Ceo Dialogue – Tan Kien Eng

Ceo Dialogue – Tan Kien Eng

Group CEO of Publicis One Malaysia and CEO of Leo Burnett Malaysia

Looking back, what do you consider the defining moments in your first 100 days in this position?

As CEO of Leo Burnett as well as the newly created role of Group CEO of Publicis One, I initially joked to my peers that I was taking one as a day job and the other as my night job. Jokes aside, it wasn’t a toss between the two roles really. When all the agencies within the Publicis One group came together, we were on steroids – extraordinarily strong and agile. It’s a huge responsibility managing the largest creative agency in Malaysia, with such diverse offerings in creative, media, marketing communication, data, tech and production, but I’m even more proud to be driving the united ambition of delivering on the value of ‘The Power of One’ to clients.

What do you regard as the crucial factors for you to stay on top of your game?

Firstly, even though we are rated as the best, I always believe we can do better. Secondly, we need to be purpose-driven to understand why we exist and why we do what we do. Thirdly, I don’t compete with others as much as I compete with myself. I am constantly dissatisfied, looking at areas we can improve or be different, to ultimately refine or reinvent our agencies. Hopefully, by doing so, we continue to add value to our people and clients, create world-class work, uncover fresh revenue streams for the agency and stay ahead of the game.

What do you foresee are the game-changing challenges facing your industry?

I am excited about the now and the near future, where people and their behaviour are changing. AI, deep learning, new platforms coupled with new competitors, and changing client expectations are becoming the new normal. This is why, as far back as nine years ago, we as a team decided that we were no longer in the business of advertising. We no longer create ads but instead create acts. Our job, fundamentally, is to understand people and to change behaviour through creativity. We apply insightful creative thinking, fused with data, technology and great execution, to help solve our client’s business challenges in the new age. Our clients can expect a return on consumer engagement and improvements in their brand valuations. It is hard work as we are currently in our third phase of agency transformation and reinvention. It makes me jump out of bed in the morning energised, as our job has become even more exciting and the results would be game-changing.

Single out a leader in the corporate world you wish to emulate.

Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway. He is not just a great business mind, but also a leader who communicates effectively and inspires others to perform. But what I admire most about him is his bravery of sticking to his values and beliefs even in the face of worldwide criticism.

Why do you think CEOs need a dose of James Bond in their lives?

Business, just like life, is full of surprises. We are sometimes shaken, but not stirred by it. As CEO, what most excites and worries you? I feel happiest when I see great ideas, concepts and opinions from our people, and knowing that the team can execute well. It worries me when I see people holding on to obsolete ways, and are unwilling to adapt to change for the better.

What are your strategies to make your companies the most successful in your industry?

We have a clear vision of where we want to be. My key priorities are People, Product and Profit – in that order. With Publicis One, we have the ability to leverage the right team for the right projects, allowing people from multiple agencies to come together and solve our client’s business challenges as one. Another unique aspect is Humankind, our proprietary, purpose-driven approach in creating meaningful and effective work. We also invest heavily in our people, especially training, to ensure they remain at the forefront of what they do best. All of these create a really powerful proposition when combined with our robust portfolio strategy and driven by our highly collaborative set of talents.

Share with us any impactful advice you received that still inspires you today.

As a young art graduate and first jobber, I was asked: “Do you want to be remembered as a nice guy or someone who made a difference?” Back then, this statement made me question if it isn’t possible to do both. To do so, I guess, boils down to sincerity. That way, when I compliment someone, they know I truly mean it. And when I need to be firm or make unfavourable decisions, people would understand it is for the good of the many.

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