Group CEO at Middle East Communications Network (MCN)
Ghassan Harfouche is Group CEO of MCN – majority-owned by IPG – and President of McCann Worldgroup APAC. He leads the group operations across MENAT and APAC, which include 11 agency networks with over 3,000 employees. MCN offers a wide spectrum of marketing communication solutions, including consumer and brand advertising, digital marketing, communications planning, media buying, public relations, experiential marketing, research, CRM, and data science & analytics.
Harfouche continues to spearhead change throughout the organization, enhancing the network’s wide-ranging capabilities and adopting advanced solutions based on data and technology that empowers growth within the group and across each vertical. As a result, MCN agencies have been entrusted by more than 2,000 global, regional, and local clients across a diverse range of industries, including FMCG, retail, banking & financial services, energy, technology, real estate, telecommunications, airline, automotive, and governments.
Under his leadership, the agencies have been recognized with numerous regional and international industry accolades. Most recently, FP7McCann Dubai was named the Most Effective Agency in the World, Weber Shandwick UAE the PRCA’s Large Consultancy of the Year, UM the number one media group in MENAT and the number two in the world by RECMA, and MullenLowe Dubai in the Global Top 50 agencies setting global creative standards.
Harfouche’s wealth of experience, combined with his commitment to creativity, innovation, and his engaging approach to driving positive change, has enabled him to successfully establish a culture of agility, openness, diversity, and collaboration. A strong believer in the power of people, he remains committed to attracting and nurturing the best talent and building their skills to ensure that clients’ current and future needs are always met.
Apart from being a vivid entrepreneur, throughout his 30-year career, Ghassan has worked on the agency, media, and client sides in a variety of senior management roles with local, regional, and global organizations across a range of sectors and markets.
He is a board member of the Mohammad Bin Rashid School of Communication, the Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation, and the University of Paris II Pantheon-Assas, teaching Media Economics.
How would you define leadership today?
Leadership is perceived differently through the eyes of each individual. In my view, successful leaders must articulate a clear vision for their organizations and persuade the people around them to adopt it. It is no longer enough to simply concentrate on financial performance; leaders must strive to make a positive impact around them and on the wider society at large. They must embrace diverse perspectives and nurture a culture of collaboration and innovation.
What’s the most important decision you have taken as a leader? What’s the one decision you wish you hadn’t made as a leader?
The very nature of being a leader means you are constantly required to make decisions. Each decision has its own context and risks associated with it. And although they might not always lead to the desired outcome, there should be no regrets; we learn from every decision we take to do better and move forward.
The decisions that impact people’s lives are the most important to me. As an organization, we are committed to putting our people first. We encourage them to share their voice and have a particular focus on improving their wellbeing. The last two years have taken their toll on everyone, and we need to make sure, as an organization, that we do everything in our power to look after our greatest asset – our people.
Who’s your role model?
I have been privileged to encounter professionals, friends, and family members who have been an inspiration to me throughout my life and my career. They taught me, among other things, the importance of humility, of caring and loving, of dreaming, of being resilient, of integrity, and of navigating through uncertainty.
What’s the most important quality that every leader should possess?
There are numerous traits that leaders should possess to lead successfully. The top three traits in my view are trust, curiosity, and flexibility. Being an authentic leader is essential to earning the trust of others and to building longstanding relationships. Similarly, in such a dynamic world and a highly innovative industry, it is essential to be curious to improve and build one’s knowledge, and to equally pass on knowledge and contribute to people’s learning and development. Finally, it is crucial to recognize different perspectives and to be flexible and willing to adapt when confronted with ambiguous situations or unexpected changes.
What’s the one mistake that leaders most commonly make?
Leaders must avoid becoming disengaged from their clients and their people. Making time to be accessible and available will ensure they always have their finger on the pulse when it comes to the realities of their industry and business.
What’s the most critical threat that every leader in our industry should pay attention to today?
It is critical to adapt to the changing needs of our clients and our talent pool, particularly with the shift to hybrid/remote working and the increased emphasis on employee mental health. In addition, with more and more Gen Z entering the workforce, we need to revisit our value proposition as an employer. How can we attract top talent to the workforce of the future? What are they looking for and what adjustments do we need to make to remain an employer of choice?
What resources would you recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
There are many leadership courses that can be easily accessed online but personally, I keep referring to one of my preferred books, Good to Great, and have recently been reading The Five Disciplines of Inclusive Leaders, which I highly recommend to any aspiring leader.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow as a leader?
Being on a constant quest to learn from others and from my people is of great value for my development as a leader. I also seek continuous feedback from my colleagues at all levels.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
I always have our global McCann Worldgroup values top of mind: bravery, integrity, and generosity. If you have all three of these, you’ll go far.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever given?
Be humble, be authentic, and be kind.
You can see the full ranking and methodology here.