Meet C27’s Fazil Fuad

As one of the youngest leaders in the creative scene, Company27’s (C27) Fazil Fuad was recently appointed managing director of the digital agency.

Coming up through the ranks to become an up-and-coming name in the industry, Fazil shares with Marketing his leadership style and talks about the importance of having a diverse set of mentors.

Describe your management style

I’ll answer this in two parts based on my daily mantras:

“Agricultural, not mechanical.”

At C27, we’re firm believers on being human focused and organic in everything we do and not being too carried away with the technology. I once watched this Ted talk that really resonated with me and it was about how we should mimic an “agricultural” approach towards developing and managing talent.

Meaning, it’s really about how we create and nurture an environment for people to perform at the highest level rather than force-feeding knowledge or stringent processes. The most difficult part, of course, is actually defining what works for most people – you’d be surprised by how much you can impact productivity with fancy office chairs or a PS4 in the common area, compared to free dental.

“Feasibility and Visibility”

I’m not a “process freak”. I’m a creative at heart, so to me, there’s always a place for intuition.

However, I do appreciate the act of being simple, but structured when it comes to delegating and processing tasks. For me, I simplify 95% of my tasks to the form of answering two questions: 1) “Is it feasible?”, which is mostly linked to, on a high level, how humanely possible is this and what would it take to get it done in the given time/physical space; 2) “Is it visible?” which has to do with how exactly am i going to define and track the progress of said task. If something seems a little cloudy or blurry, something’s wrong. A binary approach can do wonders.

Take us through your career path

I was already active in the freelance creative scene when I was studying design at RMIT Melbourne. Mainly photography – I shot a summer campaign for Nike Sportswear and an annual report for POS Malaysia (via JWT) before my 20th birthday.

My professional career  started off with ThreeSixty Group, an activation (on-ground) agency in Petaling Jaya. I was lucky to join in a time where they were venturing into ATL advertising, so as a junior art director, I had to wear many hats. I’ll start the day designing life 20-foot structures with Google Sketchup and end it with a full colour newspaper spread done with Illustrator.

I must say, being from a company which is renowned for organising events taught me  how human experience should be the prime focus in any sort of engagement. Not long after, I was recruited by Rocket Internet to be a part of the founding team of the Zalora Group, I joined as employee #15 and I made it all the way up to assistant vice president and was inducted as the first regional head of production (based in Singapore), spearheading tech R&D and managing the creative production teams and certain digital marketing functions for all six (Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Bangkok, Thailand and the Philippines countries in SEA).

It was such an enriching experience and I learnt what exactly it will take to build a world-class digital marketing team, the things we did back then for growth was nothing short of cutting edge. I left after two years and by then Zalora was a 1000+ employee corporate machine, and had just secured an eight figure investment round.

Your first job?

Taking photos of my sister’s prom. Everyone starts somewhere.

Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?

I’ve been blessed with rubbing shoulders with some really brilliant people in my time – there’s no way I can single out any of them. My first mentor was Fiona from Fifoto, she was an ex-mechanical engineer turned photographer. She thought me how processes and structure are vital even in a creative business, even wedding photography. She once brought me through her “strategy” of shooting a high-profile wedding, it honestly looked like something José Mourinho cooked up before match day.

Jwan Heah (ThreeSixty Group) taught me to be humble, Rostin (Zalora Group) taught me how experience can sometimes be outweighed by ambition, grit and intelligence, Reto (Zalora Group) taught to communicate and lead with gravitas in a culturally diverse work space, Martin Lim (award winning creative director) taught me to blur the lines between creativity and insanity, and Lola (Tribal DDB) taught me the ins and outs of the advertising industry. I’ve been awfully criticised for holding such a senior position at such an early age, but I believe I have done a ton of great work in my career so far and it’s only through the close guidance and trust of all the above.

Your biggest blunder in your career

Not the being best speaker of the Malay language despite my heritage – let’s just say I offended an important client without realising it until way after. We lost the pitch because of it.

When you’re not working, what will you be doing, aside from spending time with the family?

Grabbing a coffee in a crowded area and people watch. I’m also really into music, so much that I end all my potential hires by asking them to submit a Spotify playlist once we’re finished with the interview.

Harshest thing said to you in your career

“You’re way too small to be my boss.”

When you were a newbie in the industry, did you dream you would be CEO one day? What kind of CEO did you want to be and how closely have you stuck to it?

I never thought I’d be CEO, mostly due to the nature of myself being extremely technical and hands-on. I’ve been put in multiple management positions before but I never thought of myself to grasp the top job.

I always thought that I’d be more of a technical specialist who advises CEOs instead, guess that’s changed now! Although we’re not the biggest agency around, but I want to be the CEO who impacts as many people’s lives in one way or the other, to be a catalyst for personal transformation and growth whether it’s fully realised within or outside my tenure.

Craziest thing your staff has told you

“You’re way too small to be my boss.” I really can’t bring myself to think of anything else. This has inspired me to overachieve in my career in ways even I can hardly understand.

One thing you would say to a newbie in the industry

There’s nothing wrong with being childish and naive in your approach to creative work. Never lose the kid in you. Everyone is born an artist, some just grow up. Some of the best creative talent I’ve come across burn out after being “industrialised” by years in the industry. They tend to lose courage, confidence and that magic bit of insanity over time. Such a shame.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

The big decisions, letting good people go, hiring the right talent and first impressions – I remember being mistaken for an intern on my first board meeting. I like to think that I make up in vision and competence where I lack in a physical presence. Do I?

One thing you hate most about the industry

Excessive paper usage. Why is paper still a thing?

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