Agencies like to talk about change, but at Superhuman, we’re most fascinated by growth. No one embodies that quality quite like our new CEO Becky Lang. As Superhuman founder Van Horgen steps away from his role as CEO into a new phase as Chairman, he’s tapped Becky to lead the agency into this new phase. Read on to learn more about our new leader.
What were your early days at Superhuman like?
I came to Superhuman when I first decided to go freelance. I instantly connected with Van because I worked with his brother Tom in the A&E section at the Star Tribune. Superhuman’s first space was a small artist studio featuring a gorilla mural by Limpio, and it was full of noise from opera lessons across the hall and dance classes upstairs. After a couple months, it felt like home. Van taught me a lot of new skills, like using archetypes in branding and concepting, and gave me the chance to direct photo and video shoots. I didn’t want to freelance anymore—I wanted to help Superhuman grow.
Before Superhuman, I worked as a creative at Zeus Jones for six years. I can’t speak highly enough about my friends and mentors there. In my time at Zeus, I got to create the Totino Boy video with my heroes Tim and Eric, write for Cheerios, Nordstrom and Purina and develop a large B2C portfolio. My high school best friend Jason Zabel runs creative there now and we trade wisdom regularly.
What has always been true at Superhuman?
What makes Superhuman special is how we collaborate and lead with relationships. Our clients are often in the technology space, which requires a unique approach. When we go to a client workshop, we try not to tell them about their own category. They are the subject matter experts. Instead, we surface their knowledge, accelerate their ideas and focus their vision. Beyond that, we mine for those moments when we see them connecting. That’s the core of their culture, and only by tapping into that can we create an authentic brand.
What changes have you witnessed?
We’ve experienced nothing but change. We’ve expanded from three people to almost 30, lived through a global pandemic, seen our city riot against police brutality, consoled one another through tragedies and celebrated milestones.
To be honest, it’s hard to know what to do as a company that values diversity, equity and inclusivity in a time when intentions ring hollow and expectations have been shattered. We’ve been humbled many times when it comes to what we can and can’t achieve. But we’ve made openness to nuanced dialog part of our DNA. Hopefully, we’ve shown that an ad agency shouldn’t be a homogenous place, but one that reflects its community.
Have you always felt like a leader at Superhuman, or were there particular moments where you were able to develop as a leader?
When I came to Superhuman, I was trying to do freelance ad work to fund a creative writing lifestyle, hoping to write screenplays or novels. I was studying stand-up comedy tactics online and writing sample headlines for the Onion. It was a completely novel concept when Van told me he saw a Creative Director and business partner in me.
When you’re a woman and your whole life has been fighting to prove you can be a writer or an artist, there’s not a lot of time to think about leadership. In fact, I hated going to “leadership training” type events. But with Van’s mentorship, I tried my hand at building and lead a copywriting team, and I loved it.
When Van asked me to become the next CEO, it triggered a new level of imposter syndrome. I didn’t go to business school and I had never particularly desired the “chief” part of any job title. I am someone who loves writing fake TV pilots and drinking grape apes. I had to humble myself and say, “I’m open to learning. I’m open to being challenged. And I’m open to facing what I don’t know.”
Recently, I was listening to the Bobbi Brown episode of “How I Built This” and she said that her real talent as a leader was hiring people to do things she couldn’t. I thought, if she can be a makeup artist, product developer, CEO and working mom, maybe I can aspire to that, too. The key isn’t being perfect beyond critique, but admitting your faults and putting the right people in place to build a team.
What the biggest difference from your time as interim CEO and stepping into your new official role as CEO?
I’m lucky that I got the chance to act as interim CEO during Van’s recent paternity leave. In that time, I took a leadership training course with Jessica Fischer, a collaborator of Superhuman and she provided simple frameworks that helped me identify opportunities and turn them into action plans. She also helped me pinpoint the people who can fill in my gaps and work with them to outline and pursue goals. Making Annie Carpenter the COO of Superhuman was necessary in me feeling ok about Van stepping back. People don’t know this, but Van has not just been our founder and CEO, but our head of operations, finance and even IT. Annie is remarkable at project management, operational and financial processes and managing teams. Additionally, we made Kelly Young the Head of People and Culture, because she has a unique talent for echoing our goals in how we develop our staff.
I want to focus on evolving our services, pushing our creativity and expanding our client relationships. But I can’t do that without people fully committed to taking care of our operations and people. Annie and Kelly combine big-hearted emotional intelligence with problem solving and creativity, and I’m so excited to be able to partner with them. A core operating team that happens to be all women was not our primary objective, but it feels pretty exciting that it shook out that way!
What do you look forward to in your new role as agency CEO?
We have the opportunity to change how a modern agency works. To go from Mad Men-era practices into a new future that is technology-first, inclusive of everyone and helping businesses solve global problems, agencies need completely different cultures and toolkits. I know I have the right people with me to build that new agency, and to have fun doing it, too. Advertising, marketing, branding—if these practices aren’t adding joy to the world, why bother with them?
What’s your vision for the future Superhuman?
We’re currently in the midst of a major rebrand, one that doesn’t just examine our identity, but our processes and culture. We’re intentionally parting ways with transactional ways of approaching relationships, and instead putting collaboration at the heart of what we do. We see our future as curators of our clients’ creativity and vision, giving them the tools and methods that will unlock a deeper impact for their brand.
Our Extra Grind school has shared our thinking with our community by providing free advertising education. But there’s no reason this should stop at teaching students—we believe our clients can benefit just as much from this type of collaborative education and partnership. We believe creativity is what connects all people, so we plan to open-source our thinking in a big new way.