February 17, 2014

Ei meets Leo

I sent my first email to the team at Leo Burnett in the summer of 2013. One of the Ei Connectors, Jamie Jones, suggested I explore if they’d be interested in being involved as a sponsor and “thought partner.” Like everything else this year, I knew any type of collaboration would be a long shot.

Our schedules never seemed to align, but after a few months, I finally met with Leslie Meredith, Leo Burnett’s Executive Vice President.

We swapped life stories, I gave her a Leap Year Project Book, and she showed a sincere interest in Experience Institute. She even suggested that we rally a team of LB leaders to review the ideas of how we could work together.

Ei meets Leo 1

Six weeks later, I was in a conference room on the 21st floor of Leo Burnett’s Chicago office building. One of our students, Dane Johnson, accompanied me to the meeting. Even though I’ve shared this type of conversation 56 times in the previous three months, this one seemed to carry more weight.

As we began, my nerves calmed and the conversation progressed with ease. The seven Leo Burnett staff members were kind in their responses and perceptive in their questions and comments.

When it came time to pitch the idea of a sponsorship, we bantered about the values, benefits, and the community surrounding Ei. Everyone in the room remained open and honest about their excitement. Then, the head of Human Resources, and a key decision maker in the room, Renetta McCann, approached the screen to scan the ideas more closely.

Renetta, a middle-aged African American woman who possesses a warm demeanor and a quick wit, has made quite the splash in her industry. Prior to her senior role at Leo Burnett, she was the CEO of Starcom and developed it into one of the advertising industry’s top strategic planning think tanks. She’s a legend.

After what seemed like an eternity of silent contemplation, she spoke up and asked for some time to consider our proposal. I let the air fill my lungs, shook her hand, and we parted ways. It was time to wait.

Ei meets Leo 2

Within two days, Leslie called to share some of my favorite words, “We’re in.”

I hung up the phone, gave a quiet fist-pump, and then quickly sat down to begin thinking through next steps. It was an exciting moment.

Leo Burnett, one of the most well-known ad agencies and influential companies in the world, is joining our small network of sponsors in a big way. Their thought partnership and financial contribution grant us the resources to continue creating prototypes, curriculum, campaigns, and new offerings for a wider array of students – all on the heels of a collaboration with Stanford’s d.school. Furthermore, this helps us learn how to curate and approach other innovative and forward-thinking teams interested in sponsoring Experience Institute during these beginning years.

We are incredibly grateful for Leslie, Renetta, and the individuals who listened to our stories, considered our ideas, and decided to take the leap.

Moments like these, the ones where people choose to join forces and embark on meaningful journeys together, are the moments that define our lives and make history. And, for that, we are grateful.

Here’s to the journey ahead.

- Victor

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