Stephen Li donned the role of Asia Pacific CEO for OMD in October this year, after his stint as regional CEO for Asia Pacific in MEC where he spent around 10 years.
On his recent visit to India, Li talks about bringing global businesses to India, the constant quest for talent, differences between WPP and Omnicom. Excerpts:
What are your focus areas for India?
First of all it is to ensure that we don’t lose our vitality, entrepreneurship and passion as we grow. As I always say to people, as an agency grows it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the spirit, to maintain the passion, and the collaboration. Honestly, bigger organisations always run the risk of politics coming in. But I think OMD in India has done a good job in protecting its culture.From a business development perspective, there are number of OMD’s global clients who are currently not necessarily working with them as partners in India. I will try to change that and see what I can do to work together with team here and global teams in London and New York and rest of the world to drive, to bring those business to OMD in India . I also want to roll my sleeves up and help the team here to grow their business as well. One of the benefits of being in MEC for 10 years is that India is not new to me. I love this country and love coming here. I want to use that positively and not be that regional person who comes into a market just to say’Well! How you are doing?’ I want to bring all my previous experience in different aspects of the business to help grow the business in India.
How much does India OMD contribute to global revenues?
From an Asian perspective India is a critical market for me. India is definitely in my top 3 markets. India has both current size and scale and future growth potential to maximise that. It would be unfair of me to be ranking any of the markets.
What are your learnings of these initial few weeks at OMD?
I have discovered on my visits across the region many engaged, enthusiastic people. What I am also learning about OMD is that we are very flat in terms of communication, and there are very little ‘airs’ and ‘grievances.’ The other learning is there is still lot of potential for us to grow.
What are the things from India you would like to take to the APAC region?
Lots actually. I still believe that there is lot of potential in e-commerce groups in India. There are a lot of exciting developments that have happened in the sector in the Indian market. When I look at the work that is done here it is so encouraging to look at the team here. Some of the work that they have done, like Tourism Australia, is very interesting. If you look at the work that is done in the content space, there is a lot of interesting use of creativity and an interesting use of strategic partnership. The other thing that I feel when I am in India is that there is agreat spirit in the place. Spirit is not something you can teach someone. When we look at the way we manage OMD in India, there are lessons to be learnt. How you can manage across multiple cities, preferably in the Indian reality, where managing a Mumbaikar is very different from managing a Delhite. And still we are very much one at OMD. Inclusiveness is something that I really want to ensure we have in every market.
How do you perceive the difference between the networks that you have been with? WPP culture is distinctly different coming from Omnicom…
Well! These are first impressions rather than deep seated points of view.As I am only a few weeks into OMD I am still discovering Omnicom myself. But some of the things that have stood out for me are, I think Omnicom is interesting, Omnicom really feels like the right collaborative place. And what I mean by collaborative is the fact that what I have noticed in the market visits is that there is a real sense of camaraderie, and that people are working together and are right there to help each other. WPP, GroupM were a more ‘top-down’ company and here it is more about certain regions of the market defining what they need, why they need and how they need and making that happen. This can only work when you have very collaborative environment.
The fact that we are younger agencies also allows us to be nimble. The other great thing is, people who lead the agencies like Jas (Jasmin Sohrabji, chief executive officer, South East Asia and India of OMG) and Harish (Harish Shriyan, COO, India, OMG) are people who have founded this place in India, and that’s very rare these days to have a scenario when you are going to the market where the entrepreneurs literally with their blood, sweat and tears have founded the place and are still impacting it every day. And that adds a spirit of entrepreneurship to the whole operation.
What is it that keeps you awake at night?
Talent, Talent and Talent. This is a people business. We don’t have production line, we don’t have factories, all we have is people. So, the nature of the people that we bring in to this business should continue to evolve. For me the challenge to attract the best talent, and this is a very crucial part of what I do.