3 Women Who Shaped My Outlook on Leadership

  • Categories:


  • Date:

    March 17, 2023

3 Women Who Shaped My Outlook on Leadership


Throughout my career, I’ve had the good fortune to work with outstanding female leaders. From my days as a college intern to my current role as Wray Ward’s president and chief executive officer, I’ve admired their business acumen and appreciated their creativity. I’ve learned from their leadership and been shaped by their mentorship.

So, I was not surprised when one of these remarkable women — Jennifer Appleby — received the Charlotte Business Journal’s 2023 Women in Business Lifetime Achievement Award. To know Jennifer is to know that this recognition is well deserved. Her commitment to her craft is rivaled only by the size of her heart. She left huge shoes for me to fill, but her passion for our clients, our agency and our community inspires me to take on that challenge every day.

During our 20 years working together at Wray Ward, I’ve had a front-row seat to learn the art of leadership from Jennifer. But since the early days of my career, I’ve been lucky to be mentored by several women.

In particular, three inspirational women have shaped my perspective on leadership.

1. Anita Swain Tyler: The Power of Trust

While many careers are long and filled with milestones, there are certain moments that define our paths. One of the first for me was at Swain Marketing Group, a boutique agency where I interned during the summer after my sophomore year of college.

This small agency in Louisville gave me my first taste of working in the advertising world. Fortunately, the owner, Anita Swain Tyler, wasn’t afraid to give me a number of opportunities to learn. From allowing me to assist with research and creative presentations to participating in meetings with clients, Anita was patient, encouraging and helpful. She valued my youthful perspective, giving me enough rope to learn but not quite enough to get into trouble.

Looking back, the freedom Anita gave an enthusiastic college kid to grow through both his successes and missteps taught me the importance of trusting others to do their jobs.

Although I spent just a few months at Swain during my internship, I’ve stayed in touch with Anita to this day. She’s now an adjunct professor of advertising at Bellarmine University — still teaching and inspiring the next generation of advertising professionals.

2. Jean Munn: Growth Through Mentorship

After I graduated from college, I landed my first job in marketing at the largest agency between Chicago and New York. It was there, in Cleveland, that I had the opportunity to learn from other smart, dynamic women — including Jean Munn.

Like Anita during my intern days, Jean put her trust in me to get things done, offering guidance but not necessarily dictating direction.

Working on an account with Jean was a full immersion into advertising. She found ways to give me a role in every possible aspect of marketing communications. From writing briefs to presenting measurement reports and leading client presentations, Jean routinely put me in positions that allowed me to sharpen my skills and discover new strengths. During my time working for her, Jean taught me the importance of mentorship and the impact a great mentor can have on a person’s confidence to reach for more.

I still talk with Jean regularly. She continues to inspire me to lead with that same willingness to put our people at Wray Ward in positions that challenge them, stretch them and help them learn and unlock new skills.

3. Jennifer Appleby: Witnessing a Visionary

Anita and Jean made indelible stamps on my career in its early stages. But working alongside Jennifer Appleby for roughly two decades profoundly impacted who I am as a leader.

Jennifer is one of Charlotte’s and our industry’s most admired executives, and for good reason. She has always focused on the future. She weighs decisions differently, considering not just the immediate ROI but also the importance of making investments for the long-term good of our clients and our agency. She always considers the agency’s best opportunities to invest resources now for future success.

Jennifer showed me how to be fearless when embracing new opportunities and to have the courage to ask, “What if?”

Big decisions come with risks because while we may believe, we certainly don’t know what the future holds. But calculated risks supported by a thorough analysis of the facts at hand prove their worth more often than not. Consider, for example, the decisions to bring our insights and motion offerings in-house — bold moves that enabled us to better serve our clients and helped position Wray Ward as an industry leader.

Jennifer led the charge to establish and sustain our leadership in the home and building markets, delivering better-performing work across our disciplines for incredible clients. It was a courageous decision that made Wray Ward an industry leader. We continue to nourish that leadership role in a dynamic, ever-changing marketplace. That expertise, in turn, extends to how we build a brand strategically, methodically and holistically for our clients in other categories.

So when I think about how these three women have impacted my approach to running an agency, I think it’s best reflected in my commitment to serving in leadership: I am here to help and support — while guiding our agency toward what’s next.

Wray Ward’s people are immensely talented and incredibly passionate about the work they do. If I’m able to lead them in a way that champions trust and collaboration, I believe that’s how we will continue to create that extraordinary synergy of art and science that builds brands and moves their audiences to take action.

That’s how we take a spark from the next big idea, add to it, build on it and bring it to life.

Explore more articles from Wray Ward.