Q&A: Shelly Lazarus


The Plank Center is committed to developing the next generation of leaders and advancing the profession. It is our honor to recognize six leaders whose commitment to mentoring generates a powerhouse of influence and accelerates success in our profession.

Our question and answer series introduces the 2013 Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.

Shelly Lazarus

Meet Shelly Lazarus.
Shelly Lazarus is the Chairman Emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather.

Shelly has always focused on developing people she works with. As she says, “A company will only be as successful as the people who work for it.”

When asked about her own mentor, Shelly says it is hard to pick just one, as many have had a profound influence on her life and career. She says she has worked for and with many distinct leaders and mentors and reflects on the significance of mentorship in her first job. While at Columbia University, she interned at General Foods (now Kraft). The assistant product manager and the associate product manager left to serve five months in the reserve during the Vietnam War and during their absence, she was asked to fulfill their duties. She said yes but only if the boss would agree to sit down with her each day and all answer any questions that might have arisen over the course of that day.

In return, it was natural for Shelly to have the same compelling effect on her colleagues and clients throughout her career. “You first have to accept that mentoring is important, very important.  It should be a part of everything you do,” she says, adding, “If you are a leader of a team, it’s your job to bring people along. The team needs to understand the mission to achieve success.” Often, Shelly asks thought-provoking questions to prompt growth and learning. For example, after a meeting, she will discuss with a colleague how a certain approach or strategy specifically shaped the meeting’s success.

Shelly commits herself to finding the best people to work with and actively strives to have a healthy, supportive company atmosphere where valuing clients and people are top priorities. Cindy Luong, communication director at Ogilvy & Mather, is one of those great finds. After interviewing with Shelly for the first time, she immediately wanted to work for her. Fast forward more than 10 years later and Cindy describes Shelly as a friend and sums up her mentoring characteristics in three pillars: authenticity, generosity and commitment. According to Cindy, Shelly “instills confidence and is a great leader who trusts her employees.”

For Shelly, it isn’t just about being a great mentor; “It is equally as important to have a great mentee who wants to learn and grow.” Shelly has spoken with many individuals at various stages of their careers. Each stage brings about new growth and learning opportunities. Shelly says, “Certain moments are crucial for development. When and how to take advantage of those opportunities are keys to success.”

Finding time for mentoring is the biggest challenge for Shelly, and yet she doesn’t hesitate to make time. Cindy says, “Shelly will never say no to Ogilvy, the people of Ogilvy and the clients. She always finds time.” Shelly even carves out time to write thank you notes.

After four decades of impacting the lives of many individuals including employees, clients and anyone who has had the privilege of meeting Shelly, there is no question she is the ideal recipient of the Milestones in Mentoring Executive Award.

Published: August 2013

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