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The concept of ‘Hipster, Hacker, Hustler’ (aka designer, engineer, marketeer) has become pretty well known in the world of tech startups since the term was coined in 2012.

Since then quite a few riffs on this idea have appeared, again mainly mapped to tech companies.

For those working in less technology-focused fields the set up of Entrepreneur, Technician, Operator is worth a look. [1]

An example of this is the story of Hollywood agency CAA, which I wrote about here.

A group known as the Young Turks made moves to take over the running of CAA in the mid 90s. There were 5 in the group, but 3 of them stood out as the leaders and are still at the top of the company to this day.

There’s a lot to be said for the power of a tribe, and also for the power of a trinity. In the Young Turks’ case the trio at the centre started a tribe that was able to change the culture of the business and quickly build a power base.

They did it through the combination of Byran Lourd’s charm, Richard Lovett’s ego and relentless nature, plus Kevin Huvane simply being a great agent. A trio with this blend of skills is not an uncommon sight at successful companies, particularly those in the creative industries.

In CAA’s case it appears the Entrepreneur was Lourd, the Operator was Lovett and the Technician was Huvane. This may look to be the wrong way round, particularly in the case of an agent being a technician rather than an entrepreneur. However, a technician doesn’t necessarily deal with technology – they’re about craft, and there’s a craft to being a great agent, just as there is for a graphic designer or a web developer.

 


 

The power of 3 was also present in my first job in the advertising industry.

The agency’s three partners ran the company and their names were above the door. They ran the business from inception via a sustained period of growth, through the turbulent times of the financial crash, and eventually into acquisition by a larger holding company.

(Side note: this agency taxonomy infographic is brilliant, and applies to a bunch of other industries too).

The entrepreneur was a somewhat enigmatic and mercurial figure; rarely seen in the middle of the day, the office was rife with tales of his marathon nights out in the apparent name of client entertainment. More likely was catching him at 9am, arriving for a meeting with a new client after one of his 4am finishes, with the latest of his revolving door or PAs furnishing him with bagels and shots of coffee.

No one knew exactly what he did – he didn’t seem to actively service accounts, run the mechanics of the business or produce deliverable work – but he was without doubt the figurehead. He delivered vision, storytelling and charisma, and he certainly knew about supply and demand: his scarcity made people want him even more.

As with the example of CAA, the technician didn’t fit the definition in a traditional sense as he was trained as an artist rather than an engineer. However there was no doubting his technical craft skills and flair for solving problems with innovative ideas. He was able to provide very specific technical insights into the creation and delivery of great work. He was also an accomplished storyteller but did it through his work and quietly inspiring the members of his team rather than standing on stage (or on the bar).

At the time it was difficult to figure out the operator’s role – again he was a couple of steps back from key client relationships and seemed more introverted than the others. On the surface he was a technician as he sat with technical teams (digital, finance and IT), but his skills weren’t deep and focused as a technician’s tend to be; they were broader, like an expert-generalist, a common trait of modern COOs.

In this company’s case the operator wasn’t especially visible to low and middle tier employees as there was a line management system already put in place. His role was to harness the power of the entrepreneur and enable the technician, whilst quietly maintaining the engine of the company and fitting together various new pieces of the puzzle that may have appeared from time to time. A key example of this was the initiation of a digital department, which for an integrated agency in the early 2000s was not at all easy to get right.

 


 

There are various ways of configuring the trio of roles of course, particularly for smaller businesses where all members have to wear a number of different hats, but I’ve seen this core setup of Entrepreneur, Technician and Operator work really well for a bunch of companies over the past few years – from design agencies and production companies through to music festivals and even consulting outfits.

If you’re running a creative business, maybe ETO is your HHH.

 


 

[1] Sometimes ‘Manager’ is substituted in for ’Operator’ – while this still works, I see the dynamic being quite different. A Manager will tend to manage the Technician, whilst in the leadership team the Technician is often a creative and the Operator and Entrepreneur will weave in and out of each other until the company grows sufficiently for the two roles to be more distinct.

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