The advertising industry herds talent from all over. Our series What I Learned … looks at the remarkable histories of our industry’s leaders. Today we sat down with Roger Barr, chief digital officer at iCrossing UK, who traded real estate for digital.
Hi, Roger! Tell us a little about who you are and what you do now.
Hi. I’ve worked agency-side since 2006 and co-founded my own agency in 2010, which was fully acquired by iCrossing UK in 2021. I’m now chief digital officer at iCrossing, where we combine the capability of a digital transformation consultancy with the activation expertise of an agency. I spearhead the digital transformation consultancy offering, as well as play a leadership role within the agency. My job is to evangelize for the use of best-in-class technology, data, frictionless customer experience and digital product innovation.
And before all that – real estate?
Career paths are rarely linear, and mine is no exception. Having completed an MSc in protected landscape management at Aberystwyth University, I passed up on the opportunity to be a National Parks manager and entered the world of software engineering. One day, on a dog walk with a friend, he pointed out that he thought I’d be good at sales. So aged 29, with a newborn and a wife who was a full-time mum, I resigned from my perfectly respectable IT career to become a commission-only estate agent with a US franchise called Remax.
What was it like, retraining completely at 29?
I had never planned on being an estate agent, nor did I know much about property. I was attracted to a potentially disruptive US model, where individual agents pay the agency owner a fixed monthly fee and are then able to own both their own vendors and house seekers. With all of the commission going to the agent and a one-to-one customer service model, I thought it could work in the UK. Working alongside experienced agents, I spent the first months learning as much from them as possible, while competing for property sellers and buyers in the local areas.
What have you taken from real estate into your digital career?
I only lasted 12 months in the role, but I learned an incredible amount about myself: how not to run a business and how empathy and looking after people can be your strongest career card. Ultimately, the Remax model was not working; the market wasn’t great in 2005 and the owners of the franchise ran out of money. It was a tough time mentally, but I just managed to cover my living costs.
I imagine commission-only work gives you pretty good training when it comes to the daily grind?
Being on a commission-only basis meant I had to be continuously finding prospects and closing sales. It taught me the importance of monthly P&L, being close to KPIs and ultimately how not to run a business. The owners of the franchise did not have a realistic business plan and had overstretched from a cost and cashflow perspective. There’s taking calculated risks, and then there’s reckless behavior. This stood me in good stead for my 12 years running a digital agency.
Would you recommend the real estate business to a young friend or a colleague?
As your career progresses, you shouldn’t be afraid to try something new. Developing skills and experience in lots of business areas makes for a much more rounded individual, and as you rise through the ranks that will help you stand out from the crowd. It will also help you to decide what you enjoy, and what you’re good at. That can only be a good thing.