Meet the CEOs: FAB Group's Lia Sunarjo

Little known about FAB Group's managing director Lia Sunarjo (pictured) is that her education background is actually in hotel management. She stumbled into the agency scene somewhat by accident in 1995, where she started work at FCB Indonesia as an account executive. Discovering that marketing communications is where her passion lies, has helped her climb the ranks from one multinational agency to another. To date, she's worked with the likes of EURO RSCG, Y&R and Leo Burnett.

In a conversation with Marketing Interactive, she said what she loves most about being in an agency is the different clients, brands, and industries that cross her path. "The complexity and dynamics suit my personality perfectly as I am someone who would otherwise, get jaded easily. I like to challenge the norms and observe the behaviour of people. This industry is perfect for me," she explained.

However, being in an agency was not enough for Sunarjo, who is always looking for another challenge. Deep down, she craved to be in a local agency that is in par with multinational networks in terms of quality of talents, processes and output. That brought her to FAB Group, which according to her, has been able to "compete fairly at the same battlefield", handling blue chip clients and duties beyond Indonesia.

FAB Group currently handles some 400 brands, including Samsung, P&G, Indofood, XL, Gudang Garam, Grab, OVO, and IKEA. She said: "It has break the norm and many myths of what local agency can and cannot do. With passion, anything is possible, and we have proven it so."

There is no difference between local and multinational agencies. Everyone just needs to work hard, have ethics, stay hungry, and keep evolving.

Read more from Sunarjo below.

Marketing Interactive: How do you describe your management style?

I think my management style has changed along with the generation. In the past, I was more of an authoritative leader, but now I listen and empower more. Today’s generation is free in mind and spirit. They have great, out-of-the box ideas and I learn from them everyday. But sometimes they lose focus, so my role is to bring their focus back without holding them back.

I currently manage three brand activation agencies (Fabulous, Fahrenheit and Favum), one event agency (Cerita Event), one design & build agency (Fabric), one brand & product design agency (Sugar n’ Spice), one data-driven marketing agency (FabTouch) and one PR agency (Firmatoya). I am also in charge of the corporate communications of the group. In total, there are around 200 employees in the group of agencies I oversee.

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

I don’t think I can mention one in particular, as they have different roles in my life, shaping me professionally, and sometimes even personally. Both Sanjay Bhasin (ex- Y&R SEA CEO) and Steve Bonnell (ex- Leo Burnett Indonesia MD) have shown me how to become a great advertising executive. Ranjana Singh (ex- GroupM CEO) has shown me how to be a strong, and yet caring leader. And lastly, FAB Group’s founder and CEO, Fritz Bonny Tobing, has shown me how to break boundaries and be creative in business.

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

Being part of the team that won the first Cannes Gold Lion for Indonesia - Y&R Jakarta, at that time. None of us actually went to Cannes to accept the award as we did not expect to win, especially a gold medal.

It was the first for us, for the industry, and for Indonesia.

The series of ads was done by Y&R Jakarta for LG Mobile Phones in Indonesia to communicate the long lasting battery from the LG GX200 - More Battery, More Talk. The creative showed an execution using a nemonic of a super thick book/novel as a visualisation of the lengthy conversation people can have with LG GX200 phone.

The creative team was amazing - it was led by ECD Sachin Ambekar, and the creative director duo, Gloria Martie and Yerry Indrajaya. It was really one of the most amazing feelings to see the team’s great work being acknowledged globally.

Marketing Interactive: What inspires you the most?

People inspires me the most. Anyone who has done something incredible. That is why I love to read biographies or stories about simple people that are able to do amazing things in life. Sometimes, even people who I work with inspire me. People open my mind and give me ideas.

Marketing Interactive: What’s the toughest part of your job?

Staying relevant in every aspect to the employees, who are mostly Millennials now. Their aspirations and needs differ from past generations. We need to be a leader who is relevant for them. It is tough as sometimes you are clouded or handcuffed by past experiences that might not be relevant today.

I love having Millennials around, as they still have that fearlessness in them that my generation has lost a bit. They have ideas and ways of working or problem-solving that are needed in today’s environment. What they lack sometimes is maturity, focus and a helicopter view on things. That’s where I come in to keep them on track, and yet keep their minds free with wild ideas.

We are living in the now, not the past. We are facing issues of today, and the best minds to solve them are the generation of today.

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

I love travelling. It is fun because of diversity. Being different is a blessing as we can learn from each other more and have a world that is more exciting to live in. I like peace, love and people. I dislike politics and racism. I believe that we should love more by understanding more, as majority of issues and conflict arises due to misunderstandings and ego. That is why empathy is important to be educated to children at early age, including the understanding of diversity.

I often travel with my son to open his mind to the beauty of diversity.

I want him to be able to understand different people and culture more, and learn to respect them. I want him to also understand how to be grateful, instead of feeling envious. I want him to know how he can be of value in different societies.

Understanding people is what marketing communications is all about, that is why I guess I love what I do very much as you need to have deep insights and understanding of people in order to be able to have a creative campaign that moves people or changes their behaviour.

Marketing Interactive: Favourite vacation spot?

Anywhere in Japan, but it has to be autumn, spring or winter. I love the cold weather.

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

By loving what I do. For me, my work is not a job. It is something that I love and am passionate about, so it integrates seamlessly into my personal life as well.

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

It’s the era of collaboration and inclusion. I would like to see more collaborations to create greater work with greater impact - if possible, a social impact that can create a better society and world.

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

Love what you are doing, be passionate and don’t let other people tell you that you can’t. Because you can be anything that you want to be. Your biggest obstacle is yourself, not others.

It’s alright to fail, as what’s important is how you get back up on your feet.