Former Graffiti Artist Becomes First Creative to Make Partner at PwC

Chief Creative Director Sees Future of Creative Role Changing

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Juan-carlos Morales.
Juan-carlos Morales. Credit: PwC

Of the 50,000 or so people who work at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the U.S., 2,300 are partners at the business consulting behemoth. Juan-carlos Morales, however, is now the first creative executive in the company's history to make partner.

PwC's chief creative officer might also be the first graffiti artist to do so, too.

His promotion comes at a time when many consultancies are boosting their agency service businesses by bringing in creatives from the agency world. The 39-year-old Mr. Morales, who says he attended the school of "hard knocks," tapped into his creative side when he was in the seventh grade, spray painting walls as a form of artistic expression.

Ad Age asked Mr. Morales about his path from graffiti to PwC partner. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Advertising Age: Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

Juan-carlos Morales: Art has always been a key part of my life. I came from a creative household. Growing up, kids were getting G.I. Joe's, but I was getting Michelangelo and Monet books. As I got into middle school, a lot of other kids started to rebel and I rebelled through graffiti. That's where I found my ability and graffiti became a big passion for me growing up.

I first started out doing print for an ad agency and then web work and freelance. I never thought in my career this is where I would end up.

Ad Age: Your parents gave you books on French impressionist Oscar-Claude Monet?

Mr. Morales: My parents both came from Cuba and were both immigrants. My father, he loved to draw, but as a man in the 60s, that was seen as a bad thing. He was not allowed to like art, or create art, because it was seen as something that would make him less of a man. So, I think as we were growing up, my dad didn't want us to feel those same constraints. I think he exposed us to things like opera and jazz for that reason. I hated opera and jazz when I was a kid, but I'm really grateful now because it gave me a passion for creativity in all of its forms, not just design, but also in music and theatre. My brother, he's now a writer in New York and he became a playwright.

Advertising Age: Why was it looked down upon to be an artist or creative person in Cuban culture?

Mr. Morales: I think it had something to do with homophobia. I think it was seen as something as if you weren't really a man. If you were a man, that was something you wouldn't get into.

Some of Mr. Morales' early work as a graffiti artist.
Some of Mr. Morales' early work as a graffiti artist. Credit: Juan-carlos Morales

Advertising Age: Let's switch gears. A lot of consultancies are hiring agencies folks and boosting their agency service business through acquisitions. I haven't heard of any consultancies making a creative a partner. What do you think it signals to the other three big consulting firms?

Mr. Morales: I think what it signals is that they value what we can bring to the table. I also think they're saying, "If we are really serious about boosting our agency services then our leadership team should be indicative of those folks." If we have all these creatives that we're hiring and all these acquisitions around the space that we're trying to do, we need to make sure that there's an actual leadership representation of these people to make sure we are going in the right direction.

PwC has made this commitment to digital, and I think it is a testament of the firm bringing together the business and technology aspects of the firm so it can create better work for its clients.

Ad Age: What do you think the landscape will look like in 10 years?

Mr. Morales: We are very siloed in how we think of different people with different roles, like myself being a "creative" and someone else being a "strategist." I think one of the things we are going to see is it will really be about hybridization of thought. Like, how someone like myself can play a role in the business strategy part of a project. And maybe how a business strategist can play a role in the creative parts of design or prototype. The same thing can be said about technology, right? I think disciplines will overlap and we will probably see less of a strict line drawn about who does what.

Another early mural by Mr. Morales.
Another early mural by Mr. Morales. Credit: Juan-carlos Morales

Ad Age: So, when was the last time you tagged a wall? How old were you?

Mr. Morales: I was maybe 27 or 28 the last time I tagged a wall and I miss it.

I'll be honest with you, now that my role has changed, I'm actually doing less hands-on and more inspiring teams and creating creative environments. But that's really caused me to be more creative at home. I still paint canvases regularly and I still code regularly. And I still follow tons of graffiti artists on Instagram.

Ad Age: When did you start doing graffiti?

Mr. Morales: I was in the seventh grade and I got a book from my classroom called "Subway Art." I think most graffiti artists get started by getting exposed to this book. The book shows all the different kinds of subway graffiti art in New York. It is about these inner-city kids who could have done a slew of bad things, but were actually painting on these trains trying to get their name out, which is a lot like marketing. My tagging name was Nemo. That was my name before that fish movie came out.

Ad Age: When you are hiring talent, what are you looking for?

Mr. Morales: We've been successful in bringing folks in from all types of places, from R/GA to Disney. I think the biggest thing I look for is a shared belief system. What makes me happy at a place like PwC is I wanted to be able to use the abilities I have in collaboration with other people to solve very meaningful problems. Another thing, culturally, we are a very passionate bunch, and I want to make sure the person we bring in is equally passionate, because I need someone who is very hungry to be a part of my team.

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CORRECTION: Based on information provided by PwC, an earlier version of this article said PricewaterhouseCooper's United States partners numbered 450. It has 450 U.S. partners in its advisory consulting arm, but 2,300 in the country overall.

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