What I've Learnt: Danny Turnbull, Managing Director of Stein IAS

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Danny Turnbull

Danny Turnbull is Stein IAS's Managing Director. Danny has more than 20 years of experience in B2B marketing, and works at the head of Stein IAS as they support their clients through strategic planning, digital transformation and creative services.

He has been in his current position since the beginning of 2017, overseeing Stein IAS as they were named 2017 Agency of the Year by the Business Marketing Association - an award they've won more than any other.

In this week's What I've Learnt, Danny shares his insights from an illustrious B2B career.

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

Exercise. It’s very rare that I let a day go by without some form of exercise. At my age and with a young daughter it’s imperative. Saying that, it’s something I’ve embraced for over 25 years. We have a really proactive approach to employee wellbeing at the agency with supplemented gym membership for all staff and weekly activities including badminton, Pilates and football. This is ideal for me as I also firmly believe in the productivity benefits of getting away from your desk and actually taking a break – something we call ‘getting out of the river’. This means I can fit one of these in most days. Failing that, we’re based on a canal and on the edge of the Peak District so I can run down the towpath or bike down a hill.

What's been your luckiest break?

I’m not a great believer in luck, there is an often quoted Gary Player quote about luck and hard work, and I’m a believer in making your own luck. That said, one of my clients reminds me regularly that we are in the top 1% of the world’s population in terms of standard of living so I’d say that probably wins out.

If pushed at an individual or corporate level, I was fortunate enough to be given an MD role in a large regional agency in my early 30s which defined my subsequent career.

What's your best failure?

Macho managers would of course say that I’ve had none, or indeed find a ‘humble brag’ that flips this. But, looking back I’ve made many mistakes and all of them have been a learning experience. Being able to dust yourself down and move on is vital and made possible by the support of a strong, supportive culture. I cut my managerial teeth in a VC-backed fail fast culture which has stuck with me.

What is the best investment you've ever made, either financial or time?

I don’t have a Midas touch when it comes to investments but I am eternally glad that I got on the property ladder, buying my first house with my first agency job in the early 90s. When I look at the challenges people have at a similar age and stage in their career now as first-time buyers, I am grateful for taking the plunge when I did.

Vocationally, the greatest investment I have made was to do an MBA. This was a significant financial investment in myself - £30k - and comprised three years of 20-plus hours a week of blood, sweat and tears, but it is without doubt the single most important investment I’ve made in my own personal development and has paid for itself in quantums.

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Since joining Stein IAS, I have definitely seen a greater balance. I’ve worked in transatlantic email cultures previously which resulted in an ‘always on’ mentality, and I’ve done my apprenticeship of through-the-night shifts in B2C agencies, and had years at the helm where I took only 12 to 14 days' holiday a year.

I now have a four-year-old girl who is the centre of my universe, which means that it’s vital that I balance spending quality time with her with a demanding job. At Stein IAS, I have the opportunity to be in a meeting in London in the morning (I live in Manchester but look after our teams in London/Paris) and on the school run in the afternoon. Yes, there are the obvious challenges posed with this, but with flexible working hours and whole lot of trust, we all ensure we are where we need to be, when we need to be there. 

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I’m not a big fan of airport business books but have long found inspiration in Stephen Coveys ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ which provides guidance on how to conduct yourself in this world rather than being a business strategy book. I recently stumbled across an equally uplifting and enlightening tome, ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ by Jordan Peterson. If you don’t have time to read either, follow Anthony Burrill’s simple mantra, ‘work hard and be nice to people.’

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

My father gave the actual 21-year-old me two pieces of advice on my first day at work in CAS Advertising and Marketing in 1994. Don’t fiddle your expenses, and get out of advertising before you hit 30. I followed the former and not the latter. I don’t regret either.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

Not surprisingly, therefore, it’s my father - a celebrated B2B marketing professor who wrote extensively on the subject in the 80s, 90s and noughties. I was always going to follow in his footsteps but didn’t fancy working in academia so chose the bright lights and glamour of a career in advertising.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I go to church every Sunday. I was brought up like that but lost my way. When my girl was born, I started going again so that I could get her Christened and into the local school and the habit stuck again. Amidst the chaos of the modern technical world, it’s good to take time to reflect and pause. 

What does success look like to you?

Personally, to be respected and successful for being myself. I am really interested in the current vogue for authenticity and vulnerability in business leaders, as an antidote to the SNW (Show no Weakness) approach of the past few decades.

Professionally, I’ve always run business by key metrics, of which I think between one and two handfuls are enough to judge business success. To have had our hard work and dedication recognised through industry awards is also truly rewarding – and I am proud to have seen our teams secure 96 different wins and commendations last year.