Executives Unpacked Episode 9: Take the Lead with Rick Capstraw

This post was written by: John Clifton

On Episode 9 of The Executives Unpacked Podcast we spoke to Rick Capstraw, the Chief Growth Officer at Signiant. Rick has been in the Content & Media industry for a long time, holding roles at the likes of Walt Disney and CNET early in his career, despite wanting to be a fighter pilot when he was little. He shared some of the lessons he’s learned throughout his career with us, including the best piece of advice he gives other people. Read on to find out what that is!

What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned during your career?

Anything is possible if you have the drive to make it happen, especially in this industry. It’s foolish to say that something’s never going to happen, or that there’s only one way to do things. I’ve always looked at what could be possible, and then found the drive and personality to make it happen. There’s no overarching power that says what can’t be done. With all the technological innovation that we’ve had over the last 20 years, anything is possible if you work hard and smart enough and build the right infrastructure and relationships.

What do you wish you’d been told earlier on in your career?

I may have been told this and not listened at the time, but having realised it now I try to drive it into everyone; your relationships in business are critical. The media industry isn’t that big, so you are going to run into everyone over and over again. I was not good at maintaining all the relationships that I made at the beginning of my career. When I run across people that I haven’t seen in 25 years, it’s great to be able to catch up and rekindle those relationships, but I always wonder what if I had maintained them through these last 20 years. Where would we both be now? I wish I had made a more concerted effort from early in my career to maintain the relationships that I made. Especially if you’re driving toward leadership positions, maintain your relationships and keep them strong. 

What’s the best bit of advice that you’ve ever been given?

I remember complaining that I didn’t have the authority to direct teams effectively, and one of my mentors told me that you have as much authority as you are willing to take for yourself. If you set a direction and start leading, people will get behind you. Most people want to be led, so you have all the authority that you’re willing to take. That advice has served me very well throughout my career. People that I had no official authority over would listen to me because as a leader I gained a certain level of gravitas and authority. If you want people to follow you, it’s not about your title, your role or where you sit in the organisation; it’s about your vision.

What has constantly kept you awake at night?

The prospect of disappointing people is what worries me. I’ll lie awake wondering ‘Did I do the best that I could do? Did my team do the best that they could do?’ I’m not worried about ‘Are we going to lose this deal?’ We’re going to do what we can do, and the chips are gonna fall where they may. What keeps me awake is letting people down. I’m confident in my own abilities, but if I ever did not do my best and other people struggle or suffer because of that, that’s what bothers me.

What single thread has run through your career that has led to success?

Having an innate sense of curiosity has led me to fascinating places. I am interested in anything; in how and why things work, and how and why they could work better. When I realised that the role of a sales executive is not to sell a product, it’s to understand a customer’s pain points and then utilise your suite of services to help them, that changed my entire outlook on the role. I’m interested in how businesses work, how they don’t work and how they could work better. If I can help with that, then that’s fantastic. 

It’s about a human connection as well. People are positively disposed to other people who are genuinely interested in what’s happening in their life. I always want to understand what is happening, because it helps create relationships and connections, and then people will want to work with me.

What is the one bit of advice that you always give to other people?

In every interaction, always try to add value. Value doesn’t have to necessarily be business value, it can just be a positive attitude and engaging conversation. When someone’s phone lights up with a call, and they see your name, what is the immediate reaction that they have? That’s my test for whether you’ve built good relationships; whether people think of you positively. Their response to you phoning them should be ‘this will be great. I’m gonna get this call.’ Be positive, be friendly, be the person that people want to talk to, and everything will come from that.

To hear more about Rick’s journey through the Content & Media industry, tune into The Executive Unpacked Podcast here

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