Leaning Into Leadership: A Conversation with John Ellett
John recently transitioned from CEO of Springbox, Prophet’s demand generation and digital experience agency, to a senior partner with a focus on building the firm’s reputation among the CMO community. You may recognize his byline from a regular column he contributes to the Forbes CMO Network. John has a wealth of relevant experience that he’s always willing to share, and I always enjoy talking to and learning from him. I hope you glean as much from this interview as I did!
Amanda Nizzere: What do you do at Prophet and in what circumstances would I come to you for something?
John Ellett: As a former CMO myself, I have an ability to connect with “my tribe” at Prophet about the myriad of issues they face, especially those new to their roles. I’ve interviewed hundreds of marketing leaders to get insights for my book, Forbes column and the CMO solution guides I’ve written. I’ve learned something from each of these experiences. Whether it’s advising clients on developing brand and demand strategies, structuring their teams or launching a new company, I can bring an empathetic point of view to any Prophet or client team.
AN: Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
JE: I had the good fortune of working for Michael Dell for seven years and helped Dell grow from $60 million to $3 billion during that timeframe. I took two things from that experience that have shaped how I work. First is a strong sense of optimism. Anything is possible with a sound plan, a good team and persistence to overcome obstacles. We were a blip on the industry’s radar when I started, but we were focused on becoming the #1 PC company on the planet and then did it. I continue to believe that things will turn out well, even if we’re in the midst of significant challenges (like a global pandemic).
The second is based on something Michael used to say, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you have the wrong people in the room.” I love to include diverse perspectives in problem solving and my role tends to be to ask questions, get divergent points of view and then synthesize those into a plan that the team can support. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I may be the most curious.
AN: What was your first job?
JE: My first job was as a swim team coach during the summers when I was in college. My time swimming competitively was over, but I learned that I got more satisfaction out of helping others succeed than I did from winning my own medals. Whether it was seeing a 6-year-old boy finish his first lap in a meet or his big sister win a city championship, I felt joy from seeing them accomplish more than they initially believed they could. I think that early insight has shaped me as a leader.
AN: What energizes you at work?
JE: I get energy wrestling with challenging topics alongside my colleagues, especially when it involves an opportunity with a new or potential client. Seeing the positive reactions and impact from our work with clients gives me an extra boost.
AN: What’s one thing that surprised you about working at Prophet?
JE: What didn’t surprise me was how smart and collaborative everyone is. What did surprise me was how entrepreneurial the culture is. If you have an idea to try something new, you’ll have an opportunity to make your case. So much of what the firm today is because multiple people stepped forward and said, “I think we should do this,” and it got done. It is a very organic approach to corporate innovation.
AN: What’s one thing you’re currently trying to make a habit of?
JE: I am trying to make it a habit to reach out each day to several connections that I’ve done a poor job of keeping in touch with historically. I’m loving the LinkedIn Sales Navigator system to help enable my evolving habit!
AN: If you had to pick one age to be permanently, which age would you choose?
JE: Whatever age I am at the time. I’ve enjoyed every stage of my life and never try to hold on to the past or get too excited about the future. I’ve tried to enjoy every day and every year as it comes. I could easily freeze this period in time since I’m blessed with a wonderful and adventurous family and the health and wealth to be able to support our collective wanderlust! Life is good!
AN: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would you choose?
JE: Scotty Scheffler, a University of Texas graduate who won the Masters Tournament this spring. That way I could play Augusta National whenever I wanted. As an avid golfer, I’ve never been able to play that course. Maybe someday. After all, I am an optimist!
About the Series
Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with the building blocks of leadership, from motivation, coaching and communication to mentorship, empathy, inspiration and more. Unraveling and understanding what makes a strong and impactful leader tick can help each of us implement new strategies to grow as individuals and leaders ourselves. Over the years, I’ve listened to podcasts, read books, attended conferences, and listened to TED Talks about various leadership topics, but some of the most impactful lessons and pieces of advice I’ve learned have been from those around me—my mentors, colleagues, and industry peers—which led me to create this interview series. I invite you to join me as I interview various leaders in my network to share new tools and wise advice from them that you may just want to add to your own leadership toolbox.
As senior partner, John helps senior leaders develop transformative ideas that unlock uncommon growth. He frequently advises CMOs on their transformation agendas, including brand revitalization, demand acceleration and marketing organization design. Over the years, John has partnered with marketing leaders at AMD, Caesars Entertainment, Comerica Bank, Hershey, Microsoft, NEC Displays, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba. John is also author of “The CMO Manifesto,” a contributor to Forbes CMO Network and host of the Valiente Awards that recognizes courageous marketing leaders annually at SXSW. Have a CMO or marketing-related question for John? Reach out here.