FOCUS | DDB Group chairman Chua, on legacies and leadership in PH advertising

September 9, 2017 - 4:11 PM
DDB Groups's Gil Chua: At 60, he has come full circle to "Lone Ranger." HANDOUT PHOTO, DDB

MANILA – Some of the largest companies in the world have emerged from circumstances most people don’t know about or would even expect. Many CEOs have built their business through what turned out to be some inspiring motivation.

DDB Group Philippines is one such corporate organization. Operating out of five cities and represented in seven other locations nationwide, it has close to 3,000 project-based and 250 regular employees, with reach across 10 million students, providing integrated creative business solutions for clients and their customers.

Its visionary leader, DDB Group Chairman and CEO, Gil Chua, recently shared his insights at the MSAP’s 2017 Media Congress in Baguio. Chua, who marks his 60th birthday this weekend, has chalked up a 40-year experience in the industry.

Below are some of such interesting insights, culled from years of experience in a remarkable career:

Why is it important to look back to one’s life? Or is it still necessary to look back at one’s life?

“One time per week, I try to reflect on what I’ve accomplished, the status of my businesses, my relationships with my partners and clients, and whether I feel I’m providing value. I assess my goals to make sure they fit within the plan I have put together.

I have deep faith in God and I owe my success to Him and His blessings. I take time to pray and be grateful for all He has given me. I enjoy the moment, and do all the things necessary to get what I want and need to do. I always try to make meaningful and lasting connections.

But I don’t look back too long. I learned that when I stop too long to reflect and start praising myself, I fall into complacency. Complacency stunts growth both intellectually and spiritually and wars against what I aim to accomplish. Complacency is the state of mind that can destroy ambition and knock us down.

One of my favorites quotes is from Pastor and Bible teacher Gillis Triplett who said: “Of all the possible avenues of life there are to live for, complacency should be viewed as the switch that killed the will to build.”

What was your dream when you were six years old? A child at 13? When you were 18? When you were 25? At 30? At 40? How would you compare your dreams through the years to your present reality?

“When I was six, my dream was to be the Lone Ranger. When I was 13, I wanted to be Namor, the sub-mariner, Prince of the ocean. At 18, I wanted to finish college, and help out my mother. At 25, I had three kids, and I wanted to secure their future, so I worked extremely hard, to learn the ropes of media.

When I was 30, I was already a managing partner for Advertising Marketing Associates, Inc., we called it vice-president then, leading accounts handling Nestle and I wanted to be president. At 40, I became president and CEO remained so for 10 years, until 2008 when my family and senior partners took over majority ownership of the business.

When I turned 51, from an employee to a major stake holder became the tipping point. That’s when I knew, I had to work fast to make my dreams come true which are:
• To future-proof my company by diversifying key services
• Grow the business to be the first integrated business solutions provider.
• Continue to be the agency of choice of our clients, by having a trusted relationship, providing valued business solutions.
• Build lasting friendship with my partners.
• Secure a solid future for my grandkids.

I’ve gone full circle–I am now, the Lone Ranger. To be a leader, you need many people to believe in you to achieve your dreams. But to make a decision to lead, that you have to do on your own. Thank goodness for my Tonto.”

What are you most proud of as a man of 60?

“Having my children. They are and forever will be, the better version of myself. They are not me, so I know I cannot control their lives in any way, but they are with me, as my partners in business, my confidants, my inspiration, my source of fun, and my legacy. I am always grateful to God for blessing me with them, to share my life.”

You may be too young for this question but what would you like to leave as a legacy that will make your children and grandchildren proud?

“The one thing I love about this organization is that we help people experience the gift of work. We help talented Filipinos live meaningful lives, part of which involves having a job–a place to go each day where they get to contribute, feel a sense of purpose and provide value to the nation, and the community around them.

So my wish is for them to embrace the gift of work, to grow the business, provide more job opportunities to Filipinos.”

As you mark your 40th year in the industry, what stands out in your memory as:

A. The most challenging.

“CEOs and leaders face many challenges and it is our job to provide solutions, right? People are not born with qualities like effective leadership and innovation. These can only be learned and earned through hard work and diligence. Sometimes, critical failures and overwhelming odds can easily break anyone and make them lose sight of our aspirations. But CEOs do not have this luxury. We have to be the role models and consistently demonstrate the conduct that will make a company productive and profitable.

My biggest challenge has been succession. Why? Because the moment we get them trained to the caliber we want, they get poached. And then there’s no room for growth for my leaders, because they can’t go anywhere without a successor. But we’re working on it.”

How did you handle it?

“This is why we started The Bernbach School. It’s a people development program to provide our future leaders and managers with the skill sets, training and tools they need to be the leaders they aspire to become one day.
The Bernbach School leadership and management programs, are intensive live-in onsite, mini-MBA. The participants go through four days of mastery level Harvard Business School and Omnicom University case studies. The session is led by our Chief Development Officer, Craig Lonnee, powered by my managing directors, and aided by our talent management team. The program runs once a year, with supplementary leadership dialogues and mentoring of our leaders all year long.”

How has it changed you?

“It made me understand that I have a responsibility for the future of my people, whether they stay or go. I see them as my people and want them to be better versions of themselves, because it is important for me to help others rise. Our culture of ‘People First’ made it our company goal to make the people around me and all whom I work with better, and impacting their lives through learning and sharing knowledge.”

B. Most inspiring. How did it inspire you?

“I am a proud homegrown CEO. Yes, I have been lucky to have amazing mentors in clients and peers from all over the world but what makes me get out in the morning daily is knowing I have– through the work that we do — the power to influence and change society for the better.

