The Moment | Rob Warner

We believe that life is a collection of Moments. Some ever so big, some fleeting, some small. It is in these Moments and the choices we make within them, that shape the people we become and what our lives will stand for.

We are reaching out to the most interesting, inspiring & successful leaders around the world to ask them about their Moments. In the spirit of our number one value, collaboration, our goal with this series is for you to experience development and enrichment from today's most inspirational leaders. 

As a UK born Creative Director Rob has a resume most designers can only dream of. His international career spans notable roles at legendary performance apparel brands including Creative Director at Umbro and VP of Men's Design at lululemon athletica. Rob's latest venture has taken him into the world of entrepreneurialism co-founding creative consultancy, Spark. Here Rob and his partner Craig help brands and suppliers create a new future through creative strategy, trend analysis, design and production.

While Rob has had an impressive career to date his favourite role is where he spends his down time, as Dad to (almost!) 2 year old Amelia. 

Rob, tell us about The Moment...

...You realized you were in the presence of a great leader/teacher

I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to work for and with some incredible leaders – and had some great teachers. A standout one, though, was my Creative Director at Puma, Craig.  He was quite young when he took on the role but I remember him striking me as being fearless, creative and strategic in a way I’d not experienced up to that point.  In a short space of time he saw potential in me and expanded my responsibilities, to the benefit of the business and myself.  He took me out of my comfort zone and showed me what I could achieve.  We got on really well outside of work too, and had a rare relationship whereby we could be close friends but there was no impact on our working relationship – if we needed to disagree or make tough decisions, then we had to put the friend thing to one side.

Leaving the company, and leaving him, was a really tough decision.  We kept in contact though, and 7 years later he was Best Man at my wedding, and 2 years after that we started our own business – Spark. We’re still the best of friends, he’s still a mentor to me, and we’re still not afraid to have a disagreement.

...You knew you were on the right path in your career

I was about four years into my career when we were holding a sales meeting in Berlin for the collections created for the World Cup.  Everyone had a free day on the Wednesday and some of us had arranged to go on a bus tour around the city.  I was asked not to go, and instead to report to the venue.  I was a bit peeved, but went along with it.  When I arrived that morning I was told I’d been asked to come because Pelé was a surprise guest for the meeting, and I was to give him a preview of the collection.  I was staggered, and was honoured to spend a couple of hours walking this absolute icon through our work.  When my turn was done, I stood at the back of the venue and looked across at someone I never dreamed I’d meet.  I was in tears.  Partly because following my passion had led me to meet a hero, and partly because I realized the esteem I was held in having been chosen to do it.

...You failed

I completely failed in 2008, literally and figuratively.  It was the making of me, and I learned a huge amount from it.  I’d taken a new role at the end of 2007, and moving country for it had brought about the end of a long-term relationship.  The company I was joining had changed ownership just prior to my joining and the role I was hired for didn’t really exist any more.  Suddenly I wasn’t needed at work, and was alone in a new country.  It brought about my first experience of an issue with my mental health – I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety.  It got so bad I had to return to the UK so my parents could look after me.  The failure wasn’t that I’d become ill though – the failure was in not being true to myself.

My gut had told me that I shouldn’t take the new role as I knew the takeover was coming, and the relationship I’d been in had been dysfunctional for a long time – I both took the role AND stayed in the relationship out of some misplaced sense of pride.

Above anything, I’d failed myself and it was that which had impacted my mental health.  I learned to be true to my feelings and emotions, and it’s made me a more decisive leader and a happier person.

...You chose something different than what was expected of you

My secondary school (high school) years were spent at a grammar school.  In the UK these are schools where you have to sit an entrants’ exam, and typically the pupils go on to roles in the sciences, finance, and academia.  The place was 450 years old.  It was like Hogwarts!  I wanted to be a fashion designer, though.  I preferred crayons to calculators.  I had to meet with the Deputy Head teacher to ask if I could drop a subject in order to focus on getting my portfolio right for my university interviews.  Thankfully they reluctantly agreed, and I’d like to think I’ve carried some of that education with and applied it in a different way.

...You wake. And the ritual you have to start your day

I’m not a morning person.  My best work usually happens after 4pm.  I’m not one for long lie-ins, but earlier than 7am makes me feel sick.  Until we had a baby I didn’t even realize there were two 5 o’clocks in a day!  That baby is nearly 2 now though, so she sleeps a little later but still acts as our alarm clock.  She usually wakes in a great mood, so the day starts with funny faces and dancing, and then I head into my home office with breakfast and coffee to read my emails and catch up with the news.  I’m trying to start a new habit of meditating each morning too, but I’m not doing as well as I’d like with that.  Must try harder!

...You made your best hire

I’ve had some memorable moments when telling people “you’ve got the job” (on promoting one designer at Lululemon I was told to “f**k off” as she thought I was winding her up!), but I think my best have been when I’ve hired or promoted people in the early stages of their career.  Young professionals tend not to be bound by the “rules” that can be picked up as we get older and “wiser”.   They question convention, and rely on instinct and natural talent.  Any hire, young or not, that opens my eyes and makes me think “I wouldn’t have done it like that but you’ve nailed it” stands out as being a good one.

...You felt the most successful in life

I’ve found this one really hard to answer, as every moment I think of are more like times when I’d think of myself as fortunate rather than successful - maybe things that have happened as a result of success rather than being markers of the success itself.  Being part of a happy family and having some amazing friends.  That makes me feel successful.  It makes me feel content.  A single moment though?  I think my last moment in life will be the one when I decide if I was successful or not.  They say your life flashes before your eyes in the moment before you die.  You’d better make it a good watch! 

...You received feedback that was hard to hear but worth listening to

Quite often.  I don’t enjoy hearing negative feedback (who does?!), but I always strive to improve and nobody got better at something by continually getting a pat on the bum.  The first time it happened was memorable though.  I’ve never been afraid to speak up, but in my early years I would be guilty of sometimes just moaning instead of being productive. After one occasion, my boss told me “when you speak people listen, so make sure what you say is worth hearing”.

...You chose to walk away from someone or something

I loved living in Vancouver, and was working for a great brand and with some incredible people.  I was pulling myself in too many directions though, and in order to get closer to one aspect I would get further away from another.  It was time to make a change.  It was tough, but it was right.  Sometimes it’s braver to walk away.

...You bit off more than you could chew

Being a new Dad and being a VP – whilst living overseas without the support network of close family.  It was hard to juggle, and I found that I was failing at both roles.  I was blessed with incredible parents, and for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to emulate them and be a good father.  I knew I had to find a way that enabled me to maximize my potential, be the best Dad I can be, and be happy.  That was when I decided to start my own business.


...You saw yourself & your true potential

I’m naturally a little bit cautious about my own ability and potential, and there have been times in my career that I’ve doubted myself.  I’d wonder if or when I’d get found out.  From speaking with other designers it’s not uncommon, and I think it’s that bit of insecurity that pushes me to want to get better all the time. With Spark, though, it’s only been my business partner and myself so any success has been directly attributable to us.  Running your own business can be stressful, but the victories feel absolutely amazing.

A few months in we landed two fantastic clients on the same day, and the feeling that ran through me was like nothing I’d experienced.

...You understood advice your parents gave you (what was it?)

“Just do what makes you happy”.  I’ve always had that licence from my parents.  As long as I’m happy they’re happy.  I always felt that there needed to be some measurable form of “success” to be able to truly make them proud, but it was self-applied pressure.  Now I’m a parent myself, their advice and support all makes sense.  The mark of a good parent is a happy child, not a miserable one with the most expensive toys.