Ajit Varghese, Managing Director, Maxus, South Asia

Our clients in India are truly blue chip. This allows us to do good work, get recognised and learn. India is a jewel in the crown for Maxus APAC.

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Published: Oct 18, 2013 12:00 AM  | 6 min read
Ajit Varghese, Managing Director, Maxus, South Asia

Our clients in India are truly blue chip. This allows us to do good work, get recognised and learn. India is a jewel in the crown for Maxus APAC.

Ajit Varghese, MD, Maxus South Asia has been named CEO of Maxus Asia Pacific. He takes on this new role from January 1, 2014. Over the last seven years, Varghese has been responsible for scaling up Maxus in India and South Asia. He had been appointed the MD for South Asia on April 11.

Varghese won two Cannes metals in 2009 for Nokia and Tata Sky.

Prior to Maxus in 2006, he was with Madison as COO. He has also worked with Initiative Universal Media.

Varghese talks to exchange4media’s Priyanka Mehra about his approach and preparation for his new role, India being a jewel in the Maxus APAC crown, the agency’s blue chip clients and more...

Q. Do you see this kind of investment happening in India? A lot of MNCs now invest at a local level. GroupM and Maxus have huge investments in people; it is not just the top management that stays on for long. Even people who leave become stars in other companies because of the experience and training at GroupM. It happens over an investment of hard dollars and soft dollars and is not quantifiable merely in salary terms. I don’t think any other agency or network does that.

Q. What are some of the things you need to unlearn when you take on your new role? The country job is more of rolling up your sleeves and getting the job done, a hands-on approach – from facing the client to people management and P&L management. Now, in a regional role, it is about your ability to drive the culture of Maxus, evangelise new technology and products so that countries can run on their own, spearhead new initiatives, give a Maxus culture and vision, invest in products, and share learnings with other countries. You also need to manage the country leaders and make them stand up and deliver for their clients.

Q. How are you preparing for the new position? How much ever you prepare beforehand, the real learning comes on the job. It helps to see people spearheading the role for years together (read your bosses). It gives you a sense of what you are getting into. The second thing is your preparedness to change itself.

At GroupM and Maxus, the system takes care of all the learnings and cultural development. We invest the most in training people. I have spent seven years at Maxus, going through various trainings on softer parameters and core skills. Over a period of time, you are automatically prepared to do a certain type of job. At GroupM, the investment happens much before you think you are ready; so when you think you are ready, you are really ready.

Q. What is India’s contribution to the APAC region? In absolute terms, India contributes to 25 per cent of the volume. More importantly, the clients that we have in India are truly blue chip. This allows us to do good work, get recognised and learn. India is a jewel in the crown for Maxus APAC.

Q. In a recent interview with exchange4media, Cheuk Chiang, CEO, Asia Pacific for Omnicom Media Group had said that Indians are leading the way in marketing leadership. Indian talent is extraordinary; the best talent in the world comes out of India. What is your take on this? Increasingly yes, because of our upbringing in a multicultural society and willingness to go outside our geography to have a work life. India is not a homogenous society but a hydrogenous society; languages change every 10 km – these are some of the natural advantages that Indians have in leadership, which ultimately finds its way to global leadership roles. Though Indians need a lot of polishing in their presentation and communication skills, the advantages override the disadvantages. In short, the adaptive skills of Indians are pretty high, and today, some of the Indians are getting their due credit. A classic example is that of Sameer Suneja of Perfetti, who became a global head within six months of going there. To me, he is a star. But he is a star because he was recognised as one, so both parties need to be given due recognition – to get him to the helm, somebody invested in him.

Q. How do you plan to approach your new APAC role? My focus will be on adapting to change at a quicker pace. Maxus has been on a good growth track. In India especially, it has been doing extremely well. For me, it is all about continuing this momentum.

The next three years will be about ensuring even better work. A lot of investment will be made in people. As the agency grows, it is important that the third and fourth line structure also shares the vision.

We need to continue the momentum of getting new businesses. Moreover, if we call ourselves an agency born in the digital age, most of the growth will come from our clients moving to this digital world, and Maxus can play a huge role there.

Even today, most of the agencies are talking offline and online separately. I feel there is a huge opportunity to merge these two. I feel that if we are a 1000 people network in Maxus APAC, even if 500 people can talk offline and online together, it will be great.

Q. So, the integration has not happened yet? It has not happened at a people level; it is a huge challenge that agencies and the world is facing. We are talking about specific fields such as search, display, social – the people who can choreograph this entire convergence in a single language will stand out better because RoI is increasingly becoming a bigger question.

Q. These are the advantages of being under a bigger umbrella... To me, it is not only about the bigger umbrella, it is about investment in people and R&D, as well as investment in new technologies. GroupM’s ability to change and adapt to the new has been a big advantage. Today, we are as aggressive and thinking ahead for the next three years as much as anybody can think of. This advantage is there because of the leadership team and its agencies. The ability to choreograph this entire matrix structure and move with the same speed is a big advantage.

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