Meet the CEOs: Dentsu's Rosalynn Tay

It was mid-2013 that Rosalynn Tay took over the reins at Dentsu Singapore as long time lead Anthony Kang exited. Since then, Marketing catches up Dentsu Singapore’s CEO to quiz her on her leadership philosophy.

How has the past year been for you? What are some of your learning points and challenges?

The past year has been an exciting journey for me. I’ve had the task of transforming and taking an agency with such a rich history to the next level. To be more nimble and entrepreneurial, yet function like the mighty global multinational befitting of us. In the last 16 months, I've focussed on leading and inspiring my team to make them believe that together, we can do it and we will get there. We’re now reaping the seeds we have sewn as we experience this conversion and having a lot of fun in the process.

When you’re not working, what will you be doing, aside from spending time with the family?
I love my wines and am mildly serious about them. I love eating and cooking up a good home cooked meal. I love my dog Bailey, an adopted middle-aged Shih Tzu who was abandoned 3 years ago with multiple health problems and as a passion project, I own a pet salon in Tiong Bahru.

And on for a modest workout, I enjoy a good round of golf.

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Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?

One person who helped shape my career is Ray Colon. He was the EVP at Yum Restaurants International and my direct manager. He gave me my shot at regional marketing for fast foods and believed in harnessing my skills and talents. My career has never looked back since. He was an inspirational manager who gave me enough room to shine, yet reigned me back whenever necessary. The other mentor for me would be “The School of Hard Knocks”. I’ve always put myself through challenging and diverse situations, and as much as possible I try to avoid getting into a comfort zone. And so, more often than not, that usually means learning the hard way. It is the best way to keep growing.

Harshest thing said to you in your career?

“But you’re a woman”.

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?

Never. I don’t think many would, unless you start your life with a talent manager or highly ambitious parents. I wanted to be either a beach bum - surf and sail or to be a sports star. It just felt glamorous to have sporting prowess or to shoot the breeze.

Your biggest blunder in your career?

Believing that everyone is not self-serving and putting their greater interests before their personal ones. I’ve stopped being naïve a while ago.

Proudest moment in your career?

I’ve had two great breakthrough moments in my career. The first was ringing the bell at SGX for the Tiger Airways IPO in January 2010. It was the satisfaction of meeting the tough requirements of a public listing and the 5 years of hard work and innovation paying off. Not many people get the opportunity to write Chapter One, but I did.

Few people, especially those who start their lives in advertising get to do marketing then run a non-advertising company. And I helped prove that advertising talents can help transform other industries. Which brings me to my second proudest moment – leading my team at Dentsu Singapore through a transformational year, taking big risks in being bold and nimble, and having pulled through some of our toughest times to bag one of the most sort after public sector accounts in 2014.

What do you dislike most about advertising/your job?

While there is a lot to love about what I do and the industry that I’ve chosen to be in, the downside about it is that there are many “paper-tigers” (or known in Chinese as ‘zhilaohu’) that exist in this industry. Sadly, they are light in their grasp of clients, yet they display such arrogance.

One thing you would say to a newbie in the industry?

Believe in yourself, toughen up and suck it in. You are entering an industry that can be as good as you can make it.

First job and career highlights?

I started my life in advertising, although I thought that the call for the interview was a prank by my schoolmates in the university. I was probably what they would label as a “creative suit” because I was fiercely passionate about good work and would also carry copies of creative awards in my portfolio. As a junior suit, I was very proud to be working on prestigious brands like Mercedes Benz and Mont Blanc, challenging launches like Proton, and proud to have won D&AD awards for the launch of J&B Jet. I was also the suit who was not afraid to debate with mighty creative personalities. I recall with great fondness hauling them out of Brewerkz and Bisous back to the agency to complete work, then ensuring that they returned to their watering hole to drink their second/fifth pint. Being the lead on the local and regional McDonald’s account in the early 2000s was a phenomenal experience. It required me to pull out all my hard and soft skills, both within the agency and the client. Proud to say that we were the 1st country then to launch the “i’m lovin’ it” campaign and in a very holistic manner. My first stint on the client side was very rewarding as well. As product manager, I took Jose Cuervo Tequila from launch status to the #1 tequila in the market in a year, launched the Smirnoff International Fashion Awards, and did all sorts of crazy stuff for the other brands under my portfolio. My 2nd stint on the client’s side saw me being sent to the UK to be marketing Ddirector. I was the 1st Asian to do that in my company. Being a guinea pig is a double edged sword. But I learned, and I learned fast. And hard.

Fast-forward to a couple of years later, the last 16 months of transformation at Dentsu is beginning to see shoots sprouting. I’m thrilled to see what the company can become. At the end of the day, it’s all about putting our people at the heart and centre of what we do. They create the pulse of our organization, and without them, we would not have achieved what we have in the last year.