Dynamic Duos: ‘He brings the energy and I bring the heart’

This week, The Media Store's CEO and COO duo, Stephen Leeds and Jacquie Alley, share how their personalities and working styles complement each other, leading to an extraordinary partnership.

In Dynamic Duos, Mumbrella each week asks two colleagues with a professional and personal affiliation to share with readers the importance of workplace relationships in an increasingly hybridised world of work.

Stephen Leeds:

My first introduction to Jacquie was during my interview for the Melbourne general manager role with the advisory board at The Media Store, of which she was a member.

However, my first memory of us sharing stories and connecting was in the Musgrove meeting room where Jacquie and I confided in each other about the future of The Media Store. I was one week into the job, and Jacquie was part of the research and insights team. I shared with her a private meeting that I had with her father and founder – Warren Hill. He had confided in me very early into my tenure of his desire to retire.  It was risky, but I took Jacquie into my confidence, sharing her father’s sentiments and it was there that we devised the future of The Media Store.

I’m sure I was privy to some of Warren’s feelings that he hadn’t shared with Jacquie (maybe not even his wife ha ha) but in my view Jacquie knew her father best and could probably advise on the best approach to persuade Warren. I know it sounds contrived and maybe it was, but we had a genuine passion for the legacy of The Media Store and given we had the inside running we had to capitalise. It didn’t take long to come to fruition, because within 18 months Warren presented us with a proposal.

Advisors will caution budding owners about the risks of going into business with a partner, but Jacquie and I didn’t really dwell on the prospect. There was an intuitive feeling that we would work well together. We shared so many values and beliefs and had complimentary skills.

I think our genuine ‘spirit of generosity’,  which put people first, not only aligned with one of the company values but gave us a great foundation to grow our business culture. So, whist Jacquie primarily looks after the operations of the business, including managing our people and culture, and I spend my time worrying about external conditions such as our client intimacy program and feeding the pipeline, and we equally share a passion for being an employer of choice.

Attracting and retaining the best talent, contributing to our team’s development through our personal growth programs, and raising the bar for our industry is where we are totally aligned. Maybe it’s the fact that Jacquie is a mother of four boys and me a father of a blended household with five boys, that enables us to create a family environment at The Media Store. We ask our team to communicate, collaborate, contribute and at times compromise (our 4 Cs) – all the disciplines you try to instil at home.

Whilst attitudinally we are aligned, we bring complementary skills. Jacquie brings our business a calming and considered approach to my exuberant and fast paced style. I like to talk; she likes to write. I get energy from others; she is happy in her own company. I’m always looking for the next big idea; she gets things done quickly so we can focus on the next assignment. I like Melbourne; she likes Sydney. Maybe what brings us together is we both love a drink – champagne, red wine or gin – we’re totally aligned on that!

Jacquie Alley:

I met Stephen in the boardroom at The Media Store when we had that amazing top floor tenancy of the Fox Sports building in Artarmon. He was interviewing with the advisory board for the new role of general manager of Melbourne, as we looked to open a second office in 2017.

Immediately I knew he had the people skills and connections for the role and would extend our unique culture down into the Melbourne market. I also knew we would work well together. It was his balance of vulnerability and confidence that shone through. Not to mention so many synergies with my own life – being the children of successful indie agency moguls (which means working twice as hard as everyone else to earn your seat), being the parent of so many sons and growing up with similar family values.

And so, he got the job.

But it was a trip to New York back in those early days that cemented our working relationship. Our highly covert whirlwind trip to explore a potential joint venture opportunity showed just how aligned we were. Whilst we shared the excitement over the attribution technology we were exposed to, it was a no brainer that we wouldn’t be proceeding with the deal as we could not work with the CEO of the other agency. His arrogance and bullish nature did not embody the people we wanted to do business with.

And that hasn’t changed.

Now that we are co-owners, we have an even stronger resolve not to work with schmucks. We surround ourselves with people who inspire, challenge, and motivate us to get up each day to support our team to be the best they can be, so that our clients receive outstanding work.  It is this shared commitment to healthy relationships and integrous behaviour which underpins the success of our partnership.

Despite this solid foundation of shared values and vision, we are very different people with different strengths. We recently completed a 360-performance review process with a third-party who interviewed a cross section of our team. One of the key insights was how they see our partnership as ‘yin and yang’. He brings the energy and I bring the heart. We appreciate that whilst we both have a communication strength; Stephen leads with passion and Jacquie with empathy. However, they felt that when we show up together, the magic of our partnership shines.

Stephen has a big personality but an equally big heart and this is what I admire the most about him. He can command a room with his motivating speeches yet also shed tears when we farewell a team member.  I say this all the time to him but honestly, I couldn’t imagine being on this journey with anyone else. Don’t get me wrong, we have conflict and difficult conversations as it’s a ‘work marriage’ but when we come back and listen to each other, we are quickly re-aligned and back to business.

Stephen on Jacquie:

Most memorable moment with Jacquie: Our first day as owners – 1 July 2020.

After three months of on-off Covid lockdowns we were able to spend our first official day as the new owners of The Media Store together with Jacquie’s husband and my wife (also named Jakie) over dinner at Café Sydney. As a Melbournian, I always embrace opportunities to take in the harbour. And so to cement our new partnership Jacquie chose Café Sydney. But apart from the great menu and stunning views, it was the emotions of the night that I remember. Excitement and anticipation balanced by nervous energy; optimism balanced by fear. Support from our spouses was paramount and so came our catchphrase: ‘Together we’ve got this’.

Best word to describe her: Tenacious.

Most annoying habit or endearing behaviour she has: Her speed and efficiency – Jacquie is a ‘doer’ and has often finished tasks and sent them to my inbox before I’ve even started.

Jacquie on Steven:

Most memorable moment with Stephen: There are so many, from his karaoke performances at our epic Christmas parties, to dancing together post an award win… but the one that keeps bubbling up is the move into our new Melbourne office. Not only did we awkwardly cart glassware, cutlery, dishwasher detergent and beer on the tram so that our team would feel welcomed from day one, but it was that moment as we both looked out over the buzzing team on day one that we felt the bounce-back, that we were back on our growth trajectory. That everything would be okay.

Best word to describe him: Charismatic. 

Most annoying habit or endearing behaviour he has: His loud voice is often heard by my entire family downstairs when we are on Teams calls. They all know ‘Uncle Stephen’ is on the line and I could be there a while!


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