Meet the CEOs: SMG’s Ahmad El Hamawi

Previously the regional client managing director of SMG, South Africa, Ahmad El Hamawi is now CEO of SMG and VivaKi Malaysia as of last month.

What’s SMG Malaysia’s new lead like? He speaks to Advertising + Marketing in the Meet the CEOs column.

Describe your management style?

It’s something I try to improve continuously by active listening. It is more of a flexible style that is compatible to different circumstances. I can be fair, firm, participative, directive, coaching and collaborative. I believe having flair in many things is better than excelling in only one style.

Describe your career path. How did you break into the industry?

I got my feet wet in the media space 14 years ago as a junior media planner on Nestlé in Dubai at Optimedia, at a time when we used to pray that our clients were home watching TV to see our ads. Nestlé is a great school, much like Procter & Gamble or Unilever. It groomed me well, sharpened my skill set and helped me assume senior roles within the group.

I headed up the Nestlé AOR relationship for six years across Middle East and Africa before I held the role of general manager for Optimedia Lower Gulf after two years.

Thereon, I assumed various managerial roles across MENA – from operations to business development across VivaKi brands until 2013 when I was given the chance to be part of the SMG liquid talent and got my first 12-month assignment out of MENA as a regional client managing director for Samsung, based in Johannesburg and overlooking the African continent.

What was your first job?

My very first job straight after my graduation was in the fashion retail space with Spanish-based Inditex that manages Zara, Massimo Dutti, Bershka and other international brands.

Who was the mentor who most influenced you and why?

It is partially my reporting managers who really had confidence in my capabilities and nurtured my talent. They are now leaders in the group across key international markets.

Proudest moment in your career?

Coming back to the SMG group after having experimented in a nine-month entrepreneurial venture on my own.

Your biggest blunder in your career?

There were a few, but I consider them learning experiences.

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

It is always one of these three: working out, cooking and riding my bike.

Harshest thing said to you in your career?

A very important and critical client calling me and saying, “kiss the business goodbye”, then hanging up, giving me no chance to discuss anything further.

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 am focused and determined by nature. I set my objectives and head towards them. Every newbie aspires for success. It is not the position as much as being successful in something I love doing.

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

The industry is changing at a rapid pace bringing many new specialities, functions and disciplines into play. Draw out your objectives and path from the start.

What’s the toughest thing about your job?

The most senior person has to take the blame for sizable failures.

One thing you hate most about advertising?

The agency continues to be the first point of blame!


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