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What it takes to lead on a global stage, according to 3 international adland players

What it takes to lead on a global stage, according to 3 international adland players

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As globalisation ramps up, Asia has been witnessing more of its high-flying marketers make it to the global stage. Recently, McDonald’s appointed Eugene Lee (pictured left) as its international chief marketing officer. In his new role, Lee is set to be the voice of Asia on global forums.

Lee is not the only Malaysian who is flying the Malaysian flag high though. Joining him are other esteemed individuals who have also been appointed to notable global positions. They include VJ Anand (pictured right), the EMEA executive creative director of VaynerMedia and Pebble Goh (pictured middle), senior vice president and group creative director of McCann New York, among others.

There is no doubt that the journey to the top were ones filled with countless obstacles and setbacks especially considering that the stakes are high when it comes to representing brands on the global stage.

Looking at their achievements, A+M decided to sit down with them to find out more about their journey and the secret sauce that has elevated them to their current position. 

Don't miss: McDonald's names Asia marketing chief Eugene Lee as international CMO

A measure of luck and courage

Anand personally is of the opinion that luck was foundational to his journey. “I don’t think I am amazing at what I do, there are so many more talented creatives in Malaysia, some of them deserve a global role more than I do”. Humility aside, Anand did also state that his diversified experiences in a digital agency, a traditional agency and then being on the client side of a tech company aided in his abilities as a creative.

“As a kid I didn't have the privilege of studying abroad, I come from a small humble town. I am very grateful for my past and worked with amazing talents and clients around the region. My past, my determination and my hard work has helped me on this journey. No real secret sauce, hard work, an interesting journey and loads of luck,” he added.

Along with the importance of experience, it is important to be courageous as well, according to Lee who pointed out that having a ‘why not?’ mentality encouraged him to eradicate the artificial barriers and limitations that people usually put on themselves. “The one thing that I’ve always cherished is my ability to think that if he/she can do it, why can’t I?” So, for me, dreaming big is definitely the first step to achieving big,” Lee posited.

For Goh, five main areas of her work ethic form the concoction of her secret sauce. They are passion, creativity, collaboration, resilience and adaptability. “By staying curious and dedicated to self improvement, I’ve been able to evolve as a creative professional,” she said.

This then pushes the need to continue building on her creative abilities, which she states have been her guiding force when it comes to her work.

Collaboration allows her to find the creatives she resonates with, as she leverages their talent and intelligence to better the work of her team. When doing so, “there are bound to be obstacles, setbacks and moments of doubt, it’s how you bounce back from those challenges that truly matters. I’ve learned to embrace failures as learning experiences, and to maintain a positive outlook during tough times,” she explained. In the face of tribulations it's imperative to adapt to environments that pose challenges, as it is the only way to grow, Goh believes.

The discomfort of change

Challenges are often the springboard to success. They teach one to be gritty and to face curveballs head on, key componants to eventually reaching the top.

Going global is also no mean feat, and one of the rudimentary reasons is having to leave the comfort of one’s home and the company of loved ones. For Goh, moving to New York was a leap of faith and difficult one at that because the city is defined by its hustle culture. “Hustling is key (in New York), don’t expect handouts”, she said.

Agreeing with Goh, Lee noted that the discomfort of change stood to be the biggest challenge he was confronted with. "As a creature of habit, someone who eats “the same food for lunch almost daily, repeat the same clothes to work weekly, does the same things for fun monthly, and visit the same country for vacation annually”, the ever-changing landscape at work forced him to be agile and to change along with it.

He noted that this polarity between his personal persona versus his professional one stood to be the biggest challenge he has had to face thus far. “However, the best advice ever given to me as a young marketer was from my then boss Melati Abdul Hai, CMO of McDonald’s Malaysia. He said, ‘To succeed in your career, do the things you hate and do them well, because you’ll already naturally do the things you love well.' And this has been the NorthStar across my professional life, helping me accept that change is inevitable and the sooner I embrace it, the sooner I’ll start feeling comfortable overcoming it,” Lee stated.

While Lee’s biggest challenge is more of a personal one, Anand's challenge was brought on by external circumstances. Since it is rare to see people from the East being represented on the global scale, Anand noted that when it happens, it can be met with scepticism.

“So far in Vayner I haven’t faced it much, it’s an agency that really values talent. But I have heard others in the industry mutter, ‘He is from Asia, how can he take on a global role?’. I just keep my head down, work hard and help my agency become a global powerhouse,” Anand said.

I think the challenge is perception and I am always happy to break the norm to prove to people, you can come from a different region, different background and take a global position and inspire others to do the same.

What more can be done to elevate the position of Malaysians?

“It’s as simple as having more role models succeed on a global stage,” Lee said.

To him, seeing the success of prominent Malaysian personas such as Lee Chong Wei and Michelle Yeoh allows for Malaysians to even visualise themselves at such heights. “I’m hoping that the recognition I’ve received serves as some form of inspiration (no matter how small) to young Malaysians out there that shining on the world stage is absolutely possible.”

Both Anand and Goh share Lee’s sentiment.

Anand believes that Asia has world class talent that is often untapped out of fear of stepping out of comfort zones. Granted that there are language barriers and conservative education systems, Anand believes that it is imperative for Malaysians to be break out of this mindset.

“I think as a Malaysian, you come from a multicultural country, we are super open to other cultures and we learn fast. Being a past British colony, we also understand the western markets a bit more, their language and their culture. In order to take on a global role, you need to understand the different cultures and regions and I totally believe that Malaysians and Singaporeans can adapt very fast to global roles,” he said.  

Goh, as well, defended the importance of giving credit to Malaysians when it’s due, to show Malaysians that being recognised on the global platform is not a pipe dream when it has been done before by someone who looks just like them.

For instance, she highlighted the work of Malaysian screenwriter, Adele Lim who recently directed her first feature film, Joy ride, and that James Wan, a Malaysian director created the famous Conjuring franchise.

In addition to giving credit where credit is due, Goh believes also in the power of building and using connections in one’s network. “By encouraging collaboration between local and global industries, we will create opportunities for Malaysians to work alongside international professionals,” Goh shared. She went on to explain that whether this happens through partnerships, exchange programs, or cross-border initiatives, these connections can open doors and create pathways for Malaysians to excel globally.

Related articles:
Expecting a salary bump? Here's what MY marketers can expect their wages to look like in 2023
McDonald's names Asia marketing chief Eugene Lee as international CMO
VaynerMedia moves APAC creative chief VJ Anand to EMEA role

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