David Pullara is a marketing expert with over 20 years of experience in business management, brand strategy, integrated marketing communications, and product innovation. In his career, he’s spent over a decade working with world-renowned, consumer-centric organizations like Starbucks, Yum! Brands, Coca-Cola, and Google. Today, he serves as the Principal of dp Ventures (a firm offering consulting, advising, training, and fractional CMO services to businesses that want to accelerate their growth through effective marketing) and as a Marketing Instructor for York University’s Schulich School of Business (teaching the school’s “Retail Marketing Strategies” course to undergraduate, Master of Marketing, and MBA students).
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you got started in your field?
When I was a kid, and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t say rockstar, firefighter, or astronaut… I’d tell them I wanted to be the person in charge at Disney. My father was a business owner so I was familiar with the idea of running a business. And I knew Disney was a business… just one that brought stories to life. So I decided I would pursue a business path, and that decision was strongly reinforced by the fact that in high school I did really well in creative subjects like English and Music and really poorly in subjects like Chemistry and Trigonometry… so it’s really a good thing I never had my heart set on becoming an Astronaut! Once I got to business school, I realized that working in marketing would allow me to run a business and tell great stories by building great brands, so I pursued that path and never really looked back.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career, and how did you overcome them?
I am not a patient person by nature. The positive way of saying that is that I have a “bias for action”, but I really had to learn to temper this double-sided personality trait and become more patient with people and processes even when — especially when — they didn’t move as quickly as I might have liked. Fortunately, I have had a few great mentors who have helped me understand the benefits of slowing down when that was warranted.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned throughout your career, and how have they influenced your approach to leadership?
A leadership lesson I’ve really learned to appreciate is best summed up by a well-known quote from Theodore Roosevelt: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” When people know who you are and trust that you have their best interests in mind, it’s much easier to deliver big ideas, strong recommendations, or constructive feedback… but you need to earn that trust, and that doesn’t happen instantly. So when I start a new role or join a new team, one of my top priorities is to build authentic, transparent relationships with the people I’m going to be working alongside; I’ve found that having that relationship in place right from the beginning makes everything that happens after that much easier to manage.
One thing that people don’t know about you and not listed on your LinkedIn profile?
I’m an open book, and there isn’t much that people who care can’t learn about me from either my LinkedIn profile or the About Me section of my website. But one thing that doesn’t appear on LinkedIn is that I’ve played the piano since I was seven years old. At one point, I was pretty good: I completed my Grade 8 Practical and Grade 2 Theory Exams at the Royal Conservatory of Music, which was advanced enough to earn me a high-school credit. But that was a long time ago, and I’m nowhere near as good as I used to be. These days, I only play for fun, to relax, and to impress my kids by playing a pop song they like “by ear”. I can still play a passable rendition of Beethoven’s Fur Elise with my eyes closed… but, literally, only with my eyes closed. It’s purely on muscle memory, and if I open my eyes, I usually mess it up!
What advice would you give to young professionals or entrepreneurs who are just starting out in your field?
I’d say there are three things young professionals need to do if they want to be successful.
The first is to focus your time and effort on the opportunities that will allow you to learn and grow. Big titles and big compensation packages are fantastic, but early in your career, concentrate on surrounding yourself with smart people who are willing to show you the ropes and give you opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way. That will have a compounding effect over the course of your career that shouldn’t be underestimated.
The second is to find a way to differentiate yourself. The competition for the best opportunities will always be fierce, and you need a way to stand out from the crowd and let people know why you’re the right person for the role. Sometimes that differentiator is your work experience and your education… but it can just as easily be a passion project you pursue in your spare time. Do you love to write? Publish a blog or a book! Are you passionate about making the world a better place? Donate your time volunteering at an organization that aligns with your values! Don’t just say you’re passionate about something, do something that feeds your passion and shows people you don’t sit around and wait for things to happen… you MAKE things happen! Demonstrating leadership and initiative in a tangible way will almost always work to your advantage.
The third is to remember that you’re in charge of your career. If you’re lucky, you’ll have great managers and mentors who support you and want you to succeed, but you can’t blindly trust that anyone will know what’s best for you at all times. Communicate where you want to go and what you want to do, seek out advice on the best way to achieve your goals, ask for support and do the work to earn it… but don’t forget that nobody has more to gain from your success than you do, so don’t be afraid to actively manage your career.
As this interview draws to a close, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to David Pullara for his generous sharing of invaluable insights and personal experience. Feel free to read David’s blog from here.
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