Meet the CEOs: Publicis One Indonesia’s Brian Capel

Straight out of high school 27 years ago, Brian Capel (pictured), CEO of Publicis One Indonesia, decided to earn some cash and was introduced to advertising by his uncle (Chew Bin Teong), to join Bozell Malaysia, even though it wasn’t his initial calling.

With no understanding of what advertising was all about, Capel started as a photocopy artist which saw him photocopying everything for art directors to do their layouts. Eventually, his journey took him to roles such as an FA artist, visualiser, designer, to art director and more. He then took on the role of group head and creative director at DMB&B, Leo Burnett, and Ogilvy in Malaysia. This led him to eventually become an ECD of Leo Burnett Indonesia.

He then went on to become the CEO of Publicis One Indonesia, which saw him leading in a dual capacity as CEO as well as his current role as chief creative officer. Speaking to Marketing Interactive about his road in advertising, Capel talks about the importance of people and how he strikes a balance in work and life.

How do you describe your management style?

I am people first. Put yourself in their shoes and you will know what needs to be done. In our work, we always start with understanding behaviour and insights. In life, it is how we operate as human beings.

I meet everyone, anyone, anytime, whenever, through any means, in the office, over a cup of coffee, at the corridor, in the lift, on WhatsApp, over a call, any means necessary and possible.

Another style of mine is “passion causality effect”. Show me passion for what you do and I will return the support more than you probably can expect.

Brian Capel 1

Who was the mentor who influenced you the most and how?

I am blessed as I have had many mentors in my life, and all of them made me to who I am today. Kin Meng and Mok taught me to love the process no matter what I do, and if I don’t – I would not survive. Kins Lee taught me that the beauty is in the details, 0.2mm makes more of a difference than you think. It really does, trust me.

Sonal Dabral taught me the power of an idea. In just five minutes before you head into a presentation, suddenly you can get a better idea which you truly believe in and then present it. Yasmin Ahmad taught me the beauty and the power of curiosity.

Dani Comar taught me the importance of inspiring people because without those around you, you are no one. Meanwhile, Mark Tutssel taught me that creativity in whatever form it may be can change and effect people’s lives and that power is in our hands.

Nicolas Menat on the other hand, taught me that a leader leads from the front and always has your back. My sister Lorraine Capel, taught me not to procrastinate and take action in everything quickly!

My father Charles Capel taught me to always see beyond and believe. There was one day I called him for advice about my change in career from a creative lead to the CEO of Publicis One, and all he said was “There is nothing you can’t do”. Last but certainly not least, my wife, Oca Amarlis taught me the power of positivity and a smile. Just move forward and a solution will be waiting.

Brian Capel 2

What has been the proudest moment in your career?

I received a call from Steve Bonnell in 2008 saying “Hi Brian, I am the managing director of Leo Burnett Indonesia. Would you be keen for the role of ECD at Leo Burnett Indonesia?”

Another was receiving an email from Mark Tutssel, executive chairman of Leo Burnett Worldwide, which congratulated me for a gold award I won for McDonald’s.

What inspires you the most?

One evening, was too lazy to head out to eat, so I ordered food through an online app. A rider, Legowo, accepted my order. He called in with a high-spirited and friendly tone, saying “Good evening Pak! Your order as per application? Is it ok to call if the restaurant runs out of the order you requested?”

I laughed because of his enthusiasm and said “of course”. He later called again with the same upbeat tone to inform me that the restaurant did not have the dish I ordered, then proceeded to read me some other recommendations if I was willing to listen. So I did and ended up choosing an alternative dish.

Minutes later, I messaged Legowo asking if he could get me a pack of cigarettes. Still cheerful, Legowo said: “Of course! No problem. Please hang on. Be there soon”.

Not long after, door bell rang and Legowo was in the front with food and my extra order of cigarettes. He greeted me with a gleaming smile, in high spirits and an energy like he had just won the lottery.

“Hi Pak! How are you? Hope I was not too long, am sure you are hungry,” he added.  I accepted the food and cigarettes with a big smile thanked him and gave him a good tip which he messaged me later sending me his best wishes and said that I am in his prayers.

Legowo made ordering food through an app an enjoyable process for me which he did not really need to do. His passion and pride demonstrated. Anyone with so much passion for what they do inspires me.

What’s the toughest part of your job?

Hearing a knock on my office door, from one of my best talents with a white envelope asking for five minutes of my time. For someone who has built his career on people and the relationships, the worst part of my job is to be at the receiving end of it breaking.

What has been the harshest thing said to you?

Honestly, I can’t really remember. I am generally a very optimistic person so maybe there were some harsh things said to me, but my takeaway from that must have been some learning.

What do you do in your free time?

I enjoy laughing and being silly, having conversations with my wife every day once I reach home after work and having her taking candid photos of myself. After work, while waiting for traffic to cool down, it’s also fun to watch  Brian and Shailesh (my chief strategy officer and partner in crime) become Harold and Kumar.

I also enjoy having my eight-ball pool Wednesday night, which is “Happy Wednesday” with my pool team Dungeon Stitches. I also learn from my cat Bree on how to give without expecting anything in return. Lastly, I also cook with a voice over in my head – like I am having my own cooking show.

Brian Capel 3

How do you ensure a proper work life balance?

By understanding there is no ‘balance’ needed.

My wife is my inspiration to life. She always say “Jalanin aja” (which in her way, means “don’t worry, just do what needs to be done”) and “Santai” (which means “take it easy, don’t worry”). She has taught me there is no real split between work and life as both are connected. Just focus on what you need to do at that specific point of time, be optimistic, be positive, and you will find peace of mind.

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What is your favourite vacation spot?

An hour drive from office if traffic is good, and when traffic is bad, it is about three hours away… it’s called home.

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

Love what you do, be curious with life like a child and always ask yourself ‘What if?’

What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2018?

At every talk, training, seminar and festival, there is so much focus on digital, tech, digital, innovation, hardware, software and more. But these events have forgotten to harness the most powerful media of all – people.

Pardon me for saying this, but at most of the seminars where people actually pay money to attend, the speakers end up “selling themselves” which to me is a waste of people’s money. If organisations and companies are going to do that, then please contribute and make it free.

What if the talks, training, seminar and festivals are about life and character for example:

  • Speaking out and having a point of view
  • How to overcome ‘now’ challenges such as expectations from clients, and having the strength of mind to turn it into opportunities.
  • Understanding the power of an idea or even what is an idea.
  • How to survive in today’s industry
  • If one is an international organisation, how to maximise it.
  • How to creatively convert insights and data into people behaviour

The list can go on and you get my point. It all comes down to organisations, companies and agencies to start looking at how they can all help the industry, the country.

At the end of the day, our success is in the hands of the people and that is something that we should never forget.

Vivienne Tay

Marketing Magazine Singapore
Armed with a fire for the latest marketing trends and weakness for puns, Vivienne spends most of her time hunting for the next viral marketing stunt and getting to know the faces of the industry. When not testing out the latest products in the beauty industry, she can be seen inhaling a bowl of her favourite beancurd or kicking back at the theatre getting inspired.

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