Meet Jai Tedeschi, W+K’s new Global Director of Culture + Operations.
We sat down with Jai to learn more about her background, her new role, and the future of culture in organizations.
In 2022, we’ll bring you more of her musings about all things culture and business, with quarterly OpEds on our website.
But for now, we hope you enjoy getting to know Jai a little better through this short Q&A.
First, what’s your background? Where are you coming to us from, both professionally and not?
I am an Eastender, born and raised in Hackney, which according to the Urban Dictionary (my source of truth and inspiration) is “da baddest part of London”; that’s “bad” in a good way. I now call Santa Monica home.
Like many kids growing up in Hackney, I was into music. Unlike many, I went to a classical music school by day majoring in violin, and I played the bass guitar by night. I dabbled in music royalty calculations, was part of a jazz band, and did a few jingles for pirate radio stations before deciding I needed a “proper career.” With weeks left before applications were to close for uni, I settled on studying Advertising & Marketing. Yes, I have a degree in this shit!
Long story long, I fell right into digital production working on web, brand, experiential, and installation projects for Glue, Lowe, AKQA, adam&eve and most recently R/GA.
So your job title at W+K is Global Director of Culture + Operations. What does that mean exactly?
In a nutshell, my role is to ensure our day-to-day operations reflect our mission and values. I will be building and implementing systems that enable us to diffuse culture and positive experiences consistently throughout W+K. Culture touches everything we do, so I am lucky to be in a role that looks across all the things, collaborating with departments and offices globally. I am here to help push things forward and keep our culture front and center, preserving and evolving it for the long term.
To say your role is just a fancy way of saying Chief Diversity Officer would be a misnomer. What are the key differences, and why do we so often equate culture with diversity?
What Ali G said!
But seriously. I wouldn’t be here if diversity, equity, and inclusion wasn’t important to W+K. Culture is our environment, our shared values, attitudes, and beliefs, and DEI is one of our core values. It is part of our culture, a foundational part, and there are many other values we hold such as creative ambition, humility, risk taking, curiosity, etc.
The key difference is that my job is not to create and manage DEI programs; however, the work I will be leading will always have DEI in mind, as it is a core value at W+K; it is a priority and it should be a core value at every organisation. Our culture is what makes us unique; it is our point of difference. Our culture informs how we create work, how we interact, how we collaborate, how we onboard our people, how we celebrate...and it is my role to look at our culture holistically and ensure it shows up in all the things that we do.
How does what you did before lend itself to this new role? Having a background in production, for example.
As a digital producer I was a “jack of all trades” in a good way. Project manager, business affairs, producer, QA, admin, part strategist. It was great to be in a role that touched the full lifecycle of a project at so many altitudes. As a digital producer I had to quickly learn how to make shit happen and show its effectiveness. My background has been essential, as my role is pretty similar now. My projects are just different, and my client is the agency and the people.
You’ve talked about making culture intentional. What do you mean by that, and what are some tangible ways to go about it?
I mean that we should be taking deliberate steps to protect and grow our culture. Yeah, sometimes things “just happen,” but if you plan on getting fit, it is more likely to happen if you get on a treadmill!
For better or worse, we seem to be making the shift to a more virtual, or hybrid, work model. How does this affect an organization’s culture, and what are some of the key things to keep in mind as we shift to this new model of working?
This one is for real, for real a tough one. We are in new territory like the rest of the world, so the one thing that is for sure: we all need to evolve and be open-minded. Our number one priority is safety, and we are all about trust, flexibility, and accountability. Our offices will need to evolve to meet the new needs of our people and clients.
Being together really makes a difference, but it isn’t 100% of who we are; it can’t be. There will be many shifts, and we will need to be more intentional about the things we do to infuse our culture everywhere.
Wieden+Kennedy has always lived by the motto “the work comes first.” Is that something that can coexist with culture, which seems to put people first?
Let’s be real. We are all here for the work and likely joined because of the work. The work should come first, but that doesn’t mean that people are not important. You can’t produce great work without great people. I am down for not having to choose. As a working mother, I am used to having my cake and eating it too. Let’s go with coexisting.
Lastly, what’s on your vision board for 2022?
Some deep questions on this one! Twelve months is such a short time, and I think it is important to have a plan but to make sure you move with culture and trends. In the short term, I see an even more globally connected W+K. I see us with creative hubs in place of our offices. Personally, I want to change what a leader “looks like” in the eyes of many; this goes for gender, sexuality, race, leadership style. I want to be a voice for my community, for W+K, and a voice for agency culture, company culture, corporate culture—just culture.