Musings on legacies and leadership in PH advertising

Anna M. Chua-Norbert

Posted at Sep 09 2017 02:45 PM | Updated as of Sep 09 2017 02:49 PM

Some of the largest companies in the world have emerged from circumstances most people do not know about, or would even expect. 

Many chief executives have even built their business on an inspiration--DDB Group Philippines is one of those corporate organizations. 

Operating out of five cities and represented in seven other locations nationwide, it has a comprehensive presence across the length and breadth of the country. 

It provides integrated creative business solutions to delight its clients and their customers.
Our catch-up with visionary leader, DDB Group Chairman and CEO, Gil Chua, in Baguio at the MSAP’s 2017 Media Congress, yielded some answers to questions we have been dying to ask all year as we celebrate his 60th birthday and 40 years working in our thriving industry.
On being 60 years old.

Q: Why is it important to look back to one's life? Or is it still necessary to look back at one's life?
A: 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 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."

Q. 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? 

A: 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., leading accounts handling Nestle and I wanted to be president. 

At 40, I became president and CEO, and remained so for 10 years, until 2008 when my family and senior partners took over majority ownership of the business. 
At 51, from an employee to a major stake holder became the tipping point. 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, and
• Continue to be the agency of choice of our clients, by having a trusted relationship, providing valued business solutions. 
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.
Q: What are you most proud of as a man of 60? 
A: 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.

Q. 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.
Q: Congratulations, Sir on celebrating your 40th year in our industry. What stands out in your memory as the most challenging?
A: 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. 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. But we’re working on it.
Q: How did you handle it?

A: This is why we started The Bernbach School. It’s a people development program to provide our future leaders and managers with the skills, training and tools they need to be the leaders they aspire to become one day.

The Bernbach School leadership and management programs, are intensive, 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, with Skype in calls from Harvard professors & authors, 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.”
Q: How has it changed you?

A: It made me understand that I have a responsibility for the future of my people. That's when we started our culture of 'People First'. I want them to be better versions of themselves, because it is important for me to help others rise. 
Q: Most inspiring. How did it inspire you? 
A: 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.
Q. Lowest moment. What did it do to you?
A: 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. 

Transparency is integral to any business. I learned to take control of all aspects crucial to our survival and growth, people, product, profit 

When complacency, questionable business practices set in. Turning around an organization means more than improving the numbers. 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.

I learned the importance of constant communicating, I loss 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.

That all business leaders must always practice integrity. Trust opens doors for you. Trust will make your business not just survive but thrive. 
Q: Proudest moment?

A: We've won awards and done so many firsts for our country. 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, that makes me proud. 

When I look back to where we were when we started from 27 people to over 3,000 today, all these make me proud.

Q: The secret to your success?
A: 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.”
Q: 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?
A: 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 and legend that he is, journeys on to see more glorious sunrises, and increasing territories driven by his passions to provide valued business solutions to our clients, provide job opportunities to Filipinos, and guided by his deep faith. 

Happy 60th Birthday!

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