118: Lee Caraher | The Millennial Whisperer

Lee Caraher, CEO of Double Forte

Lee Caraher (@LeeCaraher) has been in PR and Communications her entire career. She is the founder, President and CEO of San Francisco-based integrated communications company Double Forte and is the author of The Boomerang Principle and Millennials & Management.

What We Discuss with Lee Caraher:

  • Lee’s rise from graduate to executive at North America’s largest PR firm and on to then start her own firm which continues to flourish after 17 years.
  • Her a-ha moment that forced her to change how she thought about leading millennials.
  • What it takes to create a buzzing workplace that bridges generational gaps.
  • The handful of key strategies any manager can use to get the most out of millennials and create loyalty.

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More About the Show


Lee started Double Forte in 2002 determined to create a culture that fully supports its talent, even when they choose to move on. After failing miserably at retaining Millennials, Double Forte went back to the beginning and created a culture where all generations thrive; as a result, turnover is low, and when employees do leave, overwhelmingly they stay loyal to the firm – sometimes even returning. 

 

With her foundational work, Lee shows leaders how to create the best possible workplace culture so their employees will stay longer than they intend, and when they do leave, advocate for the company, defining a new loyalty contract and a new model of business sustainability.

 

The Come Up

After graduating with a degree in Medieval Studies (go figure), she transitioned in communications working for the Weber Group. A few years went by and she took a VP position at The Bohle Company, a small communications firm out of Los Angeles. Another few years there, and she was recruited for a similar role, but at a much larger company called MSLGroup.

 

At MSL, she was in charge of the team working with one of the world’s largest companies in video games, SEGA of America. SEGA liked her so much that within 10 months of being at MSL, she was offered asked to come on as the VP of Corporate & Consumer Communications, overseeing the work of over 700 people. Five years later, just before the launch of the DreamCast, Lee was asked back to Weber Group (now Weber Shandwick), but this time in an Executive Vice President role.

 

Another five years past, and Lee decided it was time to venture out on her own. In September 2002, Double Forte was formed. Now nearly 17 years later, Double Forte has offices in San Francisco, New York and Boston and employs dozens of people full-time.


The Shift to a Millennial Workforce

When Lee started Double Forte she already had extensive experience recruiting and retain top-talent. At the time, they were looking for senior leaders with 10+ years of experience. However, during the time of the Great Recession (2007-2010), Lee recognized a lack of new talent making their way to the field.


Lee realized that there was no way they’d be able to find the perfect candidates to fill the company ranks, so they decided to take inexperienced millennials and give them on-the-job training. 


Lee’s first millennial was a 22 year old woman named Stephanie. Little did Lee and the rest of the company know, Stephanie was also the owner of an emotional support animal, who would come to work with her under ADA mental health laws. 

 

Despite the added fur to the team, Stephanie was a rockstar, and Lee decided to go all in on hiring millennials. The following year, the company hired six millennials within eight weeks of each other, and after three months, all of them were gone.

 

Lee was flabbergasted. In all her years, never had something like this ever happened.

 

“In my career – hundreds, thousands of people that worked for me – I had never 100% failure… in people,” Lee recounts. “There’s no way, in 25 years of hiring great people, that it was bad here. We didn’t hire people wrong, we kept them wrong. One person could’ve been a bad hire, but all of them couldn’t have been.”


It was then that Lee set out to understand what was going on with millennials; where was the disconnect? How do you motivate them?


Thanks, Lee Caraher!


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