From 'Too Short' to CEO: Nancy Hall Shattered a Sexist Stereotype

Mindshare's chief executive for North America recalls her early challenges

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When Nancy Hall told a college advisor that she eventually wanted to be a CEO, he said that was an unrealistic goal because “only men are CEOs, and typically men that are CEOs are over 6 feet.” Because Hall was 5 feet tall, “he didn’t think that was in my future.”

The incident motivated her further, and now Hall is North America CEO of media agency Mindshare.

College was a pivotal time, as Hall was president of her sorority—a position that taught her how to lead a community, run meetings and solve problems.

Hall initially wanted to pursue broadcast journalism because of her curiosity and drive to find answers. She also loved fashion and saw the rise of tech as an opportunity to blend technology and fashion in a way that could change how people learn about trends and shop for seasonal clothing. She partnered with an engineer and built a business plan for a fashion software firm that she hoped would revolutionize the shopping experience.

Versatile skills

Unfortunately, Hall also had to pay her rent, so she ended up working in a bar at night while getting her fashion software off the ground and securing funding.

“I didn’t really know how to translate an idea into a business plan, into the software that people would use,” said Hall, adding that the whole period was a humbling learning experience.

Working in the bar at night taught Hall humility, but also how to be flexible and agile, “because you have to do that when you’re trying to start a company yourself.”

After nine months, Hall found an internet job at The dot-com bust put an end to that company a few years later, but Hall witnessed how the internet could be a powerhouse for advertising, so she stuck with it and ended up in advertising and marketing.

Constant learning

Despite several instances of people trying to get her to change focus—including in the early 2000s when she was told the internet was dead and she should find a job in TV, radio or print—Hall still believed in the promise of the internet, which got her through the early days of measurement as well as numerous acquisitions through the Epsilon Conversant pipeline. She also loved to learn.

“That gave me a wonderful experience to work across many different aspects of our industry. At one point, I worked on a cross-functional team across affiliate, media, data and tech. And it was so interesting and fun, and I learned every day,” said Hall.

All that learning eventually led her to the CEO position she had aspired to since college, first with Matterkind and now Mindshare, where she oversees the agency’s strategy and operations, representing more than 1,700 employees across the U.S. and Canadian markets. 

“I thought of all the women and the working mothers that I know, and was proud of the fact that I was able to achieve this milestone of getting a CEO job,” said Hall, who supports and advises fellow women in the industry to help them succeed.

“It’s important that we give that support and advice to each other within this industry and across industries,” said Hall.

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This story first appeared in the May 14, 2024, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.