It has been nearly two years since Vikram Sakhuja was appointed as the Global CEO of Maxus, making it the first time that a global agency was headquartered in India. It has been an interesting journey for Sakhuja who is known as one of the most influential media professionals, is a strong advocate of the agency’s internal philosophy of ‘PACE’ (Passionate, Agile, Collaborative and Entrepreneurial). Excerpts from a freewheeling chat.
What is Maxus India’s contribution to your global business?
It contributes a little less than 10 per cent of our global business. Unfortunately, in India, the exchange rate has worked against us... It is in the top five-six markets, with a list of blue chip clients and some huge businesses.
India and UK are what we call our showcase markets. Maxus India has been winning the digital agency of the year at every forum, in every award platform it is in the top two or three. I love the energy Maxus India has. The creativity and entrepreneurial legacy that started with Srini (CVL Srinivas) was taken to another level by Ajit (Varghese) and now Kartik (Sharma) is taking it forward. We are blessed in India with amazing leadership and from the global standpoint, we don’t need to think so much about India; it’s on autopilot.
What is your wish list for Maxus India?
More global accounts. There is a tendency to look at size and structure, and there is a default comfort which comes with that. We are not a small agency anymore, but definitely not a large network... We are a global agency of typically local accounts...
Our new business wins have been good, and I would love to get global businesses as well.
Has client’s perspective of Maxus changed?
We have a mix of very centralised to highly decentralised kind of operations. Flexibility and agility are important to clients. The compelling propositions working in our favour include access talented senior people, attention to high quality management – things a global client cannot expect from any other agency three times our size.
Whenever we go for pitches, they love our energy, creativity and thinking. We win some, we lose some because of a perceived lack of network. Now we have grown from strength to strength, so we’re going back to clients and who are impressed with how much we have evolved.
More importantly, our ability to put local markets on a common platform, adds to our strength. And for any person sitting at the centre, collecting data is the biggest challenge.
It has been one and half year since you took over a global role, how has the journey been so far?
It has been a very heady one and a half years; we have had fantastic growth in an otherwise challenging environment, we have grown by 30 per cent last year.
RECMA has also said that in the last five years (which is also the number of years that Maxus has been a global network), we have been the fastest growing network.
I came at a stage where we had a really talented management team. For me, the first thing from a leadership standpoint was to codify the success in a very entrepreneurial manner. A lot of aspects of our agency positioning that we were talking about were there, but weren’t crystallised. Client delight is what we’re really going after. We talk about ‘leaning into change’, but there needs to be output outcome also. So we asked ourselves, what is the outcome we’re trying to get? The answer is ‘ influence.’ That’s where data and effectiveness comes in. We stopped calling our people data analytics people, we started using the term ‘effectiveness.’ We dialled it up big time.
I think our top team is really great. We really need to be able to sort of permeate that culture.
We even did a major effectiveness drive. We did a full talent audit to see where the gaps are - whether it's digital, whether it’s planning, entire effectiveness, client leadership. We felt Maxus client leadership needs to be of a particular kind. So we instituted those practices, we got a global Chief Client Officer in place. Leadership was codified to success, and systems were put in place, while still trying to maintain flexibility and suppleness. That’s been the main thrust over the last one year/18 months.
The other thing we did was a certain amount of internal market prioritisation. Because when you have 70 offices, all offices can’t develop at the same pace. There are other large markets like US, China, Italy, Australia, Canada, Russia, where we are doing well.
What are the improvement areas in your view?
There are some improvement areas like the packaging we do out here, for not only Maxus, but in India specifically. The way we show our product in general in India, it doesn’t look that appealing or attractive... If we just put some more execution and finesse to it, it would be transformational.
It has been an interesting year for Maxus retaining Vodafone, but Nokia moving out due to a global alignment.
Vodafone India was a big win. We have a very deep bond with Vodafone, since the Hutch days.
With Nokia, again, we’ve had a very close relationship right from the early days. It was a global alignment, you have to respect those things.
Sakhuja known to be a digital evangelist will be speaking on “The opportunity cost of not embracing Digital and Technology NOW!”. At the 14th edition of the exchange4media conclave on Tuesday September 30th in Mumbai, to know more http://www.exchange4media.com/Conclave2014/index.html