The Mountain Lion Executive

March 6, 2020
Fernando Silvestrin

Respected, fearsome, surrounded by mystery and prestige. Yet I'm not sure exactly where they are and what they do.

It’s Monday morning, and we all gathered in the agency foyer for another week of pretending. I don’t see her. Maybe it’s too early, perhaps she’s still at home, so we wait…no one is fully awake or really care anyways. We wait more… and more…ok, enough of waiting, and I started asking other colleagues around the office, where is she? Not a single person knew where she was. Well done boss.

I’m tracking down my ECD - Executive Creative Director. It’s a bold title and pays well. It’s the go-to person a creative team will look for guidance, assistance, leadership and inspiration. But what if you cannot find them?

ECD and business executives, the C-Level types from large global companies, have mastered an essential skill of survival in the corporate world. I call it the Mountain Lion Executive, or MLE (sounds more like corporate jargon).

Considered one of the “big cats”, Mountain Lions can be found throughout North and South America. These felines are a solitary species, and they live secretive lives that make it hard for scientists to study them. Also known as puma, panther, cougar, etc, his presence is known, his traces are all over the territory, and his return is certain. Still, you never get to actually see the fucking lion. The same kinds of mechanisms are in play for a Mountain Lion Executive.

Where are they hiding?

Solitary and mysterious individuals, Mountain Lion (Ad) Executives every so often are obliged to adventure themselves into unknown territories - the advertising agency they work for. Not their natural habitat, still every agency employee knows when a MLE is in-house. Account directors and creatives love to advertise their sudden visit weeks in advance. However, only their most loyal followers who are close enough, have a visual confirmation of its physical presence.

The unexpected visit usually happens for a brief window of time during the day, and like real Mountain Lions, they prefer to hunt early mornings and evenings.

“Even when predators aren’t killing anything, their tracks, smells, and sounds can instill a state of simmering unease in their prey. This creates what ecologists call a "landscape of fear” - writes scientist writer Ed Yong. In the corporate world, this is called “Fearsome businessman in suits”.

A Mountain Lion Executive will leave his/her mark by filling your inbox with weekly emails that have nonsense topics like “Wider World Communities” or “Evolve or die”. They’ll inscribe their names and own every piece of work ever produced by the agency they work for, without ever contributing to it - revealing how powerful they are. In worst-case scenarios, they’ll display unusual effort and jump on a call with a creative team. A remote call can have tremendous psychological effects once you hear the sound of a predator. Big cats have excellent hearings but exist in different realities. Mountain Lion Executives prefer to hide in their natural habitat; meeting rooms, airports, hotels, executive lunches, award ceremonies or rented yachts at award ceremonies.

The certain return

Mountain lions have a poor sense of smell but excellent vision. They cache their prey where they can return and feed on it over several days. Mountain Lion Executives rarely smell good creative work and lack the vision (or balls) to spot one when faced with it. Unless if it’s award season. Nothing makes them jump into view so quickly as winning any useless industry award - give them a shiny piece of metal, and their return is guaranteed.

When not in award season and your agency hasn’t won anything in decades, be attentive if you recognise a MLE in close proximity. You should immediately distance yourself and move cautiously - in other words, find another job. On the brink of disaster, chaos and mayhem, Mountain Lion Executives can exhibit social skills and occasionally show up for a motivational speech. Maybe a client who moved to a competitor agency, a lost pitch, someone will get sacked, or everyone will get sacked. These are all good scenarios to spot them in action.

The mystery of their presence, working on everything and nothing at the same time, their distance from the daily grit of real creative work and their occasional return because of some hidden agenda, give us a glimpse into the behaviour mechanisms of these corporate predators. The corporate world is a well-adapted environment where nonsense, narcissism and juvenile fantasy allow Mountain Lion Executives to thrive. In the end, we all fear the same thing - bigger predators and skilled ambush hunters.

Can their instinctive behaviour be harmful to a creative ecosystem? Maybe. Is it harder for creative ideas to survive and thrive? Possibly. Can Mountain Lion Executives coexist with the employees who are actually doing the work? Or perhaps it’s a good thing we don’t get to see them very often? Since every time we do, a dangerous encounter may occur. These are all valid questions I have no answer to, but one thing I know for sure: I’m a dog guy, and big cats are not to be trusted.

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