AKQA’s newly appointed and first ever president, North America speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about plans to double the size of the agency, the opportunity to join a business with a diverse founder, and creating Nike’s first ever phone app, Nike Training Club
AKQA announced earlier this month that it had appointed its first ever president for North America. Stepping into and shaping the role is Tesa Aragones, who already has strong ties to the agency via her brand leadership experience for the likes of Nike, Volkswagen, Apple, XBOX, Bacardi and Universal Studios.
Tesa had a ten-year career at Nike, holding director- level marketing roles, including senior brand director global, Women’s Training. An inventor on 12 patents filed by Nike, her assignments included Nike+, NikeID and the Nike+ Training Club. Most recently, Tesa served as chief marketing officer at the biggest gaming social media platform Discord, and CMO at the premium photo and video editing app VSCO.
Tesa joins AKQA as it is set to embark on a new phase of growth. The agency currently employs around 1,250 people in the US across seven studios - it plans to double that number over the next five years.
LBB's Addison Capper was over the moon to get the opportunity to pick Tesa's brains.
LBB> Congrats on your new role! What was it about the opportunity at AKQA that tempted you to join?
Tesa> I have had the honour of partnering with AKQA over the past 15 years. AKQA is known for being an ambitious, strategic, creative, service oriented agency that produces world class results. Some of my favourite and most compelling work has come from my close partnership with AKQA, including projects for such iconic brands like Nike, Apple, Volkswagen and XBOX. To now join the AKQA family formally, I have to say, I am both humbled and honoured.
My personal mission is: To empower the next generation to move the world forward. I truly believe this mission complements the purpose of AKQA, which is to: Create a better future.
One important reason I’ve been drawn to AKQA is that it’s one of the few companies I’ve worked with that has a diverse founder. AKQA is known for producing world class results. In my opinion, world class work stems, in part, directly from its diverse founder roots. According to Forbes, companies that have a founder that is diverse (specifically with more than one gender and/or race or ethnicity represented) are more innovative. Diverse founders see the world from a variety of perspectives, notice problems others don’t see and devise innovative solutions to those challenges. As a woman of colour that grew up in an immigrant family, I am truly inspired by what Ajaz and the teams have built and am genuinely excited to do my part, in partnership with the North American teams, to continue growing the AKQA legacy.
LBB> Your role is a brand new one to AKQA - how does that influence the way that you're approaching it?
Tesa> I would like to spend time with the team and the studios to listen and learn for the first few months. Will anything change? Our business is constantly evolving and I’m excited to partner with the North American teams to continue growing the AKQA legacy.
As president of NA, I will be leading the AKQA managing directors and partners. I am excited about this opportunity because I have worked with this talented team throughout my career. My hope is:
1. For our clients: to bring people and resources together to help their business,
2. For our employees: to help shape, develop and retain our current talent and also attract new talent - with a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion.
In many ways, I feel like my professional journey has been preparing me for this role for a number of years. I specialise in brand marketing, digital branding and digital innovation. I enjoy the challenge of building brands. And I am passionate about building and leading teams to solve difficult problems, move the world forward and inspire with a great story.
LBB> Much of your career has been spent in marketing at some of the world's most known and loved brands. With that in mind, why have you decided to come to the ad industry? And what lessons from your time as a client do you expect to serve you well at AKQA?
Tesa> I have split my career half on the agency side and the client side, and now on two public boards. Most recently, I was the CMO of Discord. Prior to that I was the CMO of VSCO. I also spent ten years at Nike in global brand marketing and digital and about nine years in marketing and digital innovation at Volkswagen. And before that, I started my career on the agency side at DMB&B or what became Leo Burnett. Most recently, I have been spending time serving on public boards, doing some advisory work and mentoring.
Having worked on both sides of the business, I believe that I can bring to AKQA a unique perspective. I have been very fortunate throughout my career to work on iconic brands and talented teams. Going back to the agency side feels exciting.
It is important to remember when thinking about the in-house/agency relationships that strong relationships of any kind are based on mutual respect and trust. I experienced this early in my agency career. Work as one team with a shared mission. Agencies want to help solve client challenges. Clients want agencies to be able to do their best work. Once you approach your partnership through this lens, you unlock the kind of collaboration for next level work and results.
LBB> What kind of task is ahead of you at AKQA? What are your main aims and ambitions?
Tesa> My goal is to amplify the AKQA mission and values.
Mission: Create a better future… and do this in a way that is true to my personal mission of inspiring and empowering the next generation to move the world forward.
Values: Innovation, service, quality and thought leadership.
Growth: Grow our current client partnerships and develop some new ones. Grow our AKQA team, with top talent and an emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion. In partnership with our clients, we hope to create a better future.
LBB> AKQA used to always be considered a digital agency. What does the legacy of that mean in 2022, when you'd not see many agencies calling themselves 'digital'?
Tesa> Yes – it was one of the first ‘digital’ agencies but at the core, I believe that the agency has always been rooted in innovation, creativity and thought leadership. In my experience, AKQA produces world class results.
There is a lot of change in the world today. Times of change and the need to shift perspective is always an exciting time for creativity, imagination and leadership. This is when we get to really lean into discovery, innovation and making the world better along the way.
LBB> It feels like the agency is set to embark on a real journey of growth in terms of staff numbers. What is driving that and how will you be navigating that as a leader?
Tesa> The key driver of growth at this moment is opportunity. Companies are facing a number of challenges coming out of the pandemic: business results, employee retention, brand relevance, connecting with audiences, supply chain etc. I try to architect opportunities with optimism. For me, with new challenges comes curiosity. Out of curiosity comes creativity and innovation. There is literally so much potential.
LBB> As president, I imagine a chunk of your responsibilities involve nurturing talent and listening to your teams to ensure they're able to work to the best of their abilities. What is your approach to this side of the job?
Tesa> I enjoy the challenge of building brands, experiences and teams that solve difficult problems. Over the past few years, I have been leaning a lot more into my personal mission to empower the next generation to move the world forward. What this has meant in my day to day is that I do a lot more mentoring and coaching.
I’m confident that the North American studios will drive growth for our clients’ businesses, our own company and our communities. I also know that in order to be our best, we need to reflect the diverse consumers and clients that we serve. As a first generation Filipino from Detroit, and as a woman in leadership, I am deeply committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in our work product and in our people.
LBB> As we mentioned earlier, you've worked for such an impressive list of brands across your career. Which achievement / project that you've been involved in feels most important to your career and why?
Tesa> Thank you. My favourite work is always the work that solves a consumer pain point through innovation, evolves the way that a brand does business and inspires with a great story. Creating Nike’s first iPhone app, Nike Training Club, is an achievement that I am very proud of for this reason. This project was grounded in a fundamental consumer need. I pitched the idea to create Nike Training Club very early in my career at Nike. I literally drew the concept out on a napkin. As a digital service, it allowed Nike to innovate and develop new ways to serve the consumer with training content, footwear and apparel. For my work in brand marketing, digital and innovation, I have 12 patents filed by Nike. One of my mentors/president of Nike has told me that Nike Training Club will always be my Nike legacy. But – I also think that it is important to always believe that your best work is ahead of you.
LBB> Outside of work, what keeps you happy, relaxed and inspired?
Tesa> Outside of work, I focus on my family and my chosen family… including my little rescue puppy Rémy. My biggest inspiration this year has been my niece Kylie. I call her my ‘mini-me’. She is a survivor of the Oxford High School shooting on Nov 30, 2021. We did a project together a few months ago. You can see it here.