Former Havas boss Vishnu Mohan launches Avyan Holdings, acquires stake in Ed Mapa’s CBR

Havas Group veteran, former chairman and CEO of the network, Vishnu Mohan (pictured) has launched Avyan Holdings in Singapore with the ambition to build a regional footprint in Asia. Avyan Holdings is designed to be a collective of companies working towards advancing human possibilities by integrating design, technology, and data to help brands and people thrive in a digital-first world. As a result, he will be leaving his role as chairman of the Vivendi Committee Southeast Asia and India. "However I would continue to be associated with some projects that had started while I was there in an advisory capacity," Mohan told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE.

According to him, Avyan Holdings is a manifestation of his personal philosophy of empowering talent and giving back to the industry which Mohan said has nurtured him over the course of his career. "As we move forward, we will be adding more exciting products to our portfolio by talent-spotting and investing in the right kind of companies. I am looking forward to the new beginning," he added.

As a first step in solidifying its vision, Avyan Holdings has acquired a key stake in Philippines-based design and innovation agency, Castle By The River (CBR) - founded by digital maverick Eduardo Mapa Jr. - also a former Havas executive. CBR started its operations in Manila as an affiliate of Entropia in Malaysia, which was recently acquired by Accenture Interactive. According to Mohan, CBR had an affiliation with Entropia which will continue. "However, we will drop the Entropia name and the agency will be simply called CBR which owes its origin to Castle By the River, a name that reflects the romanticisation of digital transformation," Mohan said. Among its list of current clients include Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, GMA 7, Philip Morris Fortune Tobacco Corporation, AIA/PhilamLife, and Mundipharma (Betadine). CBR’s other key pieces of work include the launch of GoodDay cultured milk at the height of the pandemic in 2020 via Moot Up, an immersive meeting platform or Zoom in VR.

In January this year, Mohan stepped away from his role as chairman and CEO, Havas Group Southeast Asia, India and North Asia after 25 years with the organisation. At the same time, he continued to serve as the chairman of the Vivendi Committee Southeast Asia and India, reporting to Simon Gillham, member of the Vivendi Management Board. He previously said that it has been "a chequered career" over the last 30 years actually in the industry, with over 25 of them at Havas, and added that the recent reorganisation of the group in the Asia Pacific region presented an opportunity for him to relinquish his current management mandate at Havas and focus on an area that "bode a great importance to the future of the industry and for the Group".

In his capacity as chairman of Avyan Holdings, Mohan said: "Avyan Holdings is defined by the passion for what the world can be,  by elevating human experiences, blending the best of art and science - ideas and technology."

He added that CBR’s purpose of romanticising digital transformation through innovative storytelling, aligns with its vision perfectly and it is a great start to the company's journey. "CBR’s use of design, technology, and anticipatory intelligence via a robust build of a data ecosystem is fascinating and I am confident in its potential to be an asset to Avyan Holdings," he explained.

According to him, Avyan Holdings' investment in CBR Philippines "sits perfectly well" with its operating principle of global serviceability. "We have seen very few regional hubs away from Singapore, and I believe that the skillsets and cost advantages make the Philippines a very fertile ground for investment. We aim to make the operation as a hub for our near expansion plans in the rest of region," Mohan said. 

Meanwhile, Mapa Jr. said it is great to be working with Mohan again. "We have done innovative campaigns when we were at Havas. We at CBR are excited about Avyan Holdings' vision and commitment. There is a meeting of hearts and minds. A new story begins," he added.

Read the rest of the interview here:

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Tell us about Avyan Holdings? What kind of work will it do and what’s your ambition with it?

Mohan: Avyan Holdings was set up a vision of mine to establish a network in the region as a collection of an eclectic set of companies that sit at the intersection of design, data and technology.  CBR will stand as the agency service brand within the group that starts with Philippines, but in time will roll out in some other markets with a more immediate eye on Indonesia and India.

The agency service brand will be complemented with product offerings across e-commerce, content production and an IP creation business across sports and entertainment. Completing the picture is an aim to give back to the society with a venture arm that will look at early stage investment and incubation in companies that can create social good at scale.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What would you compare the business to?

Mohan: I would rather not compare as it always starts to make you box yourself. But yes, these last months I have had the opportunity to acquaint myself with many companies globally and several of them in different spaces have been the inspiration to form the composite of what I see as Avyan Holdings.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Will you be building up Avyan’s team in Singapore?

Mohan: A very small core team at the Holdings level will be there in time in Singapore but the teams will primarily be in the markets we operate. Some of the product offerings in time to come maybe centred off Singapore which would then have their specific teams.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Why did you start with the Philippines?

Mohan: A combination of factors. I have known Mapa Jr. for long and have had great comfort in him as a maverick and in all my experiences the work he and his teams do stand at the very cross-section of design, tech and data which made this as a natural fit. Additionally, I have felt that there is way too much reliance on Singapore as a hub and there was real opportunity in the Philippines be it skill-sets, cost advantages or language ease that make it a great place for hub. We hope to make this a hub giving us the platform for expansion into some of the other markets.

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