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Bossing It: Lauren Schwartz

Owner/EP at kaboom on her first experience with leadership as a counsellor in training, the value of honesty and working through a challenging year.

Lauren Schwartz launched kaboom in 1997 and has built the company and its reputation from the ground up. With an astute vision for the industry, she handpicks multifaceted director talent to create entertaining, brand-driven content. Before starting at kaboom, Lauren worked as an executive at BBDO/NY and FCB/SF. She applies this invaluable experience and massive "get it" factor to her EP role, anticipating client needs, and being a resourceful and ever present guide throughout collaboration. From time to time, she's even called on to be an account manager in collaboration with both agencies and clients.

Lauren's hands-on approach includes her collaboration with agencies, clients and directors alike. Building and maintaining relationships is the foundation of this business, and at Lauren's core.

Invested in the industry as a whole, Lauren is a long-time member of the west coast board of the AICP and has served on various committees over the years. She resides in San Francisco with her husband, two young children, and their dog—Lucy—kaboom's Head of Morale.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Lauren> My first experience with leadership was as a CIT (counsellor in training for those of you who have never done summer camp) back when I was in 8th grade! Then, in college I led my female a cappella singing group for three years. Years later I had the experience of a woman I sang with tell me that she would have 'followed me anywhere'. I had no idea I ever made that sort of impression when I was doing it...and it is a good life lesson: you never know the impact you might make along the way along the way. At the time, I was just doing what I loved, keeping us on track and organised, which has always been my 'thing'. I kind of can’t help myself. I just have naturally always gravitated to leadership positions.

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Lauren> I think the best way to see what sort of leader you do or do not want to be is based on seeing others lead and having experiences with a variety of leadership styles. I have always found that I am motivated by positive encouragement rather than angry, disciplinary leadership. So I have always tried to be supportive and appreciative of those who work with me. I also believe in honesty and transparency. It doesn’t work to be secretive. Not with employees or kids. People see it. At least with me. I can’t hide my feelings so I always feel it is best to be as honest as possible about whatever challenges we are facing as well as to be grateful and happy for the successes we have.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Lauren> So even though I have always gravitated towards leadership positions...I will tell you this: I never set out to own and run my own company. So many young people who come to work with me will say “I have always wanted to have my own production company one day.” That was never me. I never wanted it; never set out to create a company; I just stumbled into it. I had worked on the agency side and as a director’s producer. I was traveling around the world with my then boyfriend thinking about our future...when we broke up along the way. The director I had worked for reached out to see if I might come back early and produce a few jobs for him...and oh by the way, “maybe be his partner in starting a production company.” I jumped on a plane - It’s amazing the sort of drive you get after your heart has been broken. From there, we started kaboom, which ultimately became my company when we went our separate ways.

Since then kaboom has been my baby and we have made it though every dot com boom and bust and every up and down. And I have realised through all of it that the positives outweigh the negatives of owning your own company and it would be hard for me to do anything else.

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Lauren> I think any skill can be learned. But I also think there is an inherent 'leadership' gene you are born with or not. I go back to raising kids as an example. They really come out the way they are. When people say I have raised great kids, I don’t feel quite right about taking the credit. I taught them how to say please or thank you, maybe, and gave them a lot of love, but each attribute and quality has been there from birth. From there, it’s about taking those inherent traits and putting them to their best use. If one has inherent leadership skills and the right encouragement they will naturally find a way to blossom in any position where those qualities are needed. If you are not a born leader, you can certainly 'learn' how to do it. It may just never be something that comes as naturally. I don’t know if I am a good or bad leader, I just know that I am always eager to do what needs to be done. Call that leadership, call that producing. In our industry, there are a lot of ways to lead.

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Lauren> I have found the greatest challenges when I have had to let people go from their jobs. I want so much for everyone to be successful in what they do. I strive to give folks the benefit of the doubt and to give them multiple chances to do well. But sometimes it is not a right fit, and you know it’s time for them to go. I’ll never get used to it, and I suppose part of me thinks that’s a good thing. It should be hard, because it is a life-altering moment.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Lauren> I am a big fan of being open and transparent. Maybe to a fault. I also don’t want to seem stereotypical, but I do think that this is a natural trait for many women. I find female leaders tend to be collaborative and transparent. They are not trying to pretend they know it all or have all the answers. They can be vulnerable. And I have always believed that is the best way to lead. Authenticity is at the core of who I am in everything I do.

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Lauren> I truly believe that in difficult times you just have to put one foot in front of the other. You need to trust the process. I actually think...and I don’t want to jinx it...that when we get to the other side of all of this we will see that the pandemic was a pivotal point. For me, it forced me to be open to new ideas and explore unique opportunities, while re-affirming the values our company has always had (think: no B.S.) This wacky, and often unsettling time, has made me more open to taking chances. When things are bad and you are going through hard times, you just have to remind yourself that it can only get better and being authentic and having clear purpose can provide the roadmap to survive and even improve.

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Lauren> It is so sad to me that our industry is lacking in diversity. Early on, I felt it as one of the few women-owned-and-run production companies. And now we see an appropriate and necessary focus on diversity and inclusion efforts where directors and crew are concerned. The AICP “double the line” initiative is a great one that I hope to support moving forward. We also collaborate with an AD who has mentored crew with a focus on POC as a pipeline for significant change-making in the industry. We have a long way to go, and it is incumbent upon us all to recognise blind spots and strive to be more inclusive.

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