Sharing the load

Features Posted 10/12/19
Dual-directorship works for the two bosses of Zest the Agency, who proudly watch the development of their business as a leading Kent brand.

Helen Banyard and David Gyertson sit on the settee opposite, sharing thoughts and aspirations about the company they run – Zest the Agency.

At one point during the interview, the word “family” pops up, when David is describing the company’s dynamic and suddenly I see them as proud parents, watching the business grow and develop into Kent’s leading integrated agency.

Once that image is in my mind, it’s hard to erase. It’s clear the two directors are immensely fond of the business and their carefully selected team of 22 employees, beavering away at their desks in the light, airy office on a business park in Chatham.

Helen has worked for Zest in its many forms for 13 years and obviously knows how it runs, inside and out. David joined three years ago, after 15 years working for agencies in London. Both bring their specialities and their individual characters to the new joint role of director, created this summer to coincide with the appointment of CEO Alex Tai.

David explains the company structure, with teams covering digital, social and content, PR, client services and creative projects. He and Helen encourage a feeling among staff of mutual respect and involvement in the running of the agency. Their desks in the centre of the open-plan office are deliberately placed to act as a focus for all departments.

“We have no obvious hierarchy, we operate on openness and fallibility, built on trust,” David tells me.

Helen picks up on the point: “We’re neither of us ‘grabby’ over who does what job. David and I understand our strengths and weaknesses and work accordingly. It’s a good balance.” She is quick to point out that she and David are opposites in many ways, different characters from very different backgrounds, but it’s a partnership of yin and yang that brings results.

My inevitable question about office dynamics and how having two directors works, brings the response from Helen that the agency is “a productive and happy environment”. I’d have expected nothing less from a business with a website which proudly proclaims: “Human insight comes first, before the tools and data analysis.”

A few months ago, Helen and David invested in the services of a behavioural psychiatrist, who got the entire team to complete a complex questionnaire about their likes and dislikes. The resulting 50 pages of information highlighted the personality traits of every employee. It has been a turning point in how the team moves forward, says Helen.

“We learned such amazing things about each other and it’s a great basis for getting on better and ensuring we listen to what people expect and want from their job,” she said.

Helen describes the co-directorial management style as “sharing and empowering”, stressing her ambition to help drive the business forward, but not too quickly.

Both directors have a family life outside the office. David is divorced, sharing the care of his nine-year-old with his ex-wife. Helen has two children aged four and 10, and works a four-day week to allow her to be fully involved in their lives. Employees are similarly encouraged to adopt flexible working to suit their individual domestic circumstances.

At the end of the interview, I feel I know David and Helen better, too, and ask them what calming pursuits they engage in to help ease the stresses of working life. Helen extolls the benefits of running and has set up a staff “Monday run club” (which I misheard as “rum club”, to much shared amusement). David’s passion is cooking and he admits to spending several hours at the weekend creating meals in his favourite Mediterranean style. A recipe for success, one might say.

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