Ted Priebe: Always Making Others Shine

Ted Priebe is a long-time ag agency leader and former chair of the Curious Plot board of advisors. This article was originally written for and published in Agri-Marketing.

I have known Ted Priebe for more than 30 years, and it’s impossible to think of any aspect of my career that he hasn’t influenced. Stop and think about that for a moment – how many people in your career could you say the same thing about? It’s really remarkable, and quite humbling.

Given that, the thought of writing something that summarized what Ted has meant to me was daunting. Where do you begin when someone has influenced everything? How can 800 words possibly do justice to 30 years?

As I traversed memories of the years of work, laughs and amazing experiences, I found myself tying everything about Ted to one of three buckets:

  • Coach and leader.
  • Ultimate integrator.
  • People first.
The superlative coach

Ted is a great leader because he is an even better coach. For Ted, “coaching” and “professional development” weren’t just boxes to check on an annual performance review. He put in the time – real, invested time – with the team members he led.

One of those team members was me. Ted made a significant difference in my career and the careers of hundreds of others in the business. More than anything else, this is his legacy. His leadership legacy has and always will be about making others better, even after he left the day-to-day demands of the business.

As coach, Ted allowed team members to be exposed to clients very early in their careers. This was a rarity for most advertising agencies, big or small. He thought shadowing team members during client engagements was one of the best ways to learn.

One more important point: Ted never assumed that someone’s current role automatically translated into making them a successful leader. How many times have we all seen that happen – where a younger “rock star” is quickly promoted and dropped into a leadership role they are ill-prepared to handle? The skills and traits that make for successful performers can be at odds with a leader who needs to bring others along on the journey. Ted always understood that a leader has to be a coach and not just a high-performing individual.

He also understood that leaders don’t stand alone – they need a strong supporting cast to be successful. Bringing others along is one of Ted’s countless gifts, and it’s always been his intent to let others shine bright. It never was about his star.

The ultimate integrator

Integration is all about bringing people together from different business units or functions, offices and teams – and making sure they are all focusing on a shared vision or objective.

For the uninitiated, integration sounds easy. But integration, especially for an agency like ours, takes rigor, process, open-mindedness and a true embrace of collaboration. It’s rarely ever easy, but the outcomes are everything.

Ted always used to say, “There are no bad ideas in brainstorming.” He always asked team members to push the envelope and channel blue-sky thinking. Ted taught me that one of the most important aspects of collaborating is being open to and accepting of new ideas – what I now refer to as the YES, AND strategy.

Under Ted’s leadership, when agency team members came to the table – each representing their own discipline, unique point of view and expertise – waves of ideas came forth. Many of the ideas were new opportunities, and more than a few had never been done before (think innovative print executions, ground-breaking lead gen campaigns and innovative showstoppers to build awareness). People thrived in this collaborative innovative environment, and we grew the business.

Ted was the first master of integrated client teams.

A pioneer of the person-first strategy

As the CEO of Curious Plot, I of course focus on financial targets (it comes with the territory).

But I don’t focus on the financials to the exclusion of our people, and I have Ted to thank for that. Ted led by example in that even when focusing on the numbers, he always put people first. People were the priority. Ted knew, and taught me, that with people as a priority, the results would always follow. And so would the numbers.

There’s a lot of talk today about flexible and hybrid work arrangements. But Ted was unconventional before unconventional was cool.

Under Ted’s leadership, remote work arrangements were always accepted, even in the 1990s. Flexible schedules were allowed 30 years ago.

Ted trusted team members to do their job, no matter the schedule or how they got it done. I’ll be forever grateful that Ted’s flexibility extended to me. Early in my career, Ted allowed me to adopt a part-time, flexible schedule and aligned my work so I could better balance career and personal goals. I would not be here today, in my role, if not for Ted.

I’m so fortunate to have had Ted Priebe as my mentor – then, today, forever. Thank you, Ted, for everything.