Leading From The C-Suite: James Tinker of Moon Rabbit On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive
A life outside of work. Working hard and working smart are different things. Being able to have a schedule that allows you to focus on work but also have time outside to learn, explore, grow, rest, exercise, travel — and then be able to come back bigger and better is imperative.
As part of our series called “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive” we had the pleasure of interviewing James Tinker, Managing Partner at Moon Rabbit.
James is Managing Partner, Client Services at Moon Rabbit. He has been working in healthcare for nearly two decades across the globe and has experience working across a range of Rx, Dx and consumer campaigns, both promotional and educational, for a number of top pharma, surgical and biotech companies as well as niche healthcare and health tech clients.
He loves working collaboratively with his clients as an extension of their team to maximize the partnership opportunities and agency offering. Prior to starting Moon Rabbit, James co-founded Elixir Advertising in Singapore, working with global and regional clients across healthcare. Prior to Elixir, his previous five years were spent working for large network agencies in APAC. And before that, he spent time with health agencies in London.
Outside of work, James can be found enjoying music, sports and exploring the world together with his family.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My back story is a little mixed. I studied economics and for the longest time thought that I would wind up in investment banking. I had my own Road to Damascus moment while I was interviewing for positions and just decided to take a bit of an about-turn on what I was looking for. A temp position became available in a local healthcare agency called ScopeMedical based in the UK. I had no idea what that meant, but did need money, and so I started there. I was working on a project they had with Novartis and I was inputting data from questionnaires into spreadsheets and then developing reports based on the results. After a few days, I decided the work felt kind of menial, so I would spend the mornings achieving my target number of reports to produce daily and then spend the afternoon looking to see how I could automate it. I kind of liked the agency, they had just gone through a management buy out, there was a good energy and it was growing. I think there were around 17 people when I started. Long story short, I was taken on full time there and never really looked back. I got to work with clients like Novartis, Amgen, Sanofi and J&J. I got to travel, explore Europe and beyond a little bit and that felt great.
I led a large account there over a number of years with Janssen. As that grew and our business expanded, my client then opened up an APAC HQ in Singapore. As we had been a big part of their team in EMEA, they asked if we would be interested in pitching APAC business. We did, we won. I moved to Singapore to service that and opened up an APAC office for the network that had by that point acquired the small independent agency I started with. After a couple of years, I was approached by a larger network in Singapore to come and head up a part of their business, which led to my agency life and Moon Rabbit.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I think that for me the biggest and most interesting story continues to unfold as my career develops. I’ve made a lot of decisions that have felt like it has pushed me out of my comfort zone, but they’ve been great decisions for me. They have broadened my horizons, they have allowed me to explore three continents and live in the UK, Singapore and New York. I can’t wait to see where this story arc goes, and I’m grateful to be a part of it
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Maybe it’s not a life lesson quote, I do love ‘What got you here won’t get you there’ (which I know you’ll know is a book by Marshall Goldsmith). It was one of those books that you read and the words jump out and slap you in the face. It’s clear, it’s simple, it’s right there but not always easy to see. And it’s a helpful mindset. Falling back on old responsibilities and taking charge of old tasks is comfortable and easy — thinking about the differences of being in leadership positions — having to build a business as opposed to delivering tasks. To lead and manage operations instead of a small team.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
I actually think that the thing that made the most significant impact on my leadership style was 25 years of playing rugby. And then also being exposed to and experiencing standoffish leaders. On a rugby pitch, the captain doesn’t stand at the back directing the team into battle, (s)he is the first person there making a tackle, lifting the team. It’s bringing people together to be bigger as a group than as individuals. It’s motivating people to literally put their bodies on the line for each other and for the group. Lifting people when we need to turn a corner in a game. Driving discipline with training. But if you really want books, I lap up most things that Simon Sinek says.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Well, from the start we looked to build Moon Rabbit as an organization that brought together people with all sorts of different experiences, backgrounds, histories. Advertising agencies can sometimes be filled with agency lifers. We look to bring folks on from completely different places. We have people from Warner Music, we have people from academia and we have people who came from all sorts of different types of agencies too. It was a key strategic decision for us. With a breadth of experience unlike other agency talent pools, we get to completely different territories for the creative team to explore. And create work that works. All we have to do, really, is ensure that the environment that we create and foster is one that enables the team to be themselves and stand out — not that looks for them to fit in.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
I think actually the most important trait for me has been to get over any fear of failure. Especially as a young leader, I had a tendency of hitting paralysis by analysis. Wanting to get everything perfect and planning that out is something for academia. Trying, failing, learning and getting back on the horse quickly has been something that has really helped me as a leader, and in turn, the success of the agency.
Determination — kind of obvious to be honest. But this is critical. Maintaining that fire in the belly and drive in the heart. Especially for entrepreneurs — I remember when my partner and I first started our agency, we had a number of clients we thought would support us at the start. It can be pretty disheartening when you watch opportunities drop one by one — you have to maintain determination and positivity. And we found that support came from the least likely places.
Personable — you don’t have to be cold to be a successful leader. We’ve built a lot of this business on relationships that open opportunities — some of those relationships go back 20 years. The work can then blast the doors wide open and win us the business but the relationships get your foot in the door.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
I think the further up any chain that you go, the more the buck stops with you. So on top of other leadership responsibilities, leading teams, driving results — the C-Suite is there to have a point of view on how the business needs to be structured not only now, but also 5 years from now — and they are the ones fully accountable for results. Oh, plus there’s more meetings and forms to sign 😊
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a C-Suite executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Fair question, and I think there are a few. I do think that the idea of the C-Suite being far removed from the actual business and reality is an unfair one in this day and age. You can’t lead a business and make decisions about a business without being close to it, understanding how everything works together and comes together.
Also, and I mentioned it a little above, I think that often people think that you have to be hard as nails, not personable in order to make tough decisions and be able to be in those positions. And I just don’t think that is true. I think that we have to just be very clear with ourselves and with our organizations about what we’re building, where we are going and how we are going to get there — as well as expectations for how everyone will contribute in getting us there. At that point, you’ll make hard decisions but they will be fair ones and all grounded in building to achieving the plan — and if everything has been communicated then the organization will understand the decisions too.
Also, because so much of the work that C-Suite executives perform seems to be very forward looking, there’s a misconception that tasks and decisions can take a lot of time. Decisions can come fast and furious, the key is the conviction in your vision and your plan and the ability to apply critical thinking to be able to situations and make decisions that align with what you’re looking to achieve.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think these can be bucketed into a couple of categories. There’s mistakes that are driven by new leaders being uncomfortable with their new role, and subconsciously just focusing on tasks that they are used to doing (and had success in doing). What got you here won’t get you there — isn’t that the truth. Then there are mistakes that might look like lethargy or incompetence but are actually more driven by paralysis by analysis. Striving for perfection, searching for a utopia that might not exist and winding up not achieving anything at all.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I think that there is a lot of weight given to large business decisions, to plans and operations and execution. For me, and especially in a creative agency, the thing I spend more of my time on than anything else is the team. From looking at career paths and opportunities that we create, the employee experience, culture, supporting managers to be better managers and create a really happy workforce. It sounds obvious, but it’s the wonderful talented employees that consume more time than I think people expect when they think about the C-Suite.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Dogged determination. Building plans, having vision and having the determination to execute against them. To be able to get up after a fall, dust off, learn and build back bigger and stronger.
2 . A refusal to fear failure. Fear of failure just leads to lack of action, and there’s nothing more dangerous for a business than that.
3 . Emotional intelligence. It’s critical to be able to build strong relationships, manage conflict and drive a positive culture.
4 . Comfort making decisions quickly, and with conviction. There are so many decisions to make, all the time. Big ones, small ones. Small ones that have big implications. Again, understanding and articulating your vision, your plan and then being able to apply critical thinking to situations and make decisions quickly that align with what you’re looking to achieve — and moving on from decisions after you’ve made them. On to the next one.
5 . A life outside of work. Working hard and working smart are different things. Being able to have a schedule that allows you to focus on work but also have time outside to learn, explore, grow, rest, exercise, travel — and then be able to come back bigger and better is imperative.
In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I think that while the definition of a fantastic culture probably changes based on industry, I think how you get there is probably similar. For me, being able to understand and communicate the type of company that we are looking to be is the most critical — and then looking at a culture that will support that. You’ll know the business you are looking to build, the sort of environment that will drive success and bring in the talent you are looking for. For us, it’s all about allowing people to be themselves. We call it ‘Proudly Misfit’. So our culture celebrates differences.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I started my career working with a company that produced drugs for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression. Mental health is so very important, and often overlooked both by individuals and organizations. I would insist that around the world, mental health is covered as standard in employee insurances. I would look to remove any stigma away from therapy (it’s amazing the difference in attitudes around the world). I would encourage companies to explore benefits packages that support both mental and physical health.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
About the Interviewer: Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA was born nearly blind, crippled with club feet, partially deaf, and left-handed. He overcame all of these obstacles to become a successful civil trial lawyer. In 2000, he abandoned his law practice to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts. Doug teaches his innovative de-escalation skill that calms any angry person in 90 seconds or less. With Laurel Kaufer, Doug founded Prison of Peace in 2009. The Prison of Peace project trains life and long terms incarcerated people to be powerful peacemakers and mediators. He has been deeply moved by inmates who have learned and applied deep, empathic listening skills, leadership skills, and problem-solving skills to reduce violence in their prison communities. Their dedication to learning, improving, and serving their communities motivates him to expand the principles of Prison of Peace so that every human wanting to learn the skills of peace may do so. Doug’s awards include California Lawyer Magazine Lawyer of the Year, Best Lawyers in America Lawyer of the Year, Purpose Prize Fellow, International Academy of Mediators Syd Leezak Award of Excellence, National Academy of Distinguished Neutrals Neutral of the Year. His four books have won a number of awards and commendations. Doug’s podcast, Listen With Leaders, is now accepting guests. Click on this link to learn more and apply.