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What I’ve Learnt: Ryan Scott, CEO, 26

Ryan Scott

With over 20 years experience in the digital marketing industry, Ryan Scott was appointed as CEO at digital agency 26 in 2019.

The agency has around 130 staff working across Leeds, London, Manchester and New York.

Ranked as one of Prolific North’s Top 50 Digital Agencies in 2023, the agency counts the likes of fashion brand Victoria Beckham, Arla Foods, and GHD as clients.

Here, Scott shares all the lessons he’s learnt across his life and career…

Which single daily habit or practice could you not do without?

My to do list.

Now I know everyone has a to do list, so I’m not exactly reinventing the wheel here! But being strict with my to do list has been a huge learning for me in the past few years. I get tons of stuff fired at me each day and I used to say yes to everything, which led to me being torn from pillar to post with a big list of expectations to meet.

I had some coaching a few years ago and was told to split my to do list into priorities, stuff to do and follow ups. Now, every night before I finish, I write out the next day’s list so I can properly switch off and come into the next day fully prepared.

What’s been your luckiest break?

Definitely meeting Gail, our former CEO. I was 24-years-old and had only been working in a search agency for 18 months when I first met her. For some reason, she liked the cut of my jib and took a chance on me to build out the search side of the agency. From there I’ve never looked back and have built my career and my life here at 26.

What’s your best failure?

When I first became a manager, I fell into the trap of only trying to hire people who reflected me, my values, what I did and how I approached things. It took me a while to understand that a team is made up of the sum of its parts. Everyone shouldn’t look the same and be the same.

You need cool and calm, you need energy. You need detailed but you also need frantic. I failed because I was trying to hire people who were all the same and that was a failure as it left the team imbalanced, I can now see how vital team balance and diverse skills are to running a successful agency.

What is the best investment you’ve ever made, either financial or time?

Definitely working with business coaches. I’ve used them for the last three years and they have totally transformed my approach. Being able to sit with someone while they give you a neutral third party perspective on the way they see things gives you that neutral pragmatic lens that really allows you to understand and empathise with others.

Which podcast or book would you recommend others to read and why?

I don’t really listen to podcasts, so I’ll give you two books instead – Atomic Habits by James Clear and Radical Candor by Kim Scott.

Atomic Habits is a brilliant read to get yourself sorted and stop time wasting. It’s taught me how introducing miniscule changes to your everyday life can make such a dramatic transformation to your outlook and productivity.

Radical Candor discusses how always trying to please people is actually more destructive than just dealing with stuff. Instead, taking a direct route to addressing the problem is a much better solution, as it stops you trying to manage around things.

I’d recommend both not only to business leaders but just anyone who is looking to improve themselves.

What one piece of advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

Focus on being the most genuine person in the room, not the smartest.

When you first enter the business world, there is a real temptation to try become something you’re not to prove yourself. But just be yourself. People will naturally gravitate to who you are, not who you think they want you to be.

Who or what has had the single biggest influence on your working life?

My kids have given me an incredible perspective on business and life in general. At the end of the day, it’s all just a bit of a game. Work isn’t the be all end all and it isn’t life or death: what really matters is having the right balance to turn up for my my family and kids.

All I used to want was to climb the ladder and get to the very top but since having kids it’s taken everything down a notch. I’m much more balanced in my thoughts and processes and don’t burn out as much.

At the end of the day, you can’t give anything from an empty cup. If I’m done and depleted, then I’m not giving anyone anything. Prioritise where you give your energy and give it to those that matter most. And for me, it’s important that I ensure I have enough left for my family.

Tell us something about you that would surprise people.

When I was younger, I played football for Grimsby Town and even appeared on Football Manager 2002.

If there was one thing you could change about your career, what would it be and why?

I honestly don’t think I would change anything. Without sounding cheesy, I’m a big believer in what will be, will be. If I had done something else, then I might not have met my wife at work or be where I am today.

What does success look like to you?

Success for me is creating an environment where the next leader of the business will naturally elevate themselves and take over the reins. I’ve come through this business, being mentored and tutored along the way, and one day I want to pay it back.

When I retire (which isn’t for a while yet!) I want to give someone else the same opportunities I’ve had and the chance to be the leader of a fantastic business. And if I do that, then I think I’ve achieved everything I set out to do.

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