An interview with MCN's Ghassan Harfouche.
What is the reason behind launching the Transformers program at this point?
We have been focused on growing and recruiting people for the past three years. We’ve also replaced some talents to ensure we have the right pool of people that fit the culture on one hand, and clients’ needs on the other. Today, we felt ready to go into the next stage of our talent development strategy and our succession planning, and to invest in the pool of senior management and potential future leaders. [We wanted to] launch something that’s special and [different] from the usual training and development initiatives we undertake, and that brings more value to our business and clients; which is why we joined forces with the Berlin School of Creative Leadership. The advertising and media business is very dynamic. We wanted a school that had a close grip into this business, and a program that integrated the practical experiences of people and our businesses into an academic and rigorous framework. That is the trend across all global business schools. I would say it’s a mini MBA program.
Has the program been readapted to the specificities of the region?
We worked closely with the school on identifying and focusing on key points that we wanted to infuse into this program. We are not anymore in the era of information, which is easily accessible. We do believe in that we are global. The real art is to adapt this global aspect to local and regional needs. We believe the three pillars for future change are leadership, creativity, and innovation. This program focuses on getting to know yourself, learning how to deal with cultural and profile diversity, and identifying your leadership style, among other goals.
The focus is particularly on senior-plus people. Any particular reason behind that?
This school has been extremely flexible with us; we wanted a program that ran for a certain period of time, that [offered] pre-requisites, lectures, group work, post-assignments, a grading system and, naturally, accreditation. We needed to bring a serious and credible element into this program. Seniority [of participants] played a key role, but we wanted to ensure that we had the pool of people that have leadership potential – not just good performance – that would commit to a certain time in the company after completing the program, that would show eagerness to take part in it by qualifying for a certain set of criteria. We do believe in the potential of [entry-to-mid-level staff], but we needed to prioritize. This is one of many initiatives we’ll be undertaking.
What other investments have you made in talent development?
What is requested from us and what is expected from us whether on the creative or managerial side of an ad agency, is transformation. Digital and technology have been our top priority, in addition to financial and business acumen. We want everyone to be more accountable, responsible and aware of how to manage P&L (profits and losses), efficiency – cause I don’t think we’re in a business where margins can afford for us to be cool about our P&Ls. We’ve also been investing in planning, automation and operational tools, and tapping into those made accessible to us through our global networks. We’ve introduced a lot of automated solutions for our information system.
Technology has brought in a lot of innovation into our business. We have decided that we’re not going to go behind an acquisition, and we’re not going to outsource our digital work. I don’t believe in acquisitions in this part of the world, because the hassle of managing it and integrating it later is much more difficult than growing in-house. We believe in vertical integration, and we’ve been developing our in-house capabilities, investing in strategic and specialized people in digital. We have a lot of data at hand, and we need to make sense out of it. Planning and strategy is the third area in which we’ve invested.
What have been the hardest positions to fill?
People that can understand multi-platform and multi-screen experiences. We’d like to have people that share common values, that are diverse in cultures, but that are also able to bring value into the local culture. It’s not only about skillset, but also mindset.
What are the challenges you face in talent recruitment and retention?
In the Arab region, we’ve always lived without specifying any nationality. The younger generation is extremely informed, not to say knowledgeable. Obviously, they need to be framed in a corporate culture, and surrounded by mature people, independently of the information and potential they have. We do face challenges in people that are really overly confident in certain areas, or that want to move faster than they should. We are more cautious and demanding in the way we recruit people. Sometimes, we don’t have that luxury and we might compromise.