Current Occupation: CEO of Uniworld Group, a multicultural marketing agency
A CEO with an open door policy is rare in the advertising industry. If the show Mad Men is any indication, ad meetings are held behind closed doors where suited white male account managers smoke cigarettes and drink hard liquor until an idea manifests. Monique Nelson has changed the face of advertising.
Nelson is the new Chief Executive Officer of Uniworld Group (what she calls a 42-year-old “startup”) that was most recently run by the agency’s founder, legendary ad man Byron Lewis. Its clients include Ford Motor Company, Lincoln and the U.S. Marines. A Brooklyn native, Nelson now heads an international company with collaborative interaction and a passion for all things creative.
MN: What kind of household did you grow up in?
Monique Nelson: I was born and raised here in Brooklyn. My mom was a science teacher and my father is an electrical engineer who’d gone to Howard University. They’ve been married 43 years and I can literally see my junior high from my window. I grew up in a brownstone in Bed-Stuy. My life felt a lot like the Cosbys.
MN: What were your early aspirations?
Monique Nelson: I went to performing arts high school as a vocal major. I figured out that I could not stand rejection and hated the audition process. When you go to the Fame high school, you have these HUGE expectations. “I’m gonna be a star!” But once I saw what a star really looked like — people like Monifah, Omar Epps, Marlon Wayans — you start to see people that are really passionate about their art.Singing was just something that I liked to do, but it was nothing that I was super passionate about. And I heard people with voices that were just absolutely out of this world.
MN: Tell us about your academics?
Monique Nelson: Vanderbilt University was where everything changed for me. I left New York and went to Nashville, TN on a university scholarship thinking that I wanted to be a doctor. My first semester of biology, I failed and it was my first big failure. It was devastating on so many levels, but it forced me to think about other things.
MN: When did you eventually fall in love with marketing?
Monique Nelson: While working in Wisconsin at International Papers, I got in with the marketing manager at the time, who happens to be this phenomenal women who I absolutely ended up adoring over time. She had three kids and was a senior director in marketing. I wasn’t really sure what marketing was 22 years ago. We started walking through the process of selling this brown paper that was on the back of the Post-It notes. We ended up having a meeting with some of our sister companies and everyone came together to say that they were introducing colors to the Post-It notes. All of a sudden they were creating a market.
Let me tell you: selling paper is not hot. When you have to sell something as basic as a sheet of paper and tons of it, it showed me that marketing was really deep. That’s what sparked my marketing bug.