Group-think is dangerous; you will want people who can bring different perspectives and ideas to the table, affirms Katherine Teo, Co-Founder and Partner, Create Collective, in this interview with Jerene Ang.
Q Talk us through your leadership journey to date. What are the biggest lessons you have learned?
In 2016, I joined M&C Saatchi as its Head of Digital. My remit was to build up the digital and social media expertise for the agency, which was only focused on traditional advertising at the time I joined. Together with my business partner Nicholas Leow, we were given full autonomy, and we built and grew our own digital team from scratch. We increased the digital revenue of the agency from 9% (before I joined), to 59% (in my first year), and to more than 80% today. Today, we have a full-fledged in-house digital specialist team with full capabilities spanning across strategy, creative, web and app UX/UI, account servicing, digital production and engineering.
About 1.5 years ago, I felt it was time to embark on something new. Long story short, M&C Saatchi Global and M&C Saatchi Singapore supported my journey to entrepreneurship and Create Collective was born. Create Collective is founded by seven partners – six members of the M&C Saatchi Singapore's leadership team (including Nicholas) and M&C Saatchi Global Network.
Create Collective is all about building brands with purpose, by humanising technology. We hope to one day be known as the company that builds great communities. At Create Collective, I’m responsible for driving the overall strategic direction and growth of the company.
Dayre is Create Collective’s first offering, and it’s just the beginning. Dayre is about creating a safe and inclusive space for women – both online and offline. Dayre (which is an acquisition) started as a micro-blogging app, and today with Create Collective at its helm, it stands for more than that. It is a dedicated space for women, where Real Girl Talk can take place – where women can share authentic stories and reviews, unfiltered thoughts and experiences, and untold secrets – with a community of women who get them, or just want to be there for them. On Dayre, women know that they are not alone, because they are connected to a community that understands, supports and empowers.
Being a good, kind, and respectful person is important for obvious reasons, but an added importance is that you are leading by example and this can determine and shape the culture of your company.
I've learned many career lessons along the way, but I think these four stood out for me:
- Self-belief is very important: As an entrepreneur who wants to be constantly innovating and pushing, very often you may be breaking ‘rules’ and doing something different that people won’t quite understand why and how immediately—and they will question you, challenge you, or even mock you. You need a lot of self-belief and support to push through the doubts and adversities, and keep going. For example, Dayre’s proposition is a first in the world – a members-only, ad-free, and safe online space dedicated to women. We took a bold move to switch Dayre’s business model from free-to-use to subscription-based, and also for Dayre to stay ad-free. Since launching, we have earned a healthy 6-figure revenue over the past four months. We are also driving a healthy number of new trial users daily via word-of-mouth.
- Remember where you started: There are people who have climbed very high in their career and have forgotten what it was like when they were just starting out. It is important to stay humble and treat everyone with respect. Being a good, kind, and respectful person is important for obvious reasons, but an added importance is that you are leading by example and this can determine and shape the culture of your company. You will want to attract people who want to work for a company that has strong ethics and values
- Keep learning and stay open-minded: I think it’s no longer acceptable not to want to change the way we’re doing certain things just because 'it has always been done a certain way'. The world is changing and moving faster than ever. What used to be the way of doing things will be disrupted by new processes and new ideas. Jobs that don’t exist today will be in demand tomorrow. It is no longer possible to stick to comfort zones. You need to feel a certain level of discomfort because it forces you to keep learning new knowledge and stay ahead of the game.
- It is important to stay true to what you believe in: My belief is that businesses can do the right thing and remain sustainable and profitable. I count myself lucky that my partners share the same core belief. This is what led us to start Create Collective and acquire Dayre. Every business decision that we take is driven by our core belief.
Q What are some leadership best practices that have proved evergreen, despite the situation, location, or remit?
