Leaning into Leadership: A Conversation with David Novak

In this Leaning Into Leadership blog, Amanda speaks to David Novak.

David Novak

David is a Senior Partner and co-lead of the Marketing & Sales practice. At Prophet he helps clients think about who their customer are currently, who they could be, and to reach them with the right experience, messaging, offers and promotion to drive customer acquisition and retention strategies. More importantly, he helps clients learn how to get really good at customer strategy development as an ongoing capability, not just a one-off exercise. In addition, David works directly with CMOs to help build modern marketing organizations that are customer-centric, build relevance and unlock uncommon growth.

Amanda Nizzere: What’s one professional skill you’re currently working on?

David Novak: Storytelling. Even though I’ve done a lot of storytelling throughout my career, it’s a skill I’m continuously building. At IBM iX it was translating the story of technology, and the promise of what technology and digital can do for companies into business needs and context. At Prophet, it’s helping companies understand the depth and breadth of our capabilities to help them drive growth in meaningful ways. Regardless, it’s a skill I’m always striving to improve. Luckily, we have a lot of amazing storytellers at Prophet, so I have many people to learn from.

AN: Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

DN: I had a boss named Neil Gaydon that I worked with at Pace. He told me, “Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.” I’ve integrated this into all my work. I’ve used this both with clients, in terms of bringing solutions to challenges or obstacles, as well as internally around where we want to focus and what we can offer to potential and current clients. It’s all about identifying the problem, but quickly moving to solutions and impact.

AN: How do you prefer to start your day?

DN: For the past year I’ve purposely woken up early and started a consistent exercise routine. This allows me to eat breakfast with my high school aged kids and then start the day. I’m really enjoying this new habit to start the day.

AN: What was your first job?

DN: I was a shoe salesman at Sears. It was literally my first job. I wasn’t good at it, and it was also embarrassing. I lived in a small town, so all of my friends would come in and heckle me. But my second job was at Popeye’s. I guess you could say this was my first, real, lived “brand experience”, due to the fact that I was literally wearing the Popeye costume to drive traffic to the store.

AN: What led you to this career? 

DN: First, I love what I do. My dad worked for the Department of Defense designing navigation systems. He is the smartest man I know. (Seriously – we would do practice tests for the SAT, and he wouldn’t get a single question wrong.) He loves math and thought I might get into high finance for business, but to his dismay, I am the exact opposite. Finance wasn’t my thing, so I started trying other things. I took a Marketing 101 class and was hooked from that day forward. I really loved the agency-type classes I took in college, but I’m not super creative. I found a nice niche in the data, marketing and technology space. And again, I love where I’ve landed.

AN: What energizes you at work?

DN: I love to win. But it’s not about winning the work. It’s about winning the trust of a client. They trust you to solve some of their biggest challenges. And to see the work in market, contributing to my life, my family’s life and see it having a meaningful impact is really energizing.

AN: If you could snap your fingers and become an expert in something, what would it be?

DN: Back to the advertising point – I really want to be creative. So painting and/or sculpting would be it.  I would love to find an outlet for creative expression.

AN: What’s one thing you’re currently trying to make a habit?

DN: Exercise is a habit I’ve become successful at, but professionally, making time between calls for in-person interaction. Now that we are heading back into the office, I want to create space for purposeful time with people and make connections. Prophet is full of unique people with very interesting people and backgrounds and I want to get to know everyone (again).

AN: If you could trade places with anyone for a day, who would you choose?

DN: This feels like a real Bro-ey answer, so bear with me. But I would meet Elon Musk. And it’s because the areas he’s involved in are so varied. I think it would be so cool to one minute be building a car company, and the next, a rocket ship to the moon. I would love to see how he manages his day and his time. See his prioritization, and how someone that complex manages his day and to-do list.

AN: If you had to pick one age to be permanently, which age would you choose?

DN: 25. Nothing cool happens between 25 and 50 in terms of badged milestones. At 16 you can drive; at 18 you can vote and join the army; at 21 you can drink; and at 25 rent a car. After that, nothing (until 50 and you get your AARP discounts).

I’ve included a new feature in this article, and from this point on, called “Rapid Fire” where people answer a series of short questions they’ve never seen before. David’s answers follow:

Rapid Fire

  • How are you uncommon? I find humor in everything. I think 99% of everything is funny.
  • Do you have a hidden talent or claim to fame? My claim to fame is that I have no talent.
  • Favorite day of the year and why? St. Patrick’s Day because it’s a holiday centered around drinking.
  • Favorite place in the world? Dublin, Ireland. See above. (Also, there are many great storytellers in Dublin.)
  • What is one thing in business that no one is talking about but should? Gift cards. This is an industry-wide problem. They are the one thing that is less valuable than when you bought it, they are limited, and they have an expiration date. This needs to be fixed.
  • What charitable initiatives do you support or are you most passionate about? Local charities that help with homelessness and hunger like Feeding America.
  • What’s a wish you have for the future? I want a marketing-themed meme generator.

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.   

See past Leaning Into Leadership articles here.


David has been at Prophet for 3 years after spending 10 years with IBM iX, guiding Fortune 250 clients in implementing powerful marketing capabilities including mobile, social, machine learning, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. He specializes in helping clients uncover and activate powerful marketing technologies including mobile, social, artificial intelligence and augmented reality. He has worked with leading brands like Apple, PepsiCo, Sephora, Kraft, Kohl’s, United Airlines and more. Interested in talking to David? Contact him here.