A few years back, I was talking to a couple who I worked with. The husband was overseas, to get better pay, leaving his kids and family behind. I thought, “another latchkey child growing up with daddy issues…” but this is a perpetual problem in our country.

So I promised myself to be part of the solution. One day, when I am in the position to help, I will provide job opportunities to Filipinos so they don’t have to leave their families behind. It is important for any child to have a parent with them growing up. Society will improve because the values get passed on.

We started Field Outsource Asia in 2011 with 10 key champions. Today, it is 3,000 strong and with a nationwide reach. We hire and provide jobs from their respective provinces, so they always have their families nearby and they don’t have to travel far. My challenge for myself before I retire, is to provide 50,000 jobs for Filipinos.”

C. Lowest moment. What it did to you?

“There is nothing quite like too much success to create failure. Many already know this, so I won’t dwell on the past but more of what I learned.

1. Earlier in my career, [I realized] transparency is integral to any business. I learned to take control of all aspects crucial to our survival and growth, people, product, profit
2. When complacency, questionable business practices set in. Turning around an organization means more than improving the numbers. This happened to DDB, and then I took the helm in 2008 and became chairman and CEO.
3.The only way to restore what was now “broken” to become the “best” was with values-based leadership. I define values-based leadership in terms of DDBEST5: best self, best team, best partner, best investment, and best citizen. Cumulatively, these five bests encompass the focus, discipline, integrity, humility and consistency required to generate credibility, engagement, trust, and achieve a turnaround.
4. I learned the importance of constant communicating, I lost a lot of people when I was at my lowest due to lack of this. But I’m happy that I know who my real friends are who stuck with me during those low times.
5. That all business leaders must always practice integrity. Trust opens doors for you. Trust will make your business not just survive but thrive.

D. Proudest moment.

“There have been so many firsts that we’ve done for our country. We won for the Philippines its first, and five at that, grand prix awards from multiple international awarding bodies for SMART TXTBK in one year. I can also mention the time when we won our country’s first GOLD AMES for #PACQUIAOPOSITIVE; when we won the country’s first Campaign Brief Asia Agency Of The Year for Talent Management team; and, a Gold Stevies for our client, Meralco.

The design for Lotus Awards created by the young DDB PHL art director was chosen among hundreds of entries. We won the J&J James Burke Marketing awards for uncommon courage. It was us who represented our country in the South Korea AD Star New Star Competition, by our very own ladies from Tribal and they placed Crystal. All these gave me immense joy.

When the work of a team gets praised publicly by our clients, that makes me proud and happy. When my people are happy and have high levels of engagement, that makes me happy. When we develop more leaders and when I see my people working hard together to achieve a common goal to better the life of each other. When I look back to where we were when we started from 27 people to today… all these moments make me proud.”

E. The secret to your success.

“Making time for myself. Self-reflection. Prayer gives me self-knowledge and self-awareness to align my values, goals, what I stand for, and what matters most to me. For a leader, this is crucial: If I don’t know myself, I cannot lead myself, and if I can’t lead myself, I cannot possibly lead others. I also practice consistency. If you cannot replicate success then you fail making more leaders and reaching our goals to provide job opportunities.

Leadership is about having a compelling long-term vision, a comprehensive plan with a relentless desire for storytelling, and generals that know how to implement and make talented people work together to achieve the goal. It is about taking time to make our people understand, that we too, want to live meaningful lives.

All of us know that we are doing great things, that we are touching a lot of people, and that what we are doing is something bigger than ourselves. I am proud that my partners have embraced this through the work they do with our clients and through DDB Cares.”

What’s the future of the business?

“Work is such an important part of what I do in life. I’m lucky to see the transformation of the advertising space. When I was starting, it took a week to make one print ad. One month to make a good film commercial. Announcer on radio board was the fastest way to get an urgent message out to consumers. Then came video and digital.

My smart phone is my computer now! I can now respond right away. Quick and nimble has always been the mode of DDB. With the help of technology we continue to be so.

Predicting the future is not easy. But, our core values will remain as our guideposts in our journey to tomorrow.

Because of all the technology available, advertising of the future will have these backbones — creativity, consistency with integrity.

I always remind members of the DDB family that, what got us here, won’t take us there. So embrace change. But never forget that effective creativity, unparalleled integrity and consistent great service are keys to the success of any business.

If you were 20 years old all over again, what would you tell yourself that you would tell others who are also starting their career in the industry?

“First, if you don’t know yourself, find yourself through the work you identify best with so you are contributing to society, building your confidence and learning new things. You have to work hard and not be afraid to make mistakes. You have to try something new. New is always needed if we want anything to change.

Second, there will always be people better than you, smarter or richer.It doesn’t matter — just bring out the best version of yourself everyday. If you don’t have a better solution to a problem, don’t waste time complaining.

Third, don’t let success get to your head. Life has a way of balancing your experiences to make you well-rounded, to make you the better and stronger person you are meant to be. Stay humble and be kind. The blow will be bearable when the chips are down.

Lastly, and this is probably the most difficult, begin with the end in mind. How will people remember you? What would you like them to say about you? Make sure when you look back, you’ll have plenty to smile about, just as I do.”

Coming full circle at 60, but the Lone Ranger is not about to ride into the sunset yet. The visionary journeys on to see more glorious sunrises, and increasing territories driven by his passions to provide valued business solutions to clients, provide job opportunities to Filipinos, and guided by his deep faith.

*Anna Chua-Norbert is the Talent and Corporate Communications Director of DDB Group, Philippines.