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Andrew Swinand

Andrew Swinand

From CPG to Startup: Life Lessons Hone Leadership Skills

Executive in Residence Andrew Swinand discusses the importance of collecting experiences on the way to achieving career success

By Cheryl SooHoo

12/20/2016 -
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Competitive collegiate-level rowing taught serial entrepreneur Andrew Swinand a valuable life lesson: go with the flow. As founder and partner at purpose-based incubator Abundant Venture Partners, Swinand has put this mantra to good use—and good intentions—creating companies that improve human wellness, human performance and human engagement. 

“[On the water] and in life, the harder you pull, the slower you go,” said Swinand, whose firm’s current portfolio includes 19 startups in media, technology, analytics and health care. This approach as allowed three ventures to exit in under five years with Abundant’s backing. “It’s great to be prepared but often not pulling too hard and just rowing with the boat can make it easier to flow with the possibilities. It’s a simple idea but hard to do.”

Participating in Kellogg’s Executive in Residence program, Swinand shared his life story as well as Abundant’s recipe for success with students during a talk hosted by the Kellogg Markets & Customers Initiative and the Kellogg Marketing Club on Nov. 30. Swinand tailored his presentation to the audience by offering two choices: a recap of his background and career lessons he’s learned along the way or a discussion of his perspective on marketing and advertising. Students voted to hear the former, choosing to capitalize on the executive advice being offered.

In the context of his achievements, Swinand described many life lessons that shaped him as a leader. To achieve any goal, he advised spending one-third of your time planning and two-thirds executing. This particular life lesson Swinand credited to his service as a U.S. Army infantry officer in the early ’90s. “Whatever you’ve planned often doesn’t turn out the way you expect,” said Swinand, recalling his military experiences being dropped off in unfamiliar terrain and relying on his wits to lead his platoon on tactical operations. “When we start companies, our orientation is to do a little to learn a lot.”

In May 2011 Swinand left his position as president of Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), the world’s largest media agency where he managed more than $40 billion of media investment across 110 offices. The experience leading a global organization has been critical in shaping Swinand’s perspective. Fixated on the balancing act between abundance and scarcity in the world, he wanted to create a company that would create positive change through shared success. Thus was born Abundant Venture Partners to develop businesses that do mind, body and spirit well. Seven months after leaving SMG, he and Abundant helped launch Cardinal Path, initially a reseller of Google Analytics and Ad Words training. Although the new startup’s CEO, Swinand had no experience developing or running the technology, but he understood enough about how it worked to see enormous opportunity ahead.

“I knew 10 people who could do the work and I knew clients who needed the work,” he said. That was enough for Cardinal Path to become the largest reseller of Google Analytics in a few years. In 2015, the company was named “Most Influential Agency/Vendor of The Year” by the Digital Analytics Association, joining the ranks of Google Analytics and Adobe with this honor. In March of this year, Cardinal Path was acquired by the Dentsu Aegis Network, a multinational media and digital marketing communications company.

“Andrew has been spectacularly successful in the startup space because of his unique ability to match emerging technologies with businesses that are ripe for innovation.” said Eric Leininger, Clinical Professor of Executive Education, who invited Swinand to Kellogg.

Recognized by Advertising Age as a “Media Maven,” named by Mediaweek as one of the industry’s “Power 50, ”appearing on Crain’s Chicago Business’ “40 under 40” and inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Achievement, Swinand, 48, has rapidly accomplished much in his professional career. Yet, he encouraged the audience of Kellogg students to not be in a “huge rush” to “change the world” as an instant measure of success upon graduation. Advising them to be collectors of experience and to look for career opportunities where they will learn the most rather than immediately earn the most. He offered several life and career suggestions, including:

  • Seeking out mentors and champions no matter where you land. Learning from others has served him well, from his early days as an account supervisor with BBDO and then brand manager with P&G’s beauty care division. “Anything good or great I have ever done was supported by a great group of people.”

  • Gaining global experience. “Being global matters and is critical in today’s economy.” Understanding the nuances of diverse cultures is essential for any business venture to grow and expand, according to Swinand, who used to travel 500,000 miles annually for SMG making important worldwide connections.

  • Maintaining mental and physical wellness and practicing self-care to bring the best of you to the table. “In the Army, it was radical self-care. If you didn’t take care of your feet, they would rot.” At Abundant, “conscious leadership” is practiced, said Swinand, a stronger believer in the power of mindfulness, meditation, diet and exercise.
“Remember it's a marathon, not a sprint,” concluded Swinand. “Be patient with what the world brings you and in turn, you are going to be able to bring much more of yourself to the world.”