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Meet the CEOs: Publicis’ Dean Bramham

Dean Bramham, Southeast Asia chief executive of Publicis, has been at the helm of the agency for the past two years. Marketing caught up with Bramham to find out more about his management style.

Describe your management style?

My management style is a hybrid between pace-setting and coaching. We work for an organisation which is very entrepreneurial and likes to give people room to grow. Pace-setting is very important as we have to put the foot to the accelerator, instantly driving success in our industry. On the coaching side, I’ve enjoyed watching people grow and flourish and talented people be successful. I enjoy being part of the process.

You might be right or wrong, good or bad, but if you are clear then people can decide how they want to respond to you.

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 joined advertising after doing a marketing degree and after that I went into the Feds as a graduate investigator doing surveillance and undercover to find corrupt customs officials. After that, when I got into the industry I was around 25 and so I approached the industry at 1000 miles per hour and won a piece of advertising business for the company I joined in three months. And stayed in that job for 18 months.

The secret for me is that every agency I work at, I treat it as my own agency and I invest my energy like it’s mine and never look back. I never had a career plan but rather I took every interesting opportunity and said yes to career questions and opportunities.

I’ve been surrounded by mentors and people who weren’t into office politics. Becoming a CEO was a big responsibility and it’s the same as being a newbie – you take the initiative and responsibility and do the best you can every day.

Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?

Steve Gatfield, the ex-CEO of Leo Burnett, because of his sheer intellect. He was a man of his word and a good man. Richard Pinder, ex-COO of Publicis Worldwide, because of his passion and determination to get something done and his energy. Michael Wood, my senior at Leo Burnett, who had a “can do” spirit in creating amazing work and life experience, as well as having boundless energy. He knew what he wanted from life, what experiences turned him on and knew how to make life and work interesting.

Your biggest blunder in your career?

It has to do with hiring the right people for the right job. Asia is particularly difficult because of the nature of growth, clients and resources. If I have a regret then it is hiring really good people, but for the wrong role.

Harshest thing said to you in your career?

The harshest thing anyone could say is: “You let me down.” For people who take their word as a promise, this would be enough said.

Proudest moment in your career?

Can I have more than one? I have a couple.

In 1999, when we did an ad in Vietnam for Bitis shoes, that was the first ad to ever feature the American war. This made the front page of the Wall Street Journal and a small Vietnamese shoe company with big ambition got international recognition.

In late 2004 or 2005, we also did some ads for Dutch Lady in Indonesia for sweetened condensed milk that touched the hearts of all Indonesians across cultures and it was the first ad to pick up the tiny language and cultural nuances across the country. The ad was actually helping the Indonesian culture come together and we received a presidential award for culture.

It was a good example of how good creativity can go beyond just selling products and can help people, and a good example of how brands can relate to people.

What do you dislike most about advertising/your job?

The only strategy is HR strategy. The best people win. The hardest challenge in the industry is recruiting and retaining great people. There are lots of opportunities for bright people and our industry is not easy. It takes a special kind of people so it’s a challenge against the other agencies to attract these people.

When you’re not working, what would you be doing?

I like cycling and Malaysia has the best road cycling in Asia. I like mountain biking in Indonesia as its downhill and more fun. I have a small dog and I like walking my dog and doing boring things. And I am trying to learn how to be a better cook. I have a fondness for Italian food, but I recently cooked a Beef Wellington that wasn’t too bad. It was pretty therapeutic.

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

I would say the communications industry is fantastic for creative intelligent people to have exciting, non-structured careers. But, there is no room for halfheartedness. It is a “give it all” kind of industry. Everything is personal and if you bring full commitment to the industry, it will reward you with travel, brands and salary and a roller coaster of experiences.

No two days are ever the same.

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