Let Creativity Thrive: Cindy Judge, CEO, SRG


How would you describe the overall culture at your agency and would you say that there is a separate female culture?

We give a lot of thought to culture at SRG and we are very proud of our culture of possibility, of high performance, of containing process to let creativity thrive. We believe in being open, outwardly engaged, inclusive, and intractably for each other. We have recently redefined our values to reflect how we will act: what we hire for, reward, and promote. Our values include some ideas that may surprise, such as elegance (art of restraint, clarity and simplicity of expression, embrace of aesthetics, celebration of beauty), kindness (demonstrated in caring, courtesy, reinforcement of others), and mastery (excelling in areas of thought and skill). I do not think there is a separate female culture at SRG, but I will say women are very influential in our culture given we are female owned, and many of our senior leaders are women (chairman, CEO, COO, CFO, of accounts, head of insights, head of innovation, head of design, head of HR).

In your opinion, what do you see as being the biggest change in the advertising industry since women have begun to break the “glass ceiling”?

When I joined J. Walter Thompson in 1978, there were lots of women, but most were not in leadership roles. I would say the ascension of women to leadership has been the most important change.  

What are some of the challenges that women still face in the industry?  

Penetrating leadership in creative.

What steps do you take to ensure you achieve a healthy work-life balance?  

I am a strong believer in enjoying the arts, being outdoors as much as possible, in exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, cooking, reading for pleasure, and spending time with my husband, my family, and friends. I think it’s also very important that home is a comfortable and welcoming place. Finally, I think it’s important that there is life outside of work—people and things you are committed to that do not intersect with one’s professional world.

What professional achievement are you most proud of?  

Going back to work and becoming CEO after twelve years of not working outside the home. My husband and I moved our family to Italy when my children were very young, and at the time I was working for Kraft. We moved for my husband’s job and we could not take two jobs off the economy, so I could not work. I thought it would be for only two years, but it turned out to be twelve! As you can imagine, it was wonderful. We lived in a little hill town in northern Italy in the foothills of the Alps, the sort of town that winds its way up the hillside with an ancient church and a herd of cows that stroll through town when the shops close for lunch. It was idyllic, a wonderful way to raise our family. I am aware that not too many women go back after being out of the workplace for an extended period; I am proud I did and proud that I became CEO.

Tell us about a mentor that helped guide you in your career.

What made them so special? Two women come to mind immediately—the legendary Charlotte Beers who hired me at J. Walter Thompson and was CEO of more than one major agency. She is a force of nature. I remember her as smart, cool, and having great impact on the organization. Also, Marion Howington, a SVP and creative director at J. Walter Thompson—stylish, powerful, and so much fun to be with. She guided me well during the first few years of my career. Some others come to mind, not as mentors per se, but as people I admire who were my contemporaries before I left for Italy. Bob Eckert, former CEO of Kraft and Mattel; he was a client that hired me at Kraft. I have always admired his strategic skill, decency, and goodwill. Finally, Rick Searer, former president of Kraft North America who hired me after being out of the workforce for 12 years. Rick is a terrific leader who served on the SRG board for several years. When I wanted to go back to work in 2004, I expressed my concern to him that I may encounter obstacles related to not working for so long. He replied by saying something along the lines of “You can learn the skills you may have missed, but talent is talent; that doesn’t change.  His kind observation gave me confidence to press on.

How do you as a successful woman plan to inspire the next generation of women?

I think inspiration will come from our empathy, the example we set as senior leaders (both male and female), the opportunities we create, and the talent we groom.