Why Mother Is Investing in a Head of Learning and Development

72andSunny vet Maria Scileppi takes on the new role

maria scileppi
Maria Scileppi joined Mother earlier this month. Mother

Key insights:

For the past few years, Maria Scileppi, formerly the director of 72U, 72andSunny’s creative residency, has gone the consultant route in San Francisco. There were short stints at Ideo, Dropbox and Autodesk that resulted in Scileppi pondering and researching the future of work. It then became about the future of learning, but there was one concern in the back of her mind: more consistent interaction.

“I was appreciative of those experiences, but I realized that I missed working with people on a daily basis, and being in a creative environment as opposed to tech,” Scileppi said.

After moving back to Los Angeles, Scileppi began conversations with 23-year-old independent creative powerhouse Mother, resulting in her appointment as the agency’s first-ever head of learning and development.

According to Mother U.S. CEO Peter Ravailhe, the need for such a position was obvious as the agency world continues to change at such a rapid pace, especially as the shop was coming off of four consecutive years of double-digit growth that doubled its size.

“We were looking at the next 23 years of being an incredibly independent company, and how to be the most attractive destination for the most creative people,” Ravailhe said. “As we started to think about taking things to the next level, we asked ourselves how we can be better at both those things. Over [our existence], we’ve been known, I think, as being a very creative, human culture.”

The role is both evident—teaching and developing talent—and open to evolution and interpretation. To Ravailhe, ensuring that talent is engaged and allowed to be more fluid, experimental and expressive can only help the agency’s mission. In his mind, Scileppi serves as “the guardian of shaping environments to address the future and needs of our creative talent,” not just in the creative department but throughout the organization.

“How do we understand every individual’s purpose at Mother?” pondered Ravailhe. “What’s the pure energy that drives them every day? And if they don’t know that, how do we actually help them discover that? Our belief is that it will help us create the best environment for the most ambitious people.”

It’s early in the process, but from a practical perspective, Scileppi believes that success can come from honing in on talent’s mindset related to learning and development. That idea was one that was compelling in her deciding to join Mother, and one that poses all kinds of interesting challenges in a quickly evolving agency world.

“Adopting a growth mindset throughout the L.A. and New York offices, shortening learning loops and feedback loops will allow us to thrive in an age of accelerating change,” said Scileppi, who was also director of the Chicago Portfolio School earlier in her career. “A growth mindset and focus on self-discovery—understanding one’s purpose, superpower and also the things that sabotage our best efforts—is at the core of my work with Mother. We want every single employee to [adopt this thinking] as they are gifts that will serve them and, ultimately, our clients, during their time at Mother and throughout the lifetime of their careers.”

Additionally, Scileppi sees a focus on regenerating energy as an essential component in the bruising, daily grind of working at an agency.

“The industry has a bad rap [about burnout] for a reason,” she noted. “I’m going to take it very seriously, and determining how we design for sustainable creativity and creative output, and that’s a long-term investment.”

Yet, with all of the best of intentions, there are lingering issues and institutionalized behaviors that could cause bumps in the road ahead. The main concern is that agency life moves at a frenetic, breakneck pace, and key in the process for Mother and Scileppi is simply how to balance it all.

“I’ve been blown away at how receptive people are to this,” she said. “They’re hungry for this because everybody wants to grow. In my experience, I’ve asked people why they’ve left jobs, and it’s almost always because they stopped learning. So I think that there is a way to build all of this into the day-to-day. Taking a little time upfront can have a huge impact down the road.”

To Ravailhe, one of the advantages he sees with Mother in embarking on this pathway of learning for staff is its long-standing independence. Naturally, he says, the agency empowers people “probably a lot more than other places, and this is a great starting point and canvas for us to jump from.”

In the end, however, it does come down to carving out a place that draws talent not just to build a successful career, but one that promises to be rewarding each day. Additionally, it isn’t something that sits off to the side of the organization, but is built in at every instance.

“In our mind, learning and development is not a perk,” Scileppi said. “It’s a competitive advantage.”

@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.