Meet the CEOs: Meet Publicis' Lou Dela Pena

According to CEO Lou Dela Pena, 2014 has been a “transformative year for the agency.”

Last year the agency saw several new hires with the addition of as Dela Pena in February 2014. “We stand for leading the change in order to create sustainable growth for our clients.  And this means helping our clients in their digital transformation,” she told Marketing in a statement. “To achieve this, talent and passion are key and that is why she says the agency is constantly on the lookout for the right people who are aligned with its vision.”

We ask Dela Pena how her journey has been thus far.

Describe your management style

Someone I work with recently told me, “you aren’t exactly a warm bath”, and I really had to smile at that. Anyone who has worked with me knows that I believe firmly in pushing people to do, and be their best. If you work hard and work smart, you can succeed. It sounds obvious, but I’ve come to realise that a lot of people are cynical about true meritocracy in the workplace. I firmly believe in it and practice it. I also wear my heart on my sleeves a lot.

What has your career path been like?

Well, funny enough, my career started with a series of failures. Since I was a kid, I wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer but I didn’t make the law school entrance exam. I then wanted to join an NGO, but I was rejected again. I finally landed a marketing role, but that didn’t last very long because the Asian crisis hit…. So I decided to do something less conventional and set up my own agency.

After three years, I felt I needed to learn more so I joined Bates141 as head of client services, and later became managing director. I then transferred to Singapore to lead Nokia for APAC, and a year later, joined TBWA\ Group Singapore as head of new business where I pitched, won and subsequently ran the Singapore Airlines business globally. I was appointed general manager at TBWA in 2010 and finally in 2014, took the role of CEO at Publicis Singapore.

 What was your first job?

I was a marketing services executive for the Kuok Group and my first task was to design a training programme for the entire country’s sales force. That’s when I first learned the true meaning of ‘fake it till you make it’.

Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?

Well, there are two. The first is David Bridgman (former MD of Bates141 Philippines) who hired seven of us out of 700 applicants when the agency first opened its doors in the Philippines. My CV was definitely not the best for the role of CSD, but he saw something in me and I learned a lot from him, most of all – how to see and tap potential.

The second person is my current boss, Loris Nold (CEO, Asia / Emerging Markets Publicis WW). Talking to him everyday about people and business challenges is like taking an MBA course. I feel I’ve been incredibly lucky with my mentors.

What was the proudest moment in your career?

There are so many… starting up Bates141 back home and leaving it as a profitable 50 man agency, the SIA pitch and being part of the team that won it, getting appointed as CEO and winning a global account in ten months. But most of all, seeing people I believe in get promoted. That’s the best feeling.

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

I am not the kind of person who has “hobbies” but I give myself what I call passion projects. So right now, I have this wild idea to turn my dad’s first retirement project back in the Philippines (we’re basically building a beach home) into a family-bonding opportunity. Which is a slightly crazy idea, if you know my family… it’s going to be a nightmare and most decisions will probably be made via Whatsapp! Apart from that, I have promised myself to travel more again.

Harshest thing said to you in your career?

More silly than harsh: ‘You’re too ‘yourself’’.

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 this would happen as a newbie. When I first started, I promised myself that authenticity and transparency are important. You have to ask my team if they feel I have stuck to it...

Craziest thing your staff has told you?

When I was running Bates over a decade ago, a very quiet, unassuming guy who worked for me asked me to join him in Boracay for a romantic holiday.

What is the one thing you would say to a newbie in the industry?

You have to know why you get up every morning, especially in this industry where the best are fuelled by passion.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

Getting the best out of the team while remaining authentic and motivating at the same time. The burn-out rate across the industry can be high and this is something we monitor carefully.

One thing you hate most about advertising?

Two things – glass ceilings and people who only believe their own narrative and hype.