First, empathy is always important. If you are successful in your career, you need to also remember what it was like when you first started working. You need to take time to understand and listen to employees – their struggle, their desires, their needs and wants. It is also important to respect their personal time – they can’t perform if they are constantly stressed out or burnt out. There’re so many reasons why it’s important for leaders to have empathy. You will build greater trust and confidence with your team, and in turn stronger relationships. It will be easier for you to help struggling employees, while showing appreciation for those who’re excelling and going the extra miles for you. If your team feels that they can trust and respect you, they will get behind you.
Hire based on integrity, willingness to learn, passion, and street-smart – don’t hire just based on paper qualifications – because again, jobs that don’t exist today, will be in demand tomorrow.
Second, hire good people, not just smart people. Hire based on integrity, willingness to learn, passion, and street-smart – don’t hire just based on paper qualifications – because again, jobs that don’t exist today, will be in demand tomorrow. You need team players who are ready to roll up their sleeves and learn.
Third, hire diversely. Group-think is dangerous. You will want people who can bring different perspectives and ideas to the table. Make sure you’re hiring women and focusing on grooming female leaders. Companies and leaders need to do their part to level the playing field for the genders. Studies and statistics have proven that companies with an equal balance of men and women senior leaders perform better and make more profits.
Q Given how rampantly leadership is being disrupted, how have you seen the needs from leaders change in the recent past and what are we demanding from them, that we didn't previously?
In a day and age where leaders are getting younger - it’s no longer just about the years of experience, job title, or how long you have been working, or which big firms you have worked at. We have people who are in their 20s becoming CEOs/Founders of their own companies and making a big difference in the world. So these days, when people are applying for jobs, many are looking beyond the remuneration package. The younger generation of workforce wants to work for someone they find compelling, human, and influential – and they want to work for a company with a clear purpose and vision. Many also want to work for leaders that believe in a cause that is greater than just making profits.
In the same vein, the best talents expect complete trust and freedom from their leaders. They aren’t just looking for a job description or a list of tasks to fulfil every day. They also expect companies to be adaptable and have individually-designed career plans because they want autonomy and they believe with this autonomy, they can make an impact. They don’t want companies that have a one-size-fits-all approach because they expect an environment where they can grow exponentially, freely express themselves, explore their strengths and weaknesses. They are no longer content with working for traditional companies with rigid structures, hierarchies, and processes.
The best talents expect complete trust and freedom from their leaders. They aren’t just looking for a job description or a list of tasks to fulfil every day.
Q In this backdrop, what does the mindset of a good leader look like to you? And how can this mindset be inculcated in upcoming leaders, and front-line staff as well?
Firstly, be empathetic and invest behind building a people-first culture. As cliché as it may be, it will always be true that a healthy and happy team is a productive and successful one.
Secondly, always make time to listen to everyone who’s in the room - even the intern. You need to stay open-minded and trust the people you have hired. In a day and age where things are rapidly changing, you will never know where the next big idea is going to come from, and how it can transform your business positively.
Thirdly, lead by example. For example, I had the opportunity to work at M&C Saatchi, home to the creative entrepreneurs. While the network has its roots in advertising, it has always stood for more than that. It encourages its employees to think big, think differently, and it always encourages us to share our ideas and ambitions. Today, M&C Saatchi as a network is proudly home to more than 140 offices worldwide which operate in different areas not limited to advertising - we have a business in education, technology and patents, filmmaking, art, and more.
Create Collective is one of them. Many of these companies are started by employees, and the network supports our ideas and ambitions fully – be it backing us financially or offering us resources from across the network. And because the network leads by example, it has encouraged me to change my dreams fearlessly and inspired my partners and I to step out of our comfort zone and start a new company doing something different with their support. It also made us realise that we carry with us a responsibility to bring others along on our journey, because of the very same opportunities and support we have received.
Lastly, and again, hire diversely. Make sure you’re hiring women and focusing on grooming female leaders. Studies and statistics have proven that companies with an equal balance of men and women senior leaders perform better and make more profits.
This interview was published in Human Resources Online’s January-February 2020 edition of the Singapore magazine and will soon be published in the Q1 edition of the Malaysia magazine.
Photo / provided