Interview with Doug Melville| Chief Diversity Officer, TBWA Chiat Day
What superpower would you want?
Connector. That’s one superpower I love because it’s one that I actually have, and I’m so appreciative of it.
Everyone has one superpower and the first thing you have to do to be successful is identify your superpower. If you are able to identify it early, you have enough runway to take off. It’s realizing your own greatness, your own strength. You can talk to any successful musician or actor and they will tell you their superpower because it is something they have honed in on.
Where are you from?
I’m from Bridgeport, Connecticut. My mom is from the south. My mom is from Irmo, South Carolina, and there’s actually a story about Irmo, S.C. — when the Civil War was over, there was a whole slew of interracial adults and babies, and no one really wanted to care for them or to take ownership of them since the South was decimated and everybody was poor and had no land and no food and resources, and basically they started dumping these mixed race babies in this town called Irmo, South Carolina and it ended up being 30,000 latchkey mixed race people. When we traced my mom’s ancestry, we found that she was from this town, Irmo, South Carolina. I actually think it would be a great TV series and it would be all these people who were there who ended up having families, because none of them even knew the whole race thing. It would really touch on the race issue, dark, light. So, that’s the southern part of my story, but I’m from Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Share a moment in your life that made you passionate about making the world a better place?
Making the world a better place really hit home for me in my adult life when I was working for Magic Johnson. I was living in LA and I was working for his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises. He would ensure two things.
First, every time we would sign a deal or when we would go work with people, he would make sure he got to meet all of the workers that were a part of the company. Not just the CEOs and executives, but also the maintenance workers, all of the “hourly worker-bees.” He wanted to make sure he signed autographs for them, because he knew they were the reason we can work with the CEOs, because of all the workers and laborers.
He also would ensure that whenever we had lunch when we traveled, we would stop and order from small businesses. He didn’t really want to order from chains, he wanted to go to the local mom-and-pop restaurants. He said every day we should do something to support our communities and our businesses. He really instilled in me this desire. Even though he had great ends and connections and the household name…he’s been famous for about 30 years, he still continued to make sure that as a company we would make sure to work with local businesses.
Patrons of Progress is all about showcasing people who are using their influence for good. What does “doing good” mean to you?
One of the things I want to do is encourage people to do something they believe in. In a world where people are so often told “no”, “can’t”, “won’t”, “it’s hard”, it means looking at someone and saying “you can do it.” To be successful you have to have 3 different people in your life — (1) you need to have a mentor. A mentor is basically your North Star, or someone who’s more senior, who can really help guide you; (2) you need to have an advocate. This is someone on the inside who will champion you and say “ I know her, I understand her, I’ve worked with her, and I think she’s great, I want to co-sign her”, and then (3) you need to have a coach. This is the person in your corner who will tell you “you can do it, you’re the champ”. When you read the story about Muhammad Ali, he had a guy in his corner called Drew Bundini Brown, and he was his hype man. He would travel around with him and he would stay in the corner chanting “you’re the champ, no one is better than you, you can do it”.
One of the big differences between Obama and Trump is that Obama was an Inspiration-in-Chief; whether you liked him or hated him, you recognized that no one can contest that he would always motivate and say “hey guys you can do it, we can do it” and “yes we can”, but Trump is not really hyping up both sides. You miss the inspiration. To me that’s what doing good means.
If you could choose one word to describe yourself, what would it be and why?
I think one word to describe me would be HUMAN. Because I think when you are a younger person and have a more junior role, people often dehumanize people, they make people a logo, a link or an emoji. I think people need to be more human. At the end of the day it’s about warmth, and comfort, and support and being human.
What sparked your interest and passion to lead as TBWA’s Chief Diversity Officer?
The unique opportunity here is that before I worked here, I worked for myself. When you are working for yourself you may ask “do I want to keep working for myself or do I want to be part of a community”. You may go back and forth. Sometimes it seems the grass is greener. When you work for yourself, you want to be apart of a community, and when you are apart of a community, you may want out and to work for yourself. There is a constant inner battle.
The unique thing about this role at TBWA is that the role was created and I was the first person to have it, which allowed me to structure with our executive team what the job was, how it would work, how it would unfold. It’s a unique opportunity that a company allowed me to shape a role, where your input directly goes into the structure of it because the role Chief Diversity Officer is set up differently everywhere and people don’t know what it is, and it is what you make it.
What do you hope our readers will gain from your story?
Walk away knowing this — everything counts. Everything on the internet, everything that you do, everything is live ammo. People often say “it’s no big deal, it’s just a small thing,” but what I tell every single person to do is open the private browser on your phone, put your name in quotes, and hit send and tell me what comes back, because you need to know the first thing people see.
I used to be an intern for Quincy Jones, and he used to tell me the only thing that precedes you when you walk into a room is your reputation. 85% of every decision that directly affects your life, you are not in the room to have a say. When you get a loan, when you meet somebody, when you want to go for a job interview — all the biggest decisions in your life that directly affect your existence, you are not in the room to have a say, so your reputation speaks for you when you’re not there.
Resources and technology aside, if you could make one remarkable change in the world by 2020, what would it be?
Gender equity and parity across all leadership and decision-making. Women are historically underserved globally to the point where it’s it’s unbelievable. Warren Buffett once said in an interview that he’s amazed how far America has come because it was all the ideas and perspectives of only one group of people. He said if they came to America and sat everyone down and said “how do we build this together”, the country would be so far ahead of the rest of the world that it would never have been a conversation.
Share something that you’ve learned along the way, whether it’s one piece of advice or an experience that has helped guide you in your journey?
Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. People are spending so much time trying to improve their weaknesses, and not enough time doubling down on what they are good at. You’re good at something specific and I’m good at something else, and to be great we have to put more time into what we’re good at. Yet, what we do is tell people you’re not good at this, so spend a lot of time to get better, but you’ve now wasted time since you didn’t spend that time discovering what you’re good at, what’s your superpower. That’s really what my advice would be — focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses.