent managers and advertising agencies globally, Melsie’s experience is unrivalled and well-recognised within the industry. Her understanding of creative agency requirements and her ability to find the right talent solutions, combined with her global network and entrepreneurial spirit, is the inspiration behind The Bourne Consultancy. Melsie Bourne spent over two decades at the forefront of talent representation in Britain. In 1996 she founded Rabbit Vocal Management which became the busiest voiceover agency in the UK.
Issy Wedlake: With a long and successful history of working with some of the biggest global brands, including Procter and Gamble, at the top talent procurement agencies, Issy is highly regarded and has a reputation for creating the most effective partnerships between brands and talent.
Having previously worked at Platinum Rye and Procure Worldwide, her in-depth knowledge and experience of the industry, alongside her infectious enthusiasm, energy and drive will ensure you have the best possible service.
LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?
Melsie> My first experience of leadership was at school when I was the computer monitor in charge of all the computers but I got fired because I ate biscuits on the keyboard. Not a great start! Back in my very early 20’s, before I set up Rabbit (my voiceover agency), I had three very different bosses in quick succession. The first was a brilliant man called Stephan de Montaignac. He was larger than life, wonderfully bonkers and very charismatic. He taught me a lot. He didn’t always get it right but he was extremely kind and courteous to everyone he came across, so it didn't matter. This is a culture that Issy and I are keen to inspire at Bourne. Treat everyone as you expect to be treated.
Issy> I think every company I've ever worked for has been very much ‘carve your own path’, and you make the role what you want it to be. I prefer working in smaller teams, so for me it's more about the involvement from everybody and a team spirit, rather than focusing on yourself. In terms of leadership, it's as much as what you do in everyday life as well as in business, because you want the way you act to correlate how it is going to affect everybody around you. I think that’s an important leadership value that both Melsie & I share.
LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?
Melsie> I had a colleague, who I trusted implicitly, but I took my eye off the ball and they broke that trust. Firstly, I’ll never take my eye off the ball again but also you mustn’t let surprises get in the way of your goals and dreams – you have to get back up and keep going!
Issy> There isn’t one specific experience that has defined me. I’ve learned and adapted from every opportunity including friends, colleagues, clients, family - serendipity. For me it's all about trust, awareness and empathy. Those are the values I strive to lead with which makes for a really inclusive and dynamic environment – no idea or question is a bad one!
LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?
Melsie> I think you're always learning. It’s so important to surround yourself with people of different abilities and different personalities, because everyone brings something to the table.
The team has doubled in size recently, which is extremely exciting. Our new team members have already become huge assets to the team in very different ways. I'm constantly learning from both of them. Also I've learned so much from Issy. We are incredibly different in so many ways but because we have the same values, it works.
Issy> I believe it can be a combination of both, as well as being open minded and adaptable to learn from new situations. I also think you need to rely on your instinct. There is no leadership rule book, you define the role and treat others how you want to be treated and lead by example...sounds cheesy but so important!
Melsie> I felt an instant connection to Issy! The minute I met her my intuition said, “Yes!”. In your 40s your intuition becomes a lot louder and if you are willing to listen to it, then a lot can change for you.
LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?
Melsie> Setting up a business at the age of 23 and being female was particularly challenging. I was lucky to have a deep voice, so people didn't realise how young I was when I was on the phone. I would go to meet people and they'd be looking over my shoulder waiting, thinking I was the assistant. It was having to be really ballsy and stand up to people and say no, because a lot of people think they can walk over you. I learnt a lot about myself through that period and encourage others to be brave and challenge the norm!
Issy> It’s so important in leadership to learn how to deliver difficult news and feedback. No one likes that side, do they? So I guess that's one area that’s particularly challenging but also crucial for others development to hear it in a balanced and constructive way. Fortunately, it’s very rare and we have a really strong and supportive team, so I feel very lucky.
Melsie> Sometimes you have to separate yourself from the emotion of it. It’s something I still struggle with. I’ve been working for myself since I was 23 so the work/life boundaries blur into one. It’s easier as the company grows but at the beginning it's very tricky to navigate. Having a business partner and a sounding board has made such a massive difference for me. Also being part of a team can be creatively rewarding too.
LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be as transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?
Melsie> My father has always said to me, “Take your heart off your sleeve and hold your cards close to your chest”. However, I don’t seem to be built that way. Luckily Issy is! And so I think between us, it works.
Issy> Because you have to go back to the point of how much time you work, you need to enjoy yourself. I believe the people you work with are so important and having respect there between us all is the best approach.
Melsie> Honesty is the best policy and I will only ever be honest, there's no other way for me. I don't have a poker face. As much as I try!
Issy> Sometimes you don’t know if this is the next big thing or not. So you’ve got to trust your gut instinct and we definitely are a good balance there!
LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?
Issy> I would say I've never had a mentor as such but I've been surrounded by people that I've just learned so much from. In every job, project and life in general, I've learned something and I keep learning.
Melsie> I think my parents, to be honest. I mean, they've taught me everything I know. My mum has worked tirelessly for a charity for 30 years. She’s won a number of high profile awards but she is so brilliantly humble and always says they belong to everyone else, not her! And then my Father worked in the City when I first set up Rabbit. I would call him with a question and he'd never, ever tell me what to do. He would sort of nudge me and make me get to the right decision on my own, so that I wouldn’t forget how I got there. That’s an important lesson in terms of leading others I got from him there. I couldn't have done it without them. They taught me so much and put up with a hell of a lot too!
LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?
Issy> Work was quieter over the first lockdown as no productions were allowed. We adapted and a lot of our campaigns started to focus on self-generated content which was great. We were both juggling children and zoom calls which had some challenging moments but also some very entertaining ones. I feel we got a lot closer to our clients as we saw each other (through Zoom!) in our home environments and the chaos that surrounds everyday life. I also had our third baby in December which threw a whole new dynamic in! Once the rules changed, then the work came in. It was just the two of us. It was beyond busy. Not that we’re complaining of course!
Melsie> We just put our head down and got on with it but God it was tough. Home schooling was the worst. I have a newfound respect for teachers and working mothers. I salute you!
LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?
Melsie> To be honest, we've been really lucky to work on some incredible briefs. We've been able to see and research the people that are the new leaders and influencers. Those who are standing up and speaking out about what they believe in, their values... We've been really fortunate to be able to dive pretty deep into this. We’re learning more about it and are being given the chance to champion those who deserve to be championed. That’s really why we do it. To help these incredibly brave people sing loudly from the rooftops and get their names out there.
Issy> There have been some wonderful campaigns focusing on this - Tesco’s multi skin plasters involving some inspiring talent & comedians were fantastic and a joy to work on. Diversity and inclusion is crucial and it’s so important to bring different views, opinions and expertise to the table.
Melsie> Within Bourne, we knew we needed people with experience. There's not a huge amount of people in our pool that do what we do. I mean, it's growing continuously, but there just isn't. So the choice isn't huge. We are very proud to be a female-led business and we’re hugely appreciative of the people around us but we are humbly aware of the areas where we lack. We aim to change this in the future.
LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?
Issy> We talk as much as we possibly can every day. We're always checking in with each other. It's hard being remote but it also has so many benefits. The bigger we’ve grown as a company, the more aware and conscious we’ve become, haven't we? And we've set targets in that way now. We're trying to do much more face time where possible, but still being aware, giving flexibility and also giving a structure where you can to the team.
Melsie> We want it to be a nice place to work. We don't want people to feel hemmed in, that's not the way we want to grow. It's so important. Flexi time is the most important thing, especially for working mums. We are also very open. If our team has a passion or an idea, we want to hear it. We are keen for people to follow their passions and if they've got good ideas, bring them to the table. That’s how we’ll all grow!
Issy> We’re a very anti bums on seats culture. Just get the job done, have a good work/life balance and have fun. It’s an exciting industry.
Melsie> Also, be kind to your team. They’ll want to stay longer and they’ll want to do a good job. It's a no brainer!