What are you doing when you‚Äôre not at work?
Fitness, that‚Äôs the very thing that keeps me sane in our stressful business environment. If I don‚Äôt keep fit I will go crazy. You have to look after yourself mentally and physically. If I don‚Äôt work out for a month I get really tense. Secondly, I love cooking – I grew up in a Chinese restaurant in Melbourne. Occasionally I‚Äôll prepare a dinner party, a pretty elaborate one with several courses. I find it very relaxing, to be creative. We had a cook-off with OMD and my team won. SiuPing, our CEO in China said I have the same level of intensity when I‚Äôm in a pitch as when I‚Äôm cooking in the kitchen.
Tell us about your first job?
I started cooking very young, working as a waiter at the age of seven. My mom gave me this clip-on bow tie, and I would stand on a milk carton and take orders. It was a great experience – it taught me how to interact with people. It taught me so many things for my career. About service for instance, it taught me how to ensure clients got good service. (Chiang points to the Chinese word ‚Äúren‚ÄĚ sitting in his PA‚Äôs room.) You see that word there? It means a lot to Chinese culture ‚Äď it means resilience, tolerance or patience.
Advertising is a tough business, you have to have a thick skin and you need to work long hours. I learnt that as child when I had to be standing long hours on my feet, smiling and taking orders. When the restaurant closed at one in the morning I was there washing the dishes, cleaning the grease trap ‚Äď I think that teaches you a lot about life and resilience in ways that take you into your career.
Describe your management style.
The one thing that is very important to me is the EQ component. More than ever today, leadership is not about having a strong IQ but a strong EQ. How you relate to people is very important. That‚Äôs not just at the CEO level but at the ground level, the trainee level as well. I like to think of management style as being very open and collaborative, very relatable to people. Things I‚Äôm into are technology and people. People are important to me, then the art and the science of our business and what drives it.
Proudest moment in your career?
It would have to be building the PHD brand. I‚Äôm always into building businesses. For instance, CumminsNitro when I left there were 180 people, when I started there were 23. I‚Äôve always been into growing businesses, the amount of growth at PHD over the past four years have been big. But I have to say it‚Äôs not down to one person but more of a team to build the business.
Biggest blunder in your career?
The ones I remember most was from early in my career when I was an account executive. There was one time when I was working with GE Capital. They had a Myer Card. We used to produce brochures for the card through GE Capital. At the back of the card there would always be terms and conditions. There was once I didn‚Äôt read the fine type and the client printed it. And because it was financial, it was a huge issue. And I had a really tough boss too. What that taught me was attention to detail. That is so important in our business. It‚Äôs been burnt into my psyche now. Anyone that works with me will know – if there‚Äôs even one spelling error..
Harshest thing ever said to you?
I was told by a creative director that I couldn‚Äôt sell because his ad got rejected. That was when I was an account executive. And my word, that was the best thing he could have ever said to me because from that moment in time I knew I had to make it my thing to sell that ad. It was harsh at the time but very important from a career development point of view.
Another time would be a few months ago, when Cindy my PA, came in and was going through my things and telling me what I need to do. Then as she was going out said: ‚ÄúBy the way you need to dye your hair‚ÄĚ.
When you were a newbie in the industry, did you dream you‚Äôd be a CEO one day?
Yes, always from the start. I spent my whole career planning to be the CEO of an organisation. I‚Äôve always had particular attention to the aspects of running a business – understanding how to run a P&L, to managing people, to the agency process.
What kind of CEO did you want to be and how closely have you stuck to it?
There are probably 2 types of CEOs that everyone aspires to be: a Warren Buffet, corporate, very commercial, process driven, rigid and very tough. Steve Jobs, very innovative, always looking at new ways, and very demanding. I would like to be one that pulls qualities from both camps, believe in driving innovation, challenging conventional thinking, being aspirational while still building the business. Buffet is about acquiring and building and Jobs about innovative and creative. The Steve jobs aspects comes to life when it comes down to attention to detail ‚Äď perfectionist quality that Jobs had. (Though I would never compare myself completely to Jobs, he was such a great leader.)
Craziest thing your staff has told you?
Mark Holden, (PHD‚Äôs worldwide strategy and planning director) he‚Äôs bald, and a lot of the guys that work with him are bald. He once said to me, if you want to be smarter, go shave your head, you‚Äôll be disproportionately smarter by 7.5%. And if you add glasses to that you add another 2.5%. Now you can see why I thought that was crazy.
One thing you would say to a newbie in the industry
I‚Äôm going to steal from an interview I saw of Jerry Seinfeld. He was asked to speak in front of a group of university students. He was asked what his rules in life for success. He said: ‚ÄúPay attention, observe everything that is happening around you. Fall in love, not in the literal sense but when something good happens, just enjoy the moment, like a great cup of coffee, or when you get a parking lot. The final thing is bust the button. What ever you do from a work point of view, kill yourself doing it. Only good can come out of it.‚ÄĚ I think that is true. Anyone that is successful will dedicate a lot of time to do what they do because they love it, and they get better at it. People who work hard at what they‚Äôre doing will progress faster and learn more about themselves.
Mentors that have inspired you:
I‚Äôm lucky enough to have worked with different mentors. From the most recent ‚Äď there is Mike Cooper, who has very strong EQ skills and an ability to find great talent; Barry Cupples who has such a strong will to challenge the conventional thinking and not just accept things the way they are. I learnt so much from Barry that way. Then there‚Äôs Linda Locke ‚Äď an amazing creative – she taught me a lot about the right balance of being tough and being democratic. I asked her once, you‚Äôre known in the business as the dragon lady. How do you feel about that? You must feel good because people are scared of you. She said ‚ÄúCheuk, no I‚Äôm not. It‚Äôs harder to be democratic than it is to be aggressive.‚ÄĚ That was an amazing comment.
Steve Gatfield, who ended up being the most recent CEO of Naked. He taught me a lot about the commercial side of things. Richard Pinder, who taught me about the entrepreneurial side of things and how to aggressively go after new business. Another one is Sean Cummins, a huge inspiration for driving culture. You pick up different things from different people.