Ervin & Smith
An Interview with Heidi Mausbach, President and CEO of Ervin & Smith
By Taralynn Forman and Blake Fostvedt, Creighton University MBA students
Heidi Mausbach joined Ervin and Smith nearly 15 years ago as an Account Executive and was recently named president and CEO. During her time at Ervin and Smith, Heidi has been vital in the development of the company’s culture which is highlighted by their employee mentoring and training programs. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed; in 2012 the agency was named one of the Best Places to Work in Omaha and Mausbach received the Midlands Business Journal 40 under 40 award. We were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk with Heidi about herself and the company she now leads.
What is your personal background?
I grew up in Kearney and went to college in Lincoln. It took me awhile to nail down a major, but I finally ended up in the Journalism college, which is where I fell in love with advertising and marketing. My first job out of college was at Ervin & Smith. The agency had just won the TD Ameritrade account, which was Ameritrade at the time. I was hired as an account executive and was fortunate to work closely with Doug Smith, the owner of Ervin & Smith, and Sharon Carleton, who was the director of client services at the time. Over the next fourteen years, I worked my way up from an account executive to the VP of client services to president and CEO.
Has this recent promotion been a large shift in responsibilities?
Sharon did a great job preparing me for this role and exposing me to a lot of different opportunities and areas of the business, including IT, compliance, HR and finance.
What have been your favorite things about working at Ervin & Smith?
Our progressive culture. Our leadership team is committed to our culture and making Ervin & Smith a great place to work. As a result, I work with really smart, talented and creative people who continue to push our culture and business forward. It’s a very exciting time to be in the business because search engines and social media have changed the way we approach branding and marketing. It’s a constant challenge to stay ahead of the curve, but it’s also the reason I love my job.
Can you talk about the Company’s core values?
We recently modified our core values because our business has changed so much as a result of the digital transformation that has happened in our industry. Today, our core values are: curiosity, candor, resilience, accountability, happiness, drive, adaptability and innovative thinking.
Did you see a shift when you changed and added to the core values?
Our employees embody our core values, but I feel like candor is the one value that is reshaping our culture. We want our employees to be open and honest with their opinions and feedback and expect them to challenge each other, even if that means questioning our best ideas. Challenging each other in a healthy way leads to better solutions and outcomes.
Did the discussion of ethics come up in the discussion of core values?
Yes, it did, and that is why we kept accountability as one of our core values. In addition to our core values, we developed guiding principles, which are actions we commit to no matter what. Our No. 1 guiding principle: do the right thing.
Can you talk about your Employee Mentoring Programs?
We feel mentoring is very important. We provide one-on-one coaching, cross-departmental mentoring and lunch with a leader. Our cross-departmental mentoring program has been successful because employees benefit from working with others who have different perspectives, communication styles, strengths and leadership skills.
Can you talk about the community responsibility of your organization?
We encourage every employee to get involved in the community or an organization that they are passionate about. For a lot of our employees, this is how they stay inspired. As an agency, we participated in Omaha Gives. This past year, the company gave each employee $75 to give to their favorite nonprofit organization. The agency also gives back by picking one organization to support each year. We believe we can have a bigger impact if we use all of our talents collectively.
Can you describe an easy ethical situation in business you have faced?
When we take clients out for lunch or dinner, they often joke that they expect to see the bill on their invoice. If we invite a client out, we pick up the bill.
What about a hard ethical decision?
In the past, we had a client act inappropriately to an employee. We ended up calling the client, which was risky considering they were a good piece of our business. But, it was the right thing to do.
Have you decided to not work with a potential client because your morals didn’t align?
Yes. We look for clients who align with our business. If a client isn’t a good fit, we will turn down the business.
How do you implement your own culture while meeting the client’s objectives?
We are selective about who we take on as a client. We’ve learned over the years that if your values don’t align, it is a difficult relationship from the start. If we want a successful relationship, it’s important that we have the right chemistry and expectations in place.
Can you tell me about someone who has influenced you?
Doug Smith and Sharon Carleton are two people who have really influenced me professionally. When it comes to ethics, my family has been a big influence. The values my parents instilled in me have taught me to always do the right thing versus the easy thing.
What are the biggest ethical challenges you see with young professionals?
Not realizing that the decisions they make may have a bigger impact on a business than they think. Today’s business world is very complex, so it’s important that they find a mentor or sponsor at the top who can teach them about business and provide more context around business decisions.