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Meet the CEOs: Ambient Digital Indonesia’s Debashis Das

To truly know Debashis Das (pictured), who assumed the role as CEO of Ambient Digital Indonesia just over a year ago, we have to rewind to some three decades ago. He has spent the first 15 years in the advertising industry across mainline advertising agencies, meeting what he described as “some of the most difficult clients anyone could expect”.

But with adversity, comes maturity and business acumen. In the early 2000, Das moved to IMAG (under MullenLowe Lintas network) to look after LINTERLAND, its rural initiative. Calling it a “defining period” where he ventured out of his comfort zone, Das said he had a lot of fun dabbling in the rural and activation business, and the entire integration process.

“This was also the time when TV had started becoming one of the solutions for communication, and not the only one. The rural market was a beast everyone knew less of and I have to say it was a lot of fun setting up this company that managed to do a pretty splendid job of it,” he explained.

Over the past five years, Das has refused to let age creeps up on him and entered the young and exciting world of digital media looking for a challenge. While its has been a refreshing change, he said: “It’s not something I thought I’d be a part of, if you asked me 12 months ago. After all, I am older than the internet! But I am glad I did this and while every single day is a learning process, I think it is what keeps me going.” He added:

I feel like I’m now at a place where the learning, luckily for me, is new yet again.

Now, Das is facing a new challenge – managing talent and retaining great talent. Citing it as the toughest part of his job, he said doing so successfully is especially critical in the current competitive and fast-moving digital era. More from him below.

Marketing Interactive: How do you describe your management style?

It’s always casual, I’d say; to the extent that people think I am a bit of a joker. But what that does is also allows younger people to feel comfortable enough to walk up to me and talk to me about anything they may be feeling.

It works really well here in Indonesia, where the more you can connect with people, sit down with them, eat with them, and joke with them, the more they are yours for life.

With regards to the quality of work as well, I believe people need to be given space and that helps them take responsibility allowing them to grow better.

Marketing Interactive: Who was the mentor who influenced you the most and how?

I had been privileged enough to work with a lot of industry stalwarts but never had a single mentor, as such. I have to say I’ve learnt something from each of them and that has made me try and create my own style of working and thinking. I think the younger lot now, even my kids, are great mentors and teach me a thing or two about life and work every day.

Marketing Interactive: What has been the proudest moment in your career?

The LINTERLAND phase! Rural was a new, unknown territory even in a country such as India. The advertising folks like me were probably furthest removed from the reality in that, the much larger part of the world. What started as a small 15 member team to do activation programs in small towns, turned into a 170 member team with offices in every state and district. It has to be one of my proudest achievements to have set that place up.

Marketing Interactive: What has been the harshest thing said to you?

Well, someone once said I was too young to lead a team and the other day, someone said I am too old the head a programmatic digital media agency! So, the harshness never really ends. Ha!

Marketing Interactive: What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2019?

I’d like to say, we need to become a lot more accountable as an industry. This is something our industry suffers from.

I feel that is why we sometimes find ourselves scattered, divided and fighting for the same tiny piece of the pie among ourselves.

Also, we should invest more in training. While it is true that technology is driving the industry, it is also true that people’s skills are going to manage, drive and implement those technologies. Our biggest asset are our people and always will be. We have to invest in them a lot more than we do now.

Marketing Interactive: What inspires you the most?

Three things. Winning new business still drives me every day. Managing young talent is very, very interesting and I believe that these Millennials we speak of can actually teach us old fogies a thing or two. Finally and funnily enough, every crisis brings out the best in me, so I’m most driven when there is a problem to solve.

Marketing Interactive: What do you do in your free time?

I read a lot. I try to spend as much time with my family as I can. I play squash three to four times a week. And since I am a sports fanatic, I end up watching all kinds of sports.

Marketing Interactive: How do you ensure a proper work life balance?

I don’t take my work home and though my wife, being from the same industry often asks how I don’t discuss work much, I think I prefer to leave it to taking work calls once in a while, but not much more than that. Compartmentalising has lately become a great skill of mine.

Marketing Interactive: What is your favourite vacation spot?

No special holiday spots. That’s my wife’s department. She is brilliant when it comes to holidays. For me, sitting at home and reading or watching something is holiday enough.

Marketing Interactive: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting out?

I don’t know, really. The young seems to come so well prepared. They are very fast learners.

The only advice I would give them is to stay fearless.

Keep trying new things, learning new skills. God alone knows what skill people will need in the next 15 to 20 years.

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