Happy people make for great work—A story by Steph Dix

Steph Dix, Operations Director at DDB Sydney

Last week, Director, Data Governance at American Express, and experienced PMP, Ordonna Sargeant, talked about what happens when you don’t have clearly defined team roles and why collaboration is the key to success in project management.

This week, Operations Director at DDB Sydney, Steph Dix, shares her (all-too-familiar) story about work-life balance and how exactly her mantra, “happy people make for great work,” came to be.

You can read all the stories in our latest eBook, Confessions of a Project Manager. Download your free copy here.


I remember the first time I cried in my career.

It was during my early days of working in publishing at a fast-paced, weekly magazine house in London. It was the mid-2010s and my first proper client-facing job.

I remember dealing with an especially tricky client—who looking back now I realize was as junior, and likely as stressed, as me—back and forthing on a certain product’s prevalence on a double-page spread.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the unique combination of dealing with paying clients, a vivacious editorial team, and an equally vivacious commercial team who would (and could) sell literally anything would eventually create my greatest skill.

I became someone who could find compromise where most would assume impossible.

What made me cry then, was not a person, but a situation.

I was sat with my art director, a brilliant, wildly talented woman, who understandably let out her frustration at the document we all knew too well: “InsertClientHere_DoubleSpread_Final_v17.” She was wearily staring at her screen for a solution we hadn’t already tried—when out of nowhere, tears started rolling down my face.

She stared at me in shock. I felt like I stared back at her in shock. She leaped up and put her arms around me (which obviously made it worse) and I instantly felt embarrassed and laughed it off.

Until that day I had always thought showing emotion at work was equal to showing weakness. But those tears, that rip in the fabric of our day-to-day, caused me and my team to step back and look at the wider picture of what was happening from a process, and people perspective.

It was like a jolt woke us all up, and gave us a moment of “why the f*ck are we crying over a double-page spread?”

It wasn’t about where the product was on the page anymore, it was how we got to killing ourselves over it in the first place.

Lesson learned: People before projects

This experience, and the support of my wonderful mentor and manager, drove me forward to roll out post-campaign wash-ups with clients, encourage collaboration with editorial and commercial, find ways to elevate what we were doing, how we were doing it, and most importantly, how we all felt doing it.

This experience led me to my mantra; “Happy people make for great work” and right now, this feels more important than ever.

Does this story resonate with you?

Discover more in our eBook, Confessions of a Project Manager, where PM practitioners, authors, and agency insiders share the stories that defined their careers—and the lessons they learned along the way.

Download your copy today

Download the eBook, Confessions of a Project Manager

Meet Steph Dix

Steph Dix has over a decade’s experience in the industry, cutting her teeth in e-commerce before moving to fashion, publishing, and finally into agency life. She has led delivery for a wealth of global accounts, across all disciplines. Her human-first approach, tenacious drive for problem-solving, and eye for numbers has earned her success in some of London’s most prolific agencies. In 2022, she moved to Sydney, Australia to head up Operations at DDB for one of the most iconic brands in the world—the golden arches, McDonald’s.

Connect with Steph on LinkedIn.