Inspirational Woman: Kate Howe | Executive Director, MSQ

Kate Howe

Kate joined MSQ in February 2020 and is responsible for shaping and implementing the group’s growth strategy and multi-disciplinary proposition.

She joined MSQ from Dentsu Aegis Network, where she led the network’s creative, customer experience and commerce agencies. She’s also spent time as the CEO and Chair of B2B agency gyro, European Regional President of DraftFCB, MD of Leo Burnett and was the Chief Marketing Officer of Gala Coral Group. Kate’s on the Board of Trustees at Macmillan Cancer Support and Honorary Secretary of the IPA.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role.

I’m an Executive Director at MSQ, a future-focussed creative and technology group that helps brands get closer to customers. We work with some of the world’s biggest brands, from Asda Money and Diageo to Unilever and Vodafone.

I’ve been working in advertising, marketing and media all of my career and have worked both on the brand side at Burger King and Gala Coral Group, and in some of the best-known agencies such as FCB, BBDO, Leo Burnett and Dentsu. I’ve always fluctuated between working for big brands where there are big budgets and lots of resources, and smaller ones where budgets and resources are harder to come by, where my entrepreneurial skills can come in to play.

Here at MSQ I took a role that appealed to my entrepreneurial side, but we’re growing very quickly and now it feels like the best of both worlds!

I’m also very proud to be a board Trustee for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Honorary Secretary for our trade body, the Institute for Practitioners in Advertising.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I didn’t. I wonder sometimes how things might have worked out if I had. For the first twenty years or so each time I moved job it was specifically for a bigger challenge and more opportunity to learn and grow, never for money. I remember my first promotion in my first job as a graduate and thinking if I can get the first one, I can get more – and calling my Dad to let him know!

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Many. There’s the huge life-changing challenges such as when I lost my Mum and then my husband to cancer. I’m hoping nothing will ever again be as challenging as those moments. But there have also been all sorts of other business challenges too, whether that’s the culture shock of when a boutique creative agency I was running was sold to a large global holding company, or when I first worked client-side and realised I really couldn’t wear jeans to the office and had to invest in a whole new work wardrobe!

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

In my industry it’s rare to achieve something individually, it’s always about the team and the relationships you all build. One of the biggest and most satisfying achievements was when a team I’d been leading for six months, working out of London, Hamburg, Paris and New York, won the entire global advertising contract for all Nivea. What was even better is that I built such a strong relationship with our key client that when he moved jobs a couple of years later, he gave us all his business at his new company too.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

Hard work, probably. Hopefully always striving to be open and honest and fair with everyone I deal with has been a factor too, but in the end I’m a big believer that you get out of things what you put into them, and I’ve always had very high standards, for myself and everyone else. I’m happy to work as hard as it takes to get results, but I’m conscious to share the credit too and I’ll help anyone who wants to learn.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I’m a big believer in mentoring. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of good mentors over the years, but if I had my time again, I’d actively seek out more. There are plenty of people I know and admire, especially senior women, but I probably didn’t realise I should ask them. Today I mentor several people, each of whom I think are absolutely brilliant, so it’s a real pleasure to give them my time, and hopefully to make a small difference to them.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

I’d make remuneration transparent. Especially at Board level. I think a lot of men have unconscious bias and just don’t realise they have favoured the men in the team. And I think a lot of women lack the confidence and innate belief to negotiate hard. Even if we can do it for others, we often find it hard to negotiate for ourselves. So I think we’re naturally disadvantaged, and greater transparency would help this. Gender pay gap reporting doesn’t do enough because you only need one well paid individual to throw the data out and I’ve known businesses work that data to their advantage.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

To really think through what outcomes really matter, what success actually looks like, and to focus the majority of my energies on that rather than try to do everything. The other thing is advice my Dad gave me years ago when I first had to make someone redundant – whatever you do and say, just make sure you can live with yourself afterwards.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

I have so many things still to do! After 30 years of hard work one of the things I’m hoping to do next is a coaching course, or a Masters in psychotherapy so I can get better at understanding and helping others.

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