What I've Learnt: Sue Todd, CEO at Magnetic

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo
Sue Todd, Magnetic

Across the UK, Magnetic helps advertisers reach specialist audiences through consumer magazines.

Sue Todd has been CEO since 2015, helping reach a lesser-tapped market for clients. As well as her role at Magnetic, she is a Non-Executive Director at Big Issue, and co-founded culture2point0 with Bruce Daisley - a leadership summit on work culture.

We discussed the things that motivate and move her - and learnt what lessons she had to share.

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

I’m a total sucker for a podcast on my commute. Nearly always the TED Radio hour or The Moth on the way in, and the essential listening which is The Daily from NYT on the way home.

What's been your luckiest break?

I’ve had so many and they all revolve around meeting clever and funny people at the right time in the right place and being catapulted into something new by joining up with them.

Running my own business, Wonder, for eight years happened like that. But I suppose the flukiest bit was getting into media and specifically radio in Manchester in the first place - post-university I registered with a random recruitment agency who passed my CV to Key 103 FM without my knowledge.

When they rang me up, I thought for the first five minutes of the call that I’d won some sort of on-air promotion as I couldn’t connect the dots... I got the job and had four fun years there which started my foray into media.

What's your best failure?

I failed A-level French about a zillion years ago after a teacher persuaded me to drop history for it. This made me realise that teachers don’t always know best and I should have stuck with my gut and done what I loved.

More front of mind now, I have a secondary school age daughter who I 100% am going to trust to decide what she wants to study and do with her life.

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

I took the decision when I had my daughter to work three days a week until she was eight, and even now, I do four days with Magnetic despite me being less needed for school runs and breakfast club drop offs. It’s been a brilliant investment to hold some time back for myself. 

I’ve used my Mondays for 100% selfish endeavours such as going to matinees at the cinema or theatre on my own or cycling, but also to explore other projects, my most recent one being taking on NED position with the Big Issue, which I love. 

How would you describe your work/life balance?

Perfect - most of the time (see above). My stakeholders are very focused, as I am, on output, therefore where and how I and the team work is left entirely to us to determine. 

We have compressed hours, home working and part-time all going on. I think like everyone I’ve had to be more disciplined and open about out-of-hours emails, etc. It’s very tricky as I hugely benefit from being able to get to my daughter's school stuff in core hours at times as most people do, which means I’m more than happy to work in the evenings sometimes - but culturally it’s important to let people determine what works for them.

It's horses for courses with all of this stuff, as long as performance and outcomes are clear for people. The key is to keep talking and checking in with people.

Which book would you recommend others to read and why?

I’ve just read 'I am, I am, I am' for my reading group by Maggie O'Farrell - so it’s very front of mind. It’s a memoir about brushes with death. I loved it. 

It was totally life-affirming because it really made me think about chance and the moments in life that could have been so different. The narrow escapes that we’ve all had. 

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

All feelings pass. I know this is a bit of psychotherapy talk but I honestly didn’t really get this until my 40s and it’s life changing advice in my opinion.

I tell my teen daughter this at least once a week too when the trauma and drama of school, friendship and netball losses are happening. So much of how we feel is transitory, or in my case, just down to not enough sleep! (My second piece of advice would be to sleep more.)

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

Undoubtedly my daughter. Not directly, although sometimes it can be, like when she makes me aware of how long I’ve been on my phone doing emails.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

I’m such a talker and sharer I’m not sure I’ve kept much back over the years. I guess maybe there’s not been much use for my bar games skills in the last 20 years, so maybe it would surprise people to know I captained my college at pool back in the day (does anyone even play pool anymore?).

What does success look like to you?

The best moments are when a unique and disparate group of people come together with a unifying goal and stretch themselves to do work that breaks the mould. I

It’s never very satisfying for me winning alone. I’m motivated by being with others and feeling triumphant about what’s been collectively achieved. I’ve had countless examples of this with my Magnetic team and the publishers who we work with and it’s always satisfying.