“Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” It’s an old saying that still holds true in modern-day and as evidence demonstrates, Christine Fruechte is the product of strong relationships with family, friends, CEOs, and advertising icons.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Christine learned professional and personal life lessons from a young age. As she realized that the career of an artist was not in the stars for her, she went on to pursue her true calling – grow businesses through her love of creativity.
Read on to find out more about the powerful life and personal health lessons Christine has picked up along the way, how she ended up in Honolulu at the age of 27 to lead an account management team at a large ad agency, and why she takes the time to nurture her relationships with loved ones and professionals in her trusted circle.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I am CEO of Colle McVoy, a full-service creative agency of more than 200 amazing people in Minneapolis, that leads brands to their next through purpose, innovation and experience. When I am not strategizing with clients or helping to advance creative ideas, I focus my energy on nurturing our inclusive culture. I am proud of the fact that we are consistently named a best place to work and that Colle McVoy is a place where people can do the best work of their careers.
How did you get to where you are today?
At a young age, my parents told me “to predict the future, you need to create it.” Don’t wait for things to happen, make things happen. Coming from a family of entrepreneurial business owners, I witnessed firsthand the importance of enjoying what you do.
My career in the advertising industry came about after I realized that a career as an artist was not in the cards. I was a painfully shy child and expressed myself through drawing and painting. I was fortunate to have a family that encouraged me to enroll in the fine arts program at the University of Minnesota. Regardless of my passion, there were many others who had far greater artistic talent than my own. So, I pivoted to my true calling, which is to use my love of creativity to grow businesses.
At the ripe age of 27, I was recruited to Honolulu to lead the account management department of a large advertising agency. It was a huge challenge. My humility and instincts helped me earn the respect of clients and colleagues and led to significant business growth. The experience increased my appreciation for the responsibility of leadership and the impact of diversity and inclusion. It also instilled confidence to pursue future opportunities to push myself outside of my comfort zone.
Women often attribute much of their success to the support from the people they surround themselves with. How do you foster strong professional relationships as you grow in your career?
For me, relationships are always about putting people first. Understanding what’s important to others and what makes them tick. I value the relationships I have and invest in the effort to keep them strong. Sometimes it takes a well-planned lunch meeting. Sometimes it’s a quick text of congratulations for making a news headline or best wishes on a birthday. Keeping those connections alive is a priority because you never know when you might need advice or have a momentous decision to discuss.
Early on in my career, I learned the impact of empowerment and treating people with respect. I believe leaders have a responsibility to share the lessons they’ve learned and should support other people whenever they can. My father, who was a leadership training consultant, always told me that that the best leaders are often the best coaches and to view constructive feedback as a gift.
“My father...always told me that that the best leaders are often the best coaches and to view constructive feedback as a gift.”
What’s one way you’ve invested in yourself that’s had the most impact over the course of your career? What about within the past year?
Many years ago, I abruptly learned about the essential need for self-care. After a grueling schedule of work travel, I collapsed in an airport due to exhaustion. It was a life-changing moment. Since then, I have made my health, as well as the health and wellness of our staff, a priority.
A commitment to wellness has taken on a deeper meaning in 2020 as leadership has been tasked with taking actions that directly affect people’s lives and livelihoods. Never before has it been more important to listen and act in ways that make people feel safe and cared for.
How do you view work-life integration, especially now, and what advice can you share with others who may be struggling with it?
I have to create boundaries and new coping mechanisms to find balance. One way is how I start my day. Before even looking at my phone, I exercise. This helps “refill my tank” with physical movement so I can get through the long days. I’ve also learned that physical space is very influential in how I manage balance. I’ve had to carve out a space just for work where I can shut the door at the end of the workday to avoid work interruptions in my personal life (as much as possible). Other boundaries we have put in place at our company include no meetings over the lunch hour or after 5 pm, unless it’s a “walk and talk” meeting. We encourage people to get outside every day – as this is a critical element of health and wellness. Finally, my desk is framed in Post-it notes with inspiration that keeps me focused on what matters most.
“...Physical space is very influential in how I manage balance. I’ve had to carve out a space just for work where I can shut the door at the end of the workday to avoid work interruptions in my personal life."
Best advice on how to overcome typecasting in the workplace?
A good friend gave me a magnet that sums this up well: “Go ahead. Underestimate me. That’ll be fun.” Many women have experienced typecasting and gender bias, including me. I choose not to be a victim, but to focus on creating results that leave the doubters in disbelief.
I also raise my hand and encourage others to do the same, for the projects no one else wants to take. Challenging experiences not only help you grow professionally, but they will also showcase courage and potential for different roles and responsibilities. If faced with the need to escape a typecast, speak up to mentors and managers to let them know you are eager to expand your role and grow professionally.
What’s one tip you can share or something you’ve learned on how to handle salary negotiations or raises?
Do not underestimate your value and ask for what you’re worth. Having data and information to back up your ask is important, but so is kickass confidence. If you don’t have it yet, gather your trusted colleagues and network to help build you up before you go into the negotiation.
Who has helped you in your journey and how did they help shape your career?
I have tremendous gratitude for the many mentors on my professional journey. They have been my champions and recognized my potential long before I realized it myself. Some that come to mind include:
- My first mentor, Gail Shore, director of public relations at the University of Minnesota Women’s Athletic Department, who pushed me and helped me achieve what I thought was impossible.
- Nick Ng Pack, owner and CEO of MVNP, gave me leadership opportunities that stretched me farther than I imagined I could go. He also made me realize that business is personal and to remember that every decision we make also impacts families and their loved ones.
- Howard Liszt, the first CEO I worked for, went out of his way to know every employee and client by name. He has also been a trusted advisor on numerous career decisions.
- I also have tremendous gratitude for the mentorship and friendships with two advertising icons, Chuck Porter and Sharon Napier. Their advice and encouragement have helped me navigate the complexities and craziness of our industry.
What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
You cannot control the world around you, but you can control how you choose to respond.