On the money: Meet VMLY&R's CFO Marc Sigle

Marc Sigle is the CFO of VMLY&R Asia. He has been with the company through its merger of VML with Y&R, first taking on the role of CFO of Y&R almost five years ago. Today he also double hats as the COO of the joined entity. In his role, he partners with the leaders of the agencies to deliver the best work possible for clients and hopefully make some money in the process.

"I work on everything from strategic planning and budgeting, to reporting and compliance, but primarily it's about problem solving and that’s what makes it fun. Fortunately, I work with a great team of professionals and it is 100% a team effort," he says. Here's his story

Marketing Interactive: How did you end up in the agency role? 
Serendipity, really. Someone asked me if I knew anyone who was interested in a role in Asia, and I said, “Yes, me”. That was that. Then I only had to convince my wife!

Marketing Interactive: What is a popular misconception people in the industry have about the CFO role?

Most people think CFOs and finance professionals are boring. Though, sometimes, they are right. 

Marketing Interactive: What do your colleagues think you do?
All the stuff they don’t want to do, which is why they went into advertising in the first place.

Marketing Interactive: In light of the current pandemic, agencies are under a lot of strain. How has the pandemic evolved your role and impacted your job? 
Most companies have some sort of business continuity plan. But you never know for sure how well it will work until something like this happens. The world changed drastically overnight for all of us. We needed to quickly mobilise our teams and find new and creative ways to adapt to the situation. 
It has been very challenging, but I am really proud of everyone in VMLY&R for rallying together and making sure we didn’t miss a step. The next challenge is how we adapt longer term for what lies ahead. We have to accept that uncertainty will be the new normal for the foreseeable future, embrace it, and come out better and stronger in the end.

Marketing Interactive: What kind of requests from agency heads/leads are you most likely to say no to? 
It’s not as simple as saying “yes” or “no”. I don’t sit in an office with an “Approved” and “Rejected” stamp and just choose one or the other. Requests that have not been well thought out, will need to be refined or re-worked. Running an agency is a collaborative effort. It is my job to evaluate the merits of a business case; ask the right questions and work with my team to get it into shape if that’s what it needs. 

If it is something that is not a priority or that we can’t afford to do, then it’s my job to have an honest discussion about it.

Marketing Interactive: What kind of requests do you find hard to say no to?
We have brilliant people at VMLY&R and they have lots of exciting and innovative ideas. Unfortunately, we can’t do all of them and we sometimes need to prioritise objectively. But every now and then, there is one that you just know you’d love to roll the dice on, but you can’t. Those are hard decisions.

Marketing Interactive: What is the best way to get a budget from you? 
I am not the sole arbiter of who gets budget or not. There is a competition of priorities against limited resources. Usually, the soundest and most well thought out business cases will stand the best chance of getting approved. 

Marketing Interactive: What is the biggest challenge in your role? 
We are a large agency, part of a global network that is part of an even bigger organisation. There are a lot of stakeholders, and navigating such a large ecosystem can be a challenge sometimes, but it’s also the part of the job that I love.

Marketing Interactive: What is the best part of your role? 

Being a finance guy in a creatively driven business is amazing. 

My first job, I worked for a company that made airplanes for the US Navy. I really enjoyed it. Then I was recruited by an advertising agency that won the US Navy advertising account. I was 25, and have not looked back since. I have spent 30 years working for some of the best agencies in the world with some of the most creative talent. I have never stopped learning and I have never been bored.

Marketing Interactive: How much involvement do you have in creative conversations or pitches and strategy or PR? 
I’m more of a copy guy than an art guy, but I still haven’t sold in a tagline. It’s never stopped me from trying, though. Anyway, I leave that to the professionals, and I focus more on the contracts and commercial aspects. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy the creatives and strategists that come up with the amazing work we do.

Marketing Interactive: A CFO in an agency today doesn’t just need to be good with numbers. What other skills do you feel are needed to be a great CFO?
We are in a people business and I think the human side is just as important, if not more so, than the technical. As a CFO, I want to be someone who is seen as being part of the solution, not part of the problem. We work in a team with the same goals. I have my expertise, and my colleagues and management rely on me to make sure that is handled with excellence, consistently. But the real value to them is being someone they can turn to who will step up and help solve an issue, give sound advice and help them to avoid blind spots or pitfalls they may have missed. In that process, we make each other better.

Marketing Interactive: What is the biggest economic crisis you’ve been through and what were some of the learning lessons?
I was in New York when 9/11 happened. But I think what we are going through now is unprecedented in its breadth and scale. 

I think it’s important to keep perspective. Nothing lasts forever. When things seem to be going well, they may not be as good as it seems. When things are going poorly, it may not be as bad as it seems. Every situation requires an acceptance of where you are, an ambition of where you want to get to and the belief that you will get there with focus and teamwork.

Marketing Interactive: What advice do you have for the agency world amidst this turbulent time? 
Hang in there! This too shall pass.