‘I’m very willing to debate ideas and be wrong fast’: Henry Innis on winning the Next of the Best Leadership Award

Henry Innis

On being willing to be wrong fast, seeing therapists, and why “the mission is more important to me than the headlines.”

Henry Innis is Mediaweek’s Next of the Best leadership winner. The Mutinex co-founder and global chief executive tells Mediaweek that he’s a “sometimes brash but always learning and developing young leader.”

It’s been a big 12 months for Innis and Mutinex, including a sponsorship deal with the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute (EBI), and the launch of DataOS as a companion product to its GrowthOS market mix modelling tool. It all culminated with the recent appointment of Mat Baxter as APAC CEO

Vevo’s APAC managing director Steven Sos, presented the award to Innis, who said in an acceptance speech: “I just want to thank everybody in this industry, my team, who are the most fucking intelligent, amazing people to work with ever, and the entire industry, including clients, agencies, publishers, and all of you guys who have gotten behind us.

“You’ve made my dream come true, and I hope we can change the world of marketing effectiveness together.”

Mediaweek caught up with Innis on what the win means to him, and what we can expect next from him and Mutinex.

The awards have been judged by an all-star line-up. What does it mean to you to be recognised by this group of people?

It means a lot to be recognised by many of Australia’s great advertising names, particularly from such a diverse group of people. I very much appreciate their support and belief. But I’d also like to thank the wider industry who have supported us – people have really embraced Mutinex and gotten behind us.

I think that there’s been some unexpected but fantastic support – particularly from our customers, most of the holdcos, indies and the wider media publishers and technology community. That’s been the humbling thing.

Collaboration is key to building the next generation of companies and I’m thankful for how the industry has responded to Mutinex, and been forgiving and tolerant of a sometimes brash but always learning and developing young leader.

What makes your leadership style stand out?

I’m not quite sure. I think you should ask my team that question!

I think we are quite direct and candid at Mutinex. I’m a deep first principles thinker – deconstructing problems to their base elements is one of the most important principles I think. I enjoy writing and the clarity that comes with it. I’m very willing to debate ideas and be wrong fast.

Good leaders (and I would say I am emerging on this front) drive organisational clarity well. I think that is where good leadership needs to excel – driving clarity and decisiveness to drive systemised thinking and intelligence.

Who is your leadership hero? Where do you get your leadership inspiration from?

I admire great technology leaders. I know I will cop flak here, but [Jeff] Bezos and [Elon] Musk are standouts for various reasons. They have principled leadership, focus on outcomes and are ambitious beyond belief.

Focusing on clarity of principles is deeply important to me as a leader, as clarity of how something operates principally is how you drive and solve systemic issues.

Sheryl Sandberg for her ability to really bring together an advertising and technology business, which seems obvious now, but she was really the leader who I think changed digital advertising the most in recent years. 

More locally, I have been deeply influenced by Nick Garrett, who is able to be ferociously principled whilst maintaining a deep appreciation for humanity. I think Rose Herceg has always been another leader in a similar mould, who at an important part of my career, gave a lot to me to develop me quickly.

My partner, Gabrielle Hendry, is an incredible leader in her own right serving both the government and our country. I learn a lot from her – she’s inspired, determined and incredibly principled in how she deals with things morally.

Every good leader has a team that supports them. Who are the people – inside and outside of the industry – that you lean on for support?

I have a truly incredible team that supports me day in day out. I feel like I can be candid with many of them about the challenges and troubles that I have, and that is a great part of the Mutinex DNA.

One of my closest supporters and my right hand person at Mutinex is Renee Zhang, who is exceptional. She regularly challenges me, is a vocal and strong counterpoint to me and is a brilliant developing leader in her own right. I am lucky to have her on the team and I believe she’s a future founder in her own right. Ramee in my team, Pete, Nik and John Sintras are also regular challengers and collaborators. Mat Baxter increasingly so – but it’s very early days in our relationship!

I also have a number of mentors at the moment who help me through external to the business. To name a few – Chris Savage, Charlie Gearside, Justin Lipman and Nick Garrett. I’m sure I have forgotten someone.

My partner Gabby keeps me very grounded, mostly as she doesn’t give a shit about advertising or marketing.

Not ashamed to admit that I have also seen therapists from time to time throughout the Mutinex journey to cope with stress and anxiety of building it and having lots of people rely on me. I think seeking help and support is nothing to be ashamed of, and I’d encourage everybody to do so, and hope by sharing that people will see that it’s very normal to do.

What can the industry expect from you and Mutinex next?

I think a few things are important to get right at Mutinex more broadly. The most important thing to recognise is we are a product company – we have to keep sweating the product and focusing on it being the best it can absolutely be. The second we take our eye off product R&D is the second this business dies.

I believe GrowthOS and DataOS is such a powerful combination for any marketer looking to seize control of the financial narrative and make rapid, quick and profitable decisions that I hope we can build it to be ubiquitous.

But there’s a lot to do and a lot more value to build. We’ve shipped the ability to analyse creative ROI, sponsorship ROI, and super granular geo-features that are market leading lately. I’ve been staggered at how much usage they are getting – clearly our customers are loving the ability to finally prove how much sponsorships and creative investment are driving the bottom line.

I’d like to see us scale up a better working model for the industry. We must be collaborators and not contagions if we are to really help the industry, and I think that’s important to do so in our DNA. People don’t buy disruption in the long term. They buy genuine, focused impact on their business.

As for me, I think I have a lot to learn and amidst all of this need to ensure I stay grounded and focused. The mission is more important to me than the headlines. Sometimes it’s easy for me as a leader to get caught up in this – but as Savage said to me – it’s all about the product, the people, and the purpose. Do these things, and the rest of it will follow.

Top image: Henry Innis

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