Lisa Sherman. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will! Lisa is one of the most respected leaders in our industry today, for professional, personal and social impact. Lisa has spearheaded a plethora of important world initiatives including LGBTQ acceptance, Suicide Prevention, Fatherhood Involvement, Confronting Sexual Harassment, Gun Safety and more. As President and CEO of The Ad Council, her overall objective is to “identify a select number of significant public issues and stimulate action on those issues through communications programs that make a measurable difference in our society.” Have a look at Lisa’s story, her life lessons and her courage to push us forward.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I have the best job on the planet. As President & CEO of the Ad Council, I get to see the very best of the communications industry—coming together and using the power of communications to tackle the country’s toughest issues—from gun safety, to diversity and inclusion, to the opioid epidemic. We work with a passionate network of partners across media and tech, marketing and advertising, government and the nonprofit world, who volunteer their time, resources and talents to tackle these critical issues.
It’s incredibly rewarding to experience what happens when you bring together the talent and goodwill of today’s biggest players, to move this country forward. The Ad Council is truly the place where causes and creativity converge. Every day.
How did you get to where you are today?
"I believe that you rarely get to your ultimate destination if you travel in a straight line."
My path has certainly been nonlinear, but I believe that you rarely get to your ultimate destination if you travel in a straight line. I spent the first 17 years of my career at Verizon (formerly Bell Atlantic). But after nearly two decades in telecommunications, I itched for something new and for a chance to combine some of my personal interests with my professional experience.
So, I took a leap of faith and started my own company, The Women Sport’s Network (WSN), a marketing agency connecting brands to women and girls through sports. It was an opportunity to build excitement for women’s sports and, ultimately, to provide girls and women with inspiration and opportunities to shine. Every day was electrifying, I felt there was purpose in my work.
From there I went to Hill Holiday and then to Viacom where I helped launch LogoTV. In addition to a strong business proposition, we had an equally strong mission-driven culture to give the LGBTQ community a home base on television, to break stereotypes and expand the imaginations of millions of people. We knew in doing so that, we would play a part in creating broader acceptance for LGBTQ people across America.
It was after Logo that I got the call about the Ad Council—as I said, it’s the best job on the planet. It’s been a winding journey but it’s easy to connect the dots retrospectively on how each experience laddered up and prepared me for the next.
What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
One the scariest moments of my professional journey also turned into one of my most pivotal. During the first 17 years of my career, I was living in the corporate closet, never telling others that I was gay for fear of committing career suicide. On my last day at Verizon, I could be silent no more. I decided to come out to our CEO, explaining that I had never felt safe being my out self at the company.
"Once I turned that corner, I never looked back. I no longer felt like I had to hide."
Once I turned that corner, I never looked back. I no longer felt like I had to hide. It was an enlightening moment because it wasn’t the career killer I thought it would be. In fact, the opposite happened. I started to do my best work and realized how much power there was in being my full self in every aspect of my life. That was a huge inflection point in my career.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today and what advice can you give them?
As women, we, too often have to fight to have our voices heard. Nevertheless, we must speak up and speak out. I’ve also found that the power of the pack is real, that it’s so important to find your tribe at work and to support one another. The friendships I’ve made with other incredible female colleagues have helped me to get where I am today. When we work together, we can accomplish anything.
Who helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your thinking and career?
In some ways, my professional career started behind the register of my dad’s Philadelphia shoe store where, as a teenager, I worked on Saturday afternoons. It was there that I would watch my dad chat with customers and quickly put them at ease. He taught me that in business and in life, relationships are everything and that it’s so important to “show up” for people you care about.
Over the course of my career, I’ve had the great fortune of working with many talented, generous, and wonderful people who have become my colleagues and friends—and “showing up” for those relationships has been a huge part of my professional success and trajectory.
I cannot think about my mentors without mentioning Bruce Gordon, my boss and mentor during many of my years at Verizon. From the day I met him, Bruce was a shining example of everything I wanted to be. He was an excellent communicator and public speaker, he took a genuine interest in people and, as one of the only African American leaders at our company, he was unapologetically bold and outspoken about the importance of diversity. Through him, I witnessed first-hand the power and influence of a truly authentic leader.
How have you found the right balance between your personal life and career?
First, I’m not sure I can say that I have fully figured out the perfect work-life balance. In some ways, I’m more of a proponent of a work-life integration – finding a way for it all to come together. With such a busy and hectic life, I try to focus on the quality of the time I spend in each place vs. the quantity. I’ve also learned how important it is to be my authentic self in every aspect of life, personal and professional.
What one thing would you have done differently early in your career?
I don’t have many regrets-- the ups and downs of each opportunity and role served to propel me toward the next. That said, one thing that I would have done differently, is that I would have pushed myself to move outside of my comfort zone sooner.
I was never someone who could feel comfortable with the status quo, but for many years I followed a safer and more secure corporate path. It wasn’t until I left my own safety net that I found the things that I was personally passionate about, and then I truly began to thrive.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I would always choose to align passion and purpose. As a kid I dreamed of being John Madden, the football announcer, offering color commentary on Sunday’s during football season. I grew up loving sports and playing basketball and lacrosse. There’s so much I learned about life, from playing sports—teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership, the importance of practice, and the power of putting skin in the game.