Jeremy Holden | Crain's Raleigh Durham

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jeremy Holden


Clean is a Raleigh, North Carolina-based integrated branding agency. Jeremy Holden's second novel, "Valley of Time," a sequel to "Sea of Doubt," launches on Nov. 5.

The Mistake:

The mistakes? One, lack of preparedness. Two, egotism and ambition and wanting to put my name out there. Three, overconfidence in believing I could handle that conversation without that preparedness. It was being a bit of a cocky bugger, really.

When I was in my 20s, I was working for an agency in London. I had just been promoted to work across a different suite of brands. I was busy. Out of the blue, I got a call from a reporter. Being a kid and highly egotistical, I just started talking. They were asking a lot of questions about the brand. I wasn’t prepared. I used the word “I” a lot.

And I forgot about the interview altogether until the weekend came. I got a call from my mother, who said, “Dear, you’re in the newspaper.” The interview was captured in a Sunday newspaper. I was referred to as the guy who liberated the brand, and was quoted as saying that before me, the brand was on its knees. It was basically almost the end of my career.

Walking in to work on Monday was terrible. I walked in and went to see the agency CEO and I didn’t really have to speak because he was already looking at a copy of the newspaper. He already had a call from the client, who I barely knew, who was demanding I be sacked.

It was over-confidence, egotism, ambition and immaturity.

The Lesson:

I think the first thing you realize when you make a mistake like that is that you can’t just wave a magic wand and it goes away.

You have to earn the trust back every day over a period of weeks and months. Eventually, if you’re consistent, you will regain people’s trust. But there’s no easy path.

I learned that this business and most businesses are a collective effort. It was over-confidence, egotism, ambition and immaturity. It was amazing how my senior colleagues understood my immaturity. Those lessons just got absolutely ingrained, as they often do. Everyone makes mistakes, although not normally quite as bad as that.

The underlying lesson and the nature of this business is that it is about collaborative and collective creativity. That’s what it’s really about. Having made that mistake early in my career, I’ve practiced and perfected that lesson during the next 30 years.

When I wanted to write novels, and I’ve written two now, it’s not a surprise that at the center of the book is a protagonist who is flawed. Yet he's someone who works with and needs his team around him in order to take on the extraordinary events in which I place him. It’s a fantastical novel, but the underlying dynamic is something that I know so, so well – how a group of people could come together to tackle something so extraordinary.

Jeremy Holden is on Twitter at @JeremyDHolden and Clean is at @CleanAgencyInc.

Photo courtesy of Clean.