Chief of Staff Spotlight: Temi Adeniji
What is a Chief of Staff and what do they do? There are none better to ask than the Chiefs themselves. In this series, we talk with current and former Chiefs of Staff about their role as well as their personal motivations and secrets to performing it well.
Title: Director, International Strategy & Operations
Location: New York, NY
Company: Warner Music Group
Years: July 2016-present
Tell us a little bit about how you came to your role at Warner Music Group and the work you do there.
Both my boss and my predecessor went to Princeton—as did I—and I found the position posted on a Princeton listserv. The company was really looking for someone who had an MBA, which I don't have, but I made it through the six-week interview process by doing my research on the operations and politics of the music industry. I think, ultimately, my background as an attorney offered a structure and perspective to the position that candidates from within the music industry maybe didn't have.
The role is rather amorphous and one that has required me to steer myself quite a bit —similar to many Chief of Staff roles out there. I tend to think of my primary responsibilities in three parts. First, I assist our different support/operational segments in reviewing and executing M&A opportunities.
The second major category of my work is acting as a liaison between my boss and the people who report to him. He supervises 36 different territories and is always traveling and in meetings. There are frequently action items that come out of those meetings, so I take the lead on following up with the appropriate people to ensure the things we discussed in the meetings are being operationalized. I'm the first line of defense for these follow-up discussions and questions on behalf of my boss—I'll be the first to look at a draft and ask the questions he would ask before it goes to him.
The third category of responsibility is a general strategy role. I put together decks on strategies we might want to be thinking about as an international company, including revenue-generating and new market opportunities. This is the most challenging and interesting part of my job, as I think about the work we do more holistically—where we should be going and what we should be thinking about. There's no real reservoir for information on what all the various territories have tried in the past or are thinking about trying in the future, so I'm also trying to think about ways all the areas of the company can learn from one another.
Your title is not Chief of Staff, but how do you see your role as relating to that of a Chief of Staff?
Yes, it's very similar. I think of a Chief of Staff as being a right-hand partner to a leader or principal, executing on whatever projects, ideas, or information gathering that principal might want. That's very much what I do. I'm tasked with operationalizing the ideas my boss has in order to make his job easier and to provide the information he needs to execute his own responsibilities. There's no Chief of Staff job title at WMG—it's just a colloquial difference but I would certainly market my position to my successor as that of a Chief of Staff.
You started your career as an attorney. What made you decide to move from law to a Chief of Staff-type role, and how does your legal background help in your current role?
I knew after a few years of working as an attorney that it wasn't really for me. I think you need to have competence and interest in the substance in any job—I was competent as an attorney, but the substance wasn't that interesting to me. While I knew I wanted to move to the business side, I wasn’t exactly sure so I was looking for a generalist role to expose me to the different facets of running a company. My current role at Warner allows me to explore these opportunities. From analyzing terms of our licenses to evaluating the KPIs of a media trial we performed, I get the chance to delve into various aspects of our business. I usually begin every project with little or cursory knowledge and after working through, I can speak somewhat capably about the various topics topic. The projects I undertake originate from requests my boss makes but it’s up to me to figure out what information he needed and how best to present it. In this vein, this role gives me a good general view of the company and how it's run—it's great experience for my goal to reach senior management.
My legal background has been helpful in working with attorneys and being able to get a general sense of potential issues before we get the attorneys involved.
What skills do you believe are most critical to success in your role?
I think flexibility and the ability to adapt to different requests and people are critical. I'm constantly liaising with different parts of the organization and must be able to switch hats quickly and effectively.
Because the role is unstructured, the ability to create a system for yourself is incredibly important. I've started a log where I jot down notes about every task I've completed, which gives me both a holistic way of looking at my job and a record of the skills I've learned.
Finally, being assertive is vital. I rely on other people to provide me with tools I need to get my job done, so I’m constantly asking people to do things for me. As a woman, I think we tend not to be as comfortable making demands about what we need (for fear of being labeled “pushy”), so I've found myself having to do things that I would have been a little uncomfortable doing in the past.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
I really enjoy the M&A aspect of my role—it merges my legal experience with the business side, which I find interesting and exciting. It's also where I feel the most comfortable, especially in comparison to the strategy component of my role which I have no experience with and is thus very challenging. I don't know if it's the area where I'll want to land long-term, but I know that it's a skill I want to develop.
Tell us about your learning curve when you started this position. How long did it take to feel comfortable with the job?
I definitely feel like I'm still on the curve because there’s still a whole lot I don’t know. It probably took me six or seven months to start to feel somewhat comfortable in my role. There was a lot of new information about an industry I knew nothing about and in a company in which I knew nobody and in a role for which that I had no experience. This has been more than a little bit unsettling. It's been a bit like drinking from the fire hose—I'm still figuring out what I know and what I don't know.
Do you feel like you have ownership in your work? If so, how do you establish that?
Definitely. When my boss asks for something, I present it in a manner that makes clear that my work represents me. I'm mindful of this even if I'm just sending an email. I rely on people for data and other information, so I'm careful to give credit where it's due and to also take credit for what I've done. In a role like mine, it can sometimes not be super clear what part you've played when you deliver a product.
Give us one lesson you’ve learned from your experience in this role.
I think I'd have to go back to that idea of learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. In this role (or that of a Chief of Staff), you're put in a position where you're acting as an agent – you have to be able to walk the walk and use your best judgement at all times (even when you may not necessarily be 100% certain of what you’re saying).