Tom Yorton, former Chief Executive Officer, Second City Works

We’re all a product of our lifelong experience. I have 18 years of experience in the advertising and marketing industry. I still consider myself in that field even in my current role as CEO, because so much of what we do here at Second City Works is focused on marketing and storytelling.

August 2015

How has your experience shaped you to be the leader you are today?

We’re all a product of our lifelong experience. I have 18 years of experience in the advertising and marketing industry. I still consider myself in that field even in my current role as CEO, because so much of what we do here at Second City Works is focused on marketing and storytelling.

I’ve been lucky to have worked in so many industries, because that breadth of experience helps me connect with the clients we have today. Lastly, I’ve learned that business is an act of improvisation and people with an interest in comedy-improv like me can thrive in today’s economy.

What are you doing now to ensure you’re growing and developing as a leader?

We work with so many different kinds of clients across all different sectors; that helps me grow and develop as a leader. Second, this place is a school; together we’re taking improv classes as a team to help develop our communication skills. Third, I’m a voracious reader. I would suggest everyone be as much of a student of the world as possible.

What do you think is the biggest challenge leaders face today?

A new model of leadership is emerging. Top-down leadership is out of vogue, and collaborative leadership — the kind we mean when we say “follow the follower” at Second City—is on the rise. In a world where teams form and disband quickly, where one day you’re the subject matter expert and the next you’re a learner, a more fluid approach to leadership and ensemble-building can make you more nimble, adaptive and innovative. Leaders who cling to command-and-control models are increasingly frustrated by the fluid nature of decision-making today.

What is one of the toughest lessons that you’ve learned?

We tend to judge ourselves by our intentions, but others judge us by our actions. We all try to be self-aware, but sometimes we fall short. It’s difficult as a boss because your words carry more weight than you think. Sometimes your off-hand comments can really impact the people around you, even when you never intended them to. Because of that, it’s important as a leader to seek feedback, and to check in with those around you to make sure you have a good read on the state of the business and the people you lead.

What type of people do you prefer to work with?

I look for curious people who ask smart questions because it means they’re inquisitive about life, and chances are they’ll be lifelong learners. It’s important that I hire people who are interested in personal growth and will continue to expand their skillset. I’m not interested in someone who thinks they’ve already arrived. I want people who can read a room and who will bring curiosity into a meeting or into the workplace.

I’ve also found that people who know how to ask great questions are usually the best listeners. I’ve really come to value listening. Through my work at Second City, I’ve learned that the best improvisers are supremely good listeners.

What is your advice for finding a mentor?

You need to seek out both a few formal mentors and a lot of informal mentors. Sometimes if you ask someone directly, “Will you be my mentor?” it sounds like a burden, even if it’s well intended. It is important to go into conversations without any strings attached. Be authentic and allow mentorship to happen wherever and however it’s offered.

What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?

Talk to good leaders, and find a way to spend time with them. It is important to study being a leader, as you would study a technical aspect of your job. Don’t assume that you’ll automatically become one; you have to work on it. However, you can move it along a lot quicker if you’re being intentional about it and you establish relationships with people who have been there.

Leadership is humbling because you win and lose at it. You’re great for a while, and then you’re lousy again. You don’t arrive at being a leader; you keep getting better and better as you evolve within your role and as a person.

 

Interview By Renata Sandor & Lindsey Pellegrini

Fast Facts

Location
Chicago, Illinois
Time at Second City Works
13 years
Previous experiences
• Senior Marketing Executive at 3COM and Sears
• Vice President in the advertising firms Hal Riney & Partners, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey
Interesting fact
Tom is co-author of "Yes, And"...How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity, Communication and Collaboration
Leader you admire
Joe Maddon, manager for the Cubs. He's at the top of his game, yet he's an eager learner and a creative thinker.

Browse Conversations

Tonise Paul
Tonise Paul, President & CEO of Energy BBDO
Victoria Podesta
Victoria Podesta, Former Chief Communication Officer of Archer Daniels Midland Company
Alexander Pissios
Alexander Pissios, President of Cinespace Chicago Film Studios
Andrea Zopp
Andrea Zopp, CEO of World Business Chicago
Anne C. Toulouse
Anne C. Toulouse, VP of Advertising & Global Brand Management of The Boeing Company
Anne Pramaggiore
Anne Pramaggiore, Former CEO & President of ComEd and of Senior Executive Vice President & CEO of Exelon Utilities
Aylwin Lewis
Aylwin Lewis, Chairman, CEO & President of Potbelly Sandwich Works, LLC
Bill Bartlett
Bill Bartlett, Vice President of Organizational Development of Novant Health
Bill Kurtis
Bill Kurtis, Founder & Owner of Bill Kurtis Productions & Tallgrass Beef Company
Bridget Coffing
Bridget Coffing, Former Chief Communications Officer of McDonald’s Corporation
Carrie J. Hightman
Carrie J. Hightman, EVP & Chief Legal Officer of NiSource, Inc.
Chris Dornfeld
Chris Dornfeld, President & Co-Founder of Bonfyre
Courteney Monroe
Courteney Monroe, Chief Executive Officer of National Geographic Global Networks
Cristina Gonzalez
Cristina Gonzalez, Director for Client Experience & Change of IBM
David Prosperi
David Prosperi, First Vice President of The Options Clearing Corporation
David Snyder
David Snyder, Publisher of Crain’s Chicago Business
Drew Lydecker
Drew Lydecker, Co-Founder and President of AVANT Communications
Ed Wehmer
Ed Wehmer, President & CEO of Wintrust Financial Corporation
Edwin Eisendrath
Edwin Eisendrath, CEO of Chicago Sun-Times
Gary Kelly
Gary Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of Southwest Airlines
Gary Sheffer
Gary Sheffer, Former VP of Communications & Public Affairs of General Electric
Greg Cameron
Greg Cameron, President & CEO of Joffrey Ballet
Harry Kraemer
Harry Kraemer, Executive Partner of Madison Dearborn
Howard Tullman
Howard Tullman, Former CEO of 1871 of & General Managing Partner of G2T3V, LLC
Iris Ware
Iris Ware, Chief Learning Officer of City of Detroit
James L. Madara
James L. Madara, CEO of American Medical Association
Jeff Winton
Jeff Winton, SVP, Chief Communications Officer of Astellas Pharma US
Jennifer M. Smoter
Jennifer M. Smoter, Former VP of Public Affairs & Brand of AbbVie
Jennifer Mauer
Jennifer Mauer, VP, Enterprise Transformation & Change Strategic Communications of Bristol-Myers Squibb
Jodi Fyfe
Jodi Fyfe, Chief Executive Officer of Paramount Events
John Canning
John Canning, Founder & Chairman of Madison Dearborn Partners
John R. Ettelson
John R. Ettelson, President & CEO of William Blair & Company
Jon Harris
Jon Harris, Chief Communications Officer of ConAgra Foods
Jonathan Weiss
Jonathan Weiss, CEO of HealthEngine
Julie Howard
Julie Howard, Chairman & CEO of Navigant
Karen Tripp
Karen Tripp, VP of Communications and Public Affairs of ENVIVA
Kate Bensen
Kate Bensen, CEO of The Chicago Network
Kathy Beiser
Kathy Beiser, Chief Communications Officer of Kaiser Permanente
Keith Alper
Keith Alper, CEO of CPG Agency
Kelly McGrail
Kelly McGrail, VP, Strategic Business Communications of Mars, Incorporated
Kent Nielsen
Kent Nielsen, Co-Founder of Fort Knox Studios
Kim Feil
Kim Feil, CMO & CSO of Aspire Healthy Energy Drinks
Kym White
Kym White, Global Practice Chair, Health of Edelman Consulting
Mary Jo Herseth
Mary Jo Herseth, SVP, Head of Banking, U.S of BMO Private Bank
Matt Shattock
Matt Shattock, Chairman and CEO of Beam Suntory
Maureen Cragin
Maureen Cragin, VP, Communications of Boeing Defense, Space & Security
Merrillyn J. Kosier
Merrillyn J. Kosier, EVP & Chief Marketing Officer of Ariel Investments
Necole Merritt
Necole Merritt, Chief Communications & Marketing Strategist of Entergy Services, Inc.
Pam Rose
Pam Rose, Co-Owner of Swirlz Cupcakes
Paula Davis
Paula Davis, VP of Corporate Affairs and Communications of HARMAN
Pedro A. Guerrero
Pedro A. Guerrero, Chief Executive Officer of Guerrero Howe Custom Media
Peter Marino
Peter Marino, Chief Public Affairs & Communications Officer of MillerCoors
Raaja Nemani
Raaja Nemani, CEO & Co-Founder of Bucketfeet
Rob Clark
Rob Clark, VP of Global Communications of Medtronic
Shari Runner
Shari Runner, President & CEO of The Chicago Urban League
Sid Bala
Sid Bala, CEO of alligatortek
Sonny Garg
Sonny Garg, Former Chief Innovation Officer of Exelon
Terry Brady
Terry Brady, President of Underwriters Laboratories (UL)
Tiffany LaBanca
Tiffany LaBanca, SVP of Global Internal Communications of 21st Century Fox