An Interview between Danielle Weinblatt, CEO of ConveyIQ and DK Bartley, VP, Head of Talent Acquisition, Dentsu Aegis Network
When I was asked to write about a company that is doing Talent Acquisition at the penultimate level, I instantly thought of Dentsu Aegis Network. The company is a global powerhouse of digital marketing and media services with 40,000 people operating in 145 countries across 10 different brands. And of course, you cannot write about a company that understands talent without discovering the genesis of this understanding.
The unique talent acquisition challenges that Dentsu faces around the world could only have been navigated by one man. This is a man who has never been afraid to take risks or question the status quo. He asks questions that others in the room are afraid to ask and understands that improvement only comes with iteration. He’s bold and audacious, but also methodical and process-orientated. He is someone who frankly, gets things done, and a leader that I really respect. That man is DK Bartley.
Bartley has held various roles throughout his career ranging from an Associate Producer & Researcher at ABC News to a Director of Talent Acquisition at Gust and at HarperCollins to founding Diversity Talent International (DTI). At DTI, Bartley advised clients such as Huawei, Spark44, Polo Ralph Lauren, Colgate Palmolive, Datran Media, Warner Music Group. Currently, Bartley is leading Diversity & Inclusion for Dentsu Aegis Network after holding the position of Vice President of Talent Acquisition for 3 years. Bartley holds 2 degrees, graduating from both Stony Brook and NYIT and is a Certified Diversity Professional with training from Cornell University. He is a worldwide traveler and foodie originally from Jamaica, the home of Busha Browne hot sauce.
I wanted to learn more about what motivates Bartley and enables him to keep the momentum going in his career and in his life.
Juggling 3,000 Positions While Getting a Degree in Political Science
Bartley began his journey into recruiting while he was in college at Stony Brook. Unsurprisingly, Bartley was the leader of the student government and the administration asked him to lead recruiting for the university. “They paid to put me through training and paid me to do the internship. They had never had anything like that at the university. It was education beyond the classroom,” shared Bartley.
Bartley’s personality and go-getter attitude gave him access and power at a young age, which included meetings with the President of the University. “Because I was outspoken, I was good at this internship.” After going to Dale Carnegie and learning all the recruitment laws, Bartley did the internship and Stony Brook opened Student Staffing Resources. “I was a Sophomore and hired over 3,000 people throughout my entire tenure,” he said. Bartley accomplished an incredible feat: he changed the landscape of recruiting at Stony Brook while getting his degree in Political Science.
“I was doing something that changed lives.”
Bartley would get letters from parents and students inspiring him to continue driving himself each day. As someone who always believed, “if you are not a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem,” Bartley’s motivation came from always wanting to help others and “change lives.” Bartley was in student government to change the lives of students. Student Staffing Resources gave him the ability to do this.
“I would get letters from parents saying that I gave their child a job and now they were able to pay tuition. I got a stream of letters over those three years. It was powerful. It wasn’t just extra money to party. I was really making a difference. These letters were pretty powerful because you could feel the love in them and how grateful people were.”
There was one letter in particular from a family from Trinidad that truly touched Bartley and made the experience even more rewarding. A mother of 3, all in college, who was recently divorced wrote to Bartley with sincere gratitude. She and her family just became citizens. She had a conversation with God and viewed the fact that her daughter had received a job as a message from a higher power.
“I am Jamaican and as a Caribbean person, we believe that everyone has a struggle. The woman had three kids in college and they had just become citizens and it was powerful. It was the beginning of the rest of their lives,” said Bartley.
Even when Bartley moved to the RPO (recruitment process outsourcing) side at DTI, he remained motivated because again, he believed he was changing lives. People would call him and send him emails saying that he did something different that helped them to land a job. Bartley was always focused on giving feedback in a way that people are receptive to. He believes that people need to look at themselves introspectively, which will make them a better professional. Several people he hired in the past are now running companies and are senior executives. He believes that constant feedback and introspection makes people successful.
Mentorship in His Life
At ABC, Bartley worked for Beth Nissen who changed his life. The greatest piece of advice he received was “to be a specialist.” This was impactful because Bartley started his career as a reporter and even when he moved back over to recruiting, he was able to specialize in media and entertainment recruiting. With the marketing industry going online, this eventually led him to technical and digital recruiting, which is the realm of his specialty. But every touch point in his career was invaluable, particularly starting off in journalism and research.
“Everything I do, I research. I know how to get information that people can’t get. You need to ask yourself, ‘what is it that you do well?’ You must be able to say it in one sentence. No matter what industry you are in, this is important and if you focus on that, you can get people to believe in you.”
When asked about Millennials, the constant switching of jobs, and lack of specialization today, Bartley was pretty clear: “[This principle] is not lost, but it’s misguided. We launched MAIP at Dentsu, which has 15 minority interns and they are all amazing. They are so inspiring and ask all the right questions…all of their friends are online and some will jump from job to job. They will see that if they are more thoughtful, you can change jobs, but you must have a process, not just an opportunity. All of them have grit, but some are just not aware of it.”
Another visionary that he admires is Jack Welch, whom he believes is an amazing identifier of talent.
“He not only gets the business and processes, performance and that GE is a meritocracy, but he is also about gut. For me, talent is all about that. Anybody can be a recruiter but not everyone can hire talent. It is a process. You don’t need to be trained to do that…Talent is about learning and passion and contribution. Jack Welch is amazing to me. GE is a very different company because he is no longer there,” said Bartley.
A New Role at Dentsu
In the past few months, Bartley has assumed a new role at Dentsu, which is very different because diversity is a long-term commitment and a longer process. Recruiting gets you results right away and gives you immediate gratification by filling a role. Diversity is more strategic than tactical and it is about working with people that you don’t understand and in an unfamiliar environment. According to Bartley, if you embrace diversity, you will be more educated and well- rounded and a part of something greater than yourself.
“Diversity is reconditioning people to think a different way…diversity is innovation.”
Defining Diversity Success
When asked about what he envisioned as success in achieving diversity initiatives, he stated that it is about organizational impact. Everything that a company does that involves its people, its clients and its environment must be through a diversity lens.
“As an example, you should not have a job opening, that caters to a gender. In every open position, you ensure you have a balance of applicants for male and female. You are going to look for what you don’t have in the organization. It’s about asking yourself, what can I bring into the company to make me more inclusive with people and ideas?”
Bartley also mentioned that diversity is about suppliers and clients. It’s not just about hiring people and getting new business. Diversity is ever-evolving and endemic to how the organization generates revenue, and it builds relationships with suppliers and partners and even the charities it donates to. Bartley believes success is when the entire organization operates with a diversity lens.
Cleaning the Diversity Lens
Bartley believes there are three reasons companies have difficulty putting diversity initiatives in place:
- HR is often uncomfortable embracing the diversity topic and getting started. Naturally, if this is the case, it’s hard for an organization to embrace it in the correct way. Diversity just becomes a thing or a tactic.
- Organizations that struggle with implementing a D&I strategy do not understand that diversity is about your bottom-line and it can increase revenue. It’s not just about hiring more black people and women.
- Diversity is not a “quick fix” or a “high.” It is a long-term investment. There needs to be clear measurable goals. It can also be difficult to manage expectations. It’s a learning process and an organization will make mistakes. Overall, Bartley discussed how critical implementing a diversity strategy was for an organization’s long-term health. A good example of the consequences of not focusing on D&I is Starbucks. When organizations do not listen to the diversity signs or triggers as a priority, and there exist a pattern of behavior these circumstances happen that are hard to control. It’s a major lesson for companies about the price they might pay in the future. In Starbuck’s case, it is the $35M cost of the anti-bias training and exponential revenue loss in the millions, resulting in the need to now pass those increased costs to consumers.
When I asked Bartley what advice he has for a student coming out of college who wants to be as successful as him, he replied: “You are the author of the book that defines you. You will make mistakes. You will meet great people who will tell you what to do. You will meet people who are your detractors and who do not want you to succeed. There will be people who do not understand your passion and might say, ‘you are too energized or we don’t have chemistry.’ You’ll hear noise. Take that noise. It is feedback. Both good and bad. You are responsible for you. You need to take that and become a true professional. No one wakes up and has a manual. It is a learning process. You need to do it on your terms on your time. You need to learn from your own mistakes and polish yourself off.”
Understanding His Purpose
Bartley believes in many of the principles of other highly successful people. He has a belief that constant improvement and iteration breeds excellence. Similar to Ray Dalio’s belief that pain plus reflection equals progress, Bartley believes that with every failure, it’s important to examine what went wrong and how you can get better. But what I love about Bartley’s adaptation, is that he also believes that you should examine every successful outcome and ask yourself how you achieved it.
Ultimately, what separates Bartley and has enabled him to build a powerhouse organization and career is he understands his “why.” As Simon Sinek would say, you need to understand your mission or your purpose in what you do. Bartley’s intrinsic drive comes from the fact that he fundamentally believes that talent acquisition is about building people’s futures. With that type of self-actualization, you can’t be anything but successful in what you do.