Can a holdco big fish survive in an indie pond?

Indie life is characterised by its fast-paced, ever-evolving, and highly dynamic nature. In comparison, life at a holdco often feels like being a small cog in a massive bureaucratic machine.

At an indie, regardless of the agency’s size or your role within it, it’s just a fact of life that you don multiple hats. Indie workers embrace a “do-whatever-it-takes” mentality rather than a narrow “do-my-role” mindset.

Simply put, we play and win as a team.


Even as a CEO or managing director of a large indie, you might still find yourself occasionally getting the metaphorical or literal milk, and that’s what makes indies so formidable. Our culture is a fusion of resilience, relentlessness, a “do-whatever-it-takes” attitude, and the raw scrappiness necessary to work magic—all bound together by a genuine care for our clients and each other.

But can employees who’ve been “institutionalised” by holdcos successfully transition to the indie world? Well, in my opinion and experience, it largely depends on the individual’s personality type. While I’m aware that this may be seen as an oversimplification, the reality is that most individuals fall into one of these categories.

Type 1: The Superstar

The Superstar is undeniably talented but often comes with a significant ego. They arrive expecting recognition and gratitude for their contributions, with little interest in the team dynamic or supporting others.

To them, the team is there to support them. This can be hugely detrimental to culture, especially as other team members often look up to Superstars. The arrival of a Holdco-experienced Superstar can lead to a shift in mindset, with team members gradually starting to utter phrases like “that’s not my job” or “we should hire someone junior for that.”

To put it in a sports context, these are the Superstars who join a team for a record price but refuse to train or socialize with their new teammates, believing they are superior and never passing the ball.

In the end, they underperform and usually move on quickly, leaving a trail of disruption in their wake. And sadly, I speak from experience when I say this can be incredibly destructive, I had to let multiple ‘Superstars’ go, after a quantum shift in office culture.

Type 2: The Dynamo

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Dynamos. These individuals are driven to do more and be part of more, but they approach it collaboratively, focusing on the agency’s success rather than their own. For these people, holdcos can serve as a valuable proving ground to gain experience and recognition.

However, in the long term, it can feel like confining an eagle in a cage. They yearn for freedom and crave constant innovation. They want to deliver precision at speed, and at their core, they are hustlers.

That’s why the fast-paced, dynamic environment of indies appeals to them, often leading them to book a one-way ticket to indie town.

Type 3: The Jerry Maguire

The third type of individual reminds me of Tom Cruise’s character in the 1996 film “Jerry Maguire.” They’ve spent years at a Holdco and are well-suited to the bureaucratic life on the Titanic, however understand that many indies still hold Holdco experience in high regard.

When these experienced individuals apply to indies, it often appears as a golden opportunity for growth. They clearly recognise the power dynamics at play and channel their inner Jerry Maguire, demanding, “Show me the moneyyyy!”—figuratively, if not literally. This tactic often results in a substantial payday. However, despite the allure of big money, it becomes apparent sooner or later that they’re better suited to the Titanic, and they either jump ship or are pushed overboard when the agency realise it’s not getting the value it expected.

So, can one transition from a holdco to an indie and thrive?

Can cultural alignment be achieved?

The answer is an unequivocal yes, but typically, it’s the Dynamos among us who make this transition seamlessly.

They’re the ones who not only adapt to the indie culture but also enrich it with their drive, innovation, and collaborative spirit.

In the world of indies, it’s the Dynamos who truly shine.

Daniel Willis is chairman and CEO of Claxon


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