Meet the CEOs: PHD China’s Aaron Wild

Starring on an editorial coverage is not something uncommon for a CEO, but probably not in Aaron Wild’s case.

“My father is actually a journalist so I’m used to talking to the media. I just haven’t been asked so often,” he chuckled.

Originally from Australia, Wild started his career in his home country 25 years ago.

With a forward-thinking vision, he came to China for the first time during 1995 to 2003. After heading back to Australia and working in the Middle East for a couple of years, he eventually headed back to China for his most recent gig with PHD Shanghai in 2010.

Asked if he can speak the language after all these years in China, he said, “Sadly I can’t. I can only speak, very slightly, Mandarin. (Chinese is) a difficult language to learn.”

“But my wife can. She is Scottish and she is a lawyer. She can speak, read and write Chinese, a very smart woman,” he proudly addds.

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Wild joined PHD Shanghai as head of the Unilever business in 2010 and was appointed as PHD China CEO in 2013. Under his leadership, the agency has gained a number of industry accolades, including being ranked top 20 best agencies in the world by the Warc 100 report, wining awards at the Festival of Media Asia and Cannes Lions, as well as being named Agency of the Year in the UK, New Zealand, Indonesia, Singapore, India, Shanghai, Taiwan, Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Sweden.

Wild talked to Marketing about his experience and shared what he has up his sleeve.

How would you describe your management style?
I’ll say collaborative. People in PHD work very close together. The majority makes the decisions. We make the business around the operations done in conjunction with other people’s opinions by respect. I make sure that everyone gets a say. All votes and agrees on the same thing so that we don’t have any crash on that point of view. It’s all about democracy.

Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?
My current boss, OMG China’s CEO Doug Pearce, and OMG regional CEO Cheuk Chiang are both pretty good mentors to me. They both have very different personalities. Pearce is calm and consistent and provides me guidance when I’m a little bit more aggressive, and Chiang is a very hardworking person and has great passion on his job. Mediacom regional CEO Mark Heap who I have been working with for more than three years is also my mentor. All three of them are important to me. That is why my last five years have been the most enjoyable part of my career.

What was the proudest moment in your career?
Probably the time working in PHD which has been my favourite job so far. We won Agency of the Year three times in the last five years.

For my personal career, it was the time when I got appointed as CEO of the China operations by someone I respect – Cheuk Chiang, Doug Pearce and Mike Cooper in London. I started my career in a mail room delivering mails before the computer being invented. I have been in this industry for a long time. When I got my role as a CEO, my mom was very happy.

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What’s the toughest part of your job?
Balancing increasing revenue and increasing product quality. To make sure you don’t just chase the dollars and make sure the team is delivering very good products. Making sure the quality of the works is the foremost but also trying to build a business and making it financially even better every year. Markets all over the world are the same. The majority is holding tough and most are running out in New York. There is always pressure on delivery that is a fundamental part of our business and in any other businesses. So it has to make sure that you don’t put all your effort in building revenue only, but also to make sure you are building a great product because if you build a great product, the money will come.

What keeps you inspired?
To read, to absorb everything that you have seen around. There are really big changes. Make sure you understand what happening in the market is one thing. But the most important thing for a media agency is to understand what your clients need. You have to be constantly engaged with your clients, asking what they expect you to deliver. Everybody needs to keep yourself up-to-date.

When you’re not at work, where could we find you?
On the golf course or drink red wine. I also do cooking.

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What’s the craziest thing you have encountered working in the ad business?
A lot crazy ideas being trying around during pitches, a lot of very very long hours, a lot of celebrations all over. And personally, I have done a lot of crazy things, for example, I made my wife in three days after we got engaged.

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What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?
Either be a specialist or a generalist. Work out what the industry is heading to and follow a discipline or try to work in a very specific category. Don’t try to be a digital person, try to be an e-commerce person or a mobile person or a programmatic person. Specialist is always the one the best in the industry going forward.

What’s the best thing about living in China?
I appreciate that China is very different to a lot of western markets. Certainly there is compromise, but it is a place to work and a place to live. I have been to here for 14 years and I have seen massive changes in a massive scale. The growth and the speed of change in the market are extraordinary such as TV is going backwards and all the money is going into digital. There is a lot of fun. I love and enjoy everything in China. My wife does too. I can see it as my home I’ll live here as long as I can. Staff here is all very hardworking and very clever. I don’t see much different to what I have seen in other part of the world.

What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2015?
I would like to see a lot more transparency in China. I would like to see programmatic buying in TV and outdoor. As programmatic buying rises in the industry, it needs to move to TV and outdoor quicker. Programmatic buying is already a next big thing. A lot of clients are demanding agencies to have greater capability in this area. However, all the majority programmatic focus is really around digital. I think programmatic has a place in TV and outdoor. The sooner we start seeing platforms and deliver that the better. That is just a matter of time. That is a reality.

I don’t think the government and policies in China will be an obstacle. The Chinese government is generally willing to understand the commercial purpose of advertising, the needs of multi-national clients and local Chinese companies for advertising and what we are engaged. I don’t see there is anything to worry about.

Many multi-national companies still see China and India having some great potential to grow. They are still very attractive growth markets for most companies, regardless of the industry.

Any big plan in PHD?
Sure! PHD has traditionally positioned itself as a planning-focus and creative-focus planning agency. Our businesses will soon grow significantly in China and in the region. If you interview me again this time next year, our company will be significantly bigger then it is now.

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