Bossing It in association withLBB Pro

Bossing It: Learning to Follow Before You Lead With Anish Daryani

Advertising Agency
Jakarta, Indonesia
The founder and president director at M&C Saatchi Indonesia on how a temporary position filling in for a vice president at 25 was his first dab in leadership and the mantras he lives by
As founder and president director of M&C Saatchi Indonesia, Anish Daryani has had a real whirlwind since taking his role in 2018. He's weathered the storm of Covid-19, conversations around diversity and ensuring that his team were kept upbeat and motivated while working from home. However, as someone who's a go-getter this was just another hurdle to overcome to keep the business going.

Anish began his career at Ogilvy and after moving to Rediffusion Y&R at 25, he took it upon himself to step into his vice president's shoes and take over the role for the next two years. Here his leadership skills began to flourish as he took on senior management roles at Ogilvy, Leo Burnett and MullenLowe in various continents across the globe. Through his mantras of 'If you want to count your blessings, count your mentors' and 'I believe to earn respect, one has to give respect' he explains how he's become the leader he is today.

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Anish> My first brush with leadership started in school, when I was voted School Prefect and House Captain. I had also led teams in athletics, cricket and hockey and for inter-school festivals.

Professionally, the first time I ever felt like a leader was at Rediffusion-Y&R Kolkata, in 2005. I was 25, and then an account director. My boss, the vice president, had just left within a few months of my appointment. I was expected to fill his position temporarily, till the management found a replacement. I took it as an opportunity to make the position permanent and landed up filling the role for the next two years, until I left. I was leading one wing of the two we had at the agency, which was literally half the organisation. I had won several new accounts, and was contributing with as much revenue as was made by the other wing, which was led by another VP, several years my senior. My boss then, Amitava Sinha, was extremely supportive and gave me wind beneath my wings, for which I’m grateful. 

This is when I learnt that leadership is more of a responsibility, than a title or designation. Life is going to throw challenges and opportunities at you, and how you deal with them determines whether you’re ready to be a leader.

This laid the foundation for me in leadership, and I would go on to become general manager by the time I was 30. 

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Anish> I had the good fortune of working and learning under several talented people. Before you learn to lead, you must learn to follow. Its normal to emulate the people that inspire you. In the process of doing that, I began observing the reactions from decisions made by me… from my teams, my clients and their consequences on business. I learnt from triumphs and failures alike and used that to get better at what I did.

It was easier to understand what kind of leader I didn’t want to be. Insecurity was one trait I despised the most, and I realised it made people do stupid things. A lot of that comes from having doubts in your abilities, or a lack of confidence in what you’re doing. The other is someone’s inability to keep their word. When you let down someone, you lose them. Fickle people have failed to inspire me.

I have tried to be a leader that inspires. Someone who solves problems and improves the lives of people around me – my team members, stakeholders, clients and business partners. A leader that channelizes your abilities to bring out the best in you, and encourages you to deploy that towards the goals of the organisation or the team. Someone who helps you see pride and in what you’re doing and feel good about it. I back my teams, all the more in their failures, as long as they learn something from it. 

I don’t believe in managing people too much. When you do that, you’re restricting their natural ability to overcome challenges. But if you mentor them and set them free, give them space to grow and learn, they will always shine. It’s about recognising peoples’ motivations. And no two motivations are alike. So, your approach to every member of your team needs to be unique to aid them in accomplishing their individual aspirations. Leadership is always about adding value to people’s lives. Only then will they find you worth being followed. “Be your hero’s hero” is my war cry for my teams. In other words, as a leader, I encourage people to strive to inspire, to inspire. 

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Anish> I took on a very interesting challenge in 2010, when I took over the reins of Orchard Bangalore, Leo Burnett’s second agency, as vice president and head of office. It had been in the red for many years, and my job was to turn it around. When I met the team there, I saw sparks of potential in a few of my colleagues. But I also saw the team was tired, dejected and lacked self-belief. 

I got us into our first pitch, which had pretty much the best of agencies from India participating. The initial reaction of the team wasn’t encouraging. They saw it as a waste of time. In their heads, we were the underdogs. So, I showed them how to harness the power of the underdog. Leading them through the pitch, I found opportunities to reignite their self-belief, as individuals, and collectively as a team. 

After our pitch presentation, we got a standing ovation from the client. Now it didn’t matter whether we’d win the pitch, or we didn’t. Because we had won something intangible that was far more valuable – the belief that it can be done. To make things sweeter, we did win the pitch. But from then on, we became a team that made winning a habit, and there was no looking back. In 2012, we became Leo Burnett’s