How Many People Do You Have?

July 15, 2011 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

If it’s not the first question I’m asked after telling people I run an advertising agency, it’s the second. “How many people do you have?” is a familiar query many of us use to sort people and firms into categories. The question usually serves as a proxy for capacity and capability, accurate or otherwise.

There are lots of questions behind this question, but the one that matters to me is the simplest: Why?

Why are we the size we are?

The built-in assumption often is that companies strive for growth and expansion – to become better is to become bigger. But this is not always so. Check out “Six Common Misperceptions About Teamwork” with particular attention to number three for more on that. Maintaining modest size has too many benefits to enumerate here, but I’ll share the one I consider most important.

I was reminded this week, in a most unexpected context, why I so enjoy my agency’s “under 50” status, and why I have no interest in growing another shop past that point. This week, I had the privilege of leading a crew of kids in Laredo, Texas on a variety of home repair projects in an area devastated by a flooded Rio Grande river last year. I was assigned 25 enthusiastic teens along with a list of tiny homes to tackle just this side of the border. I’m used to leading a group of equally enthusiastic, yet highly skilled fellow professionals. So, this youthful yet inexperienced talent pool left me full of new leadership insights. The one that hit home the hardest, however, was that I lead best from the inside out. I enjoy getting my hands into projects and making meaningful contributions to the daily work as I lead. With 25 kids working fast and furiously in and around 900 square-foot homes with power tools, high heat and other hazards, losing myself in the work wasn’t the best way to lead. I had to assume a “press box” vantage point and lead from the top of the bleachers where I could maintain the best perspective on everyone under my charge. Against all odds, there were no accidents or injuries during the week. The leadership style was appropriate to the task.

But, this approach wouldn’t suit me as a means for making my living, which is why our agency will never be more than 50 people while I’m leading the charge. I still love getting deeply involved with challenging client problems, and so do the rest of our senior team members. Because of our modest size, each of our leaders can still work in the business they love each day. And, thank goodness that’s the case because we have many clients who are better off for the experience and talent of a seasoned team.

The trick to maintaining the right size is learning to say, “No.” Turning down business is a difficult thing to do, but we do. Preserving the source of the company’s appeal for our team is too important to do otherwise. In challenger terms, it’s important to understand what you stand for, and what you stand against.


Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


We challenge underdog brands to think differently. We help them find their voice, and urge them to blaze new trails to make sure they stand out from the pack. Whether you need an agency of record or support on a project, we are here to help you win.