Mediaweek Academy Legend John Steedman on investing in training and development courses


• Steedman also reveals how organisations can attract talent

John Steedman boasts an esteemed career working for and leading some of the biggest agencies. Now enjoying his well-deserved retirement, Steedman will share his wisdom with the professionals taking part in the inaugural Mediaweek Academy.

The former adman will take to the stage as a Legend, alongside Superstar counterpart Rebecca Drummond from Wavemaker, on the topic of career growth & development.

Ahead of the event’s launch on February 22, 2023, Steedman spoke to Mediaweek about the importance of training and development courses, the future of the industry and his advice to those attending the first Mediaweek Academy.

Steedman, who was reluctant to accept the title of industry Legend, explained: “I see myself as someone who spent my entire career in the same business who’s able to impart those learnings to those who want to make a career out of it.

“I don’t put myself down as a legend. I just happen to have been in the same business for my entire career,” he insisted.

Steedman’s career began in 1971 as a dispatch boy for McCann Erickson. The following year, he joined the company’s media department as an assistant. He worked his way up the agency, becoming the media manager of the Adelaide office.

In 1976, he joined J. Walter Thompson in Sydney, stepping into the role of Media Group Head. He continued to work his way up the ranks at J. Walter Thompson, eventually becoming regional media director in 1994.

Steedman moved to Hong Kong in 1997 to set up Mindshare’s APAC operation following the merger of media departments between Ogilvy and J. Walter Thompson. In 2002 he was appointed chairman/CEO of GroupM Asia/Pacific. He took a break and retired in 2009 but returned in 2010 as chairman/CEO of GroupM Australia.

In 2016, he joined the board of WPP and was appointed as chairman of WPP Media Investment services before retiring in 2020.

Steedman on why training and development courses are important

As the industry experiences a talent shortage, Steedman added that organisations should focus on retaining people before moving to other sectors such as technology. He also said companies should work with universities to attract talent to the business.

Steedman noted that training is imperative for everybody’s career journey.

“You never stop learning and hence developing. It sets you up for the next part of your career path. Initiatives such as the Mediaweek Academy, which are courses outside the agencies, are imperative for retaining talent to the organisation,” he said.

“It’s also a must that every business conducts their own internal training and pay for their talent to attend outside courses. Next to a salary increase, training is the most important career development on offer to talent, and that’s what will attract talent to certain organisations,” he added.

Steedman noted that organisations, particularly advertising businesses, could never invest too much in their biggest asset – their people.

“I found that particularly in GroupM and WPP, it should be in the top four investments on the balance sheet within an organisation – salaries, rent, IT and training,” he said. “Those that don’t invest will not retain the talent. They will move on. As I said, salary increase and training are imperatives to people joining the industry or a business.”

The impact of investing in training and development

Steedman invested heavily in training and development courses at GroupM APAC and Australia.

“We, in fact, employed our own training team led by Genelle Sharples, who is now actually running Telstra media and sponsorship.

“Many training programmes were developed internally by her and her team. Did it pay off? I reckon it did,” he said, noting that it increased retention and consequently led to less churn than the industry average.

Steedman shared the best training course he had attended, a WPP-developed program at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and led by two former army officers.

“It was a course which focused on real-life business experiences in which you determine what direction to take based on the information you’re given. That consequence decides which direction you take with that business, be it good or bad. The good thing is you’re working in a team environment, which is imperative in any business. You’re in teams to come to a solution for a client rather than to try to do it individually,” he said.

“I learned a hell of a lot from it, and so did a lot of other people within the WPP organisation,” he added.

Steedman’s career advice

For those early in their career development, Steedman advised them to ask questions, be inquisitive and “say what you think”.

Meanwhile, he noted it was important for executive managers to listen and connect.

“You need to show respect to those individuals. Everyone should be on the same level, as far as I’m concerned. Conduct annual appraisals and KPIs for those people, and give continuous and ongoing feedback. Again, teamwork is imperative to a successful relationship with those around you,” he added.

Mediaweek Academy

Steedman said he is looking forward to the Mediaweek Academy sessions in person instead of virtually. He said: “There’s nothing better than being in the moment. Learning is about being interactive, asking questions, debating and so on. This is near impossible virtually because you’re hidden essentially behind a computer screen. Participants don’t generally interact when it’s virtual. So, this is a much better way of training people through live situations,” he added.

For those attending the inaugural session, Steedman advised them: “Don’t miss any sessions. Importantly, ask questions and interact and be inquisitive.”

Steedman concluded by sharing a fitting quote from entrepreneur and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson: “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough, so they don’t want to.” Steedman called it “a great philosophy” for businesses.

Mediaweek Academy


For the aspiring young guns of the business Steedman also shared the quote: “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”

The Mediaweek Academy is spread over ten months. It will feature a special blend of interactive elements, Q&A, regular lectures, a feedback loop, and a personalised action plan to implement back in your business after each session.

Graduates from the 10-month Mediaweek Academy course will gain certification, ensuring they are the hottest talent for that next new job or promotion opportunity.

The early bird package for the Mediaweek Academy will be available until December 16.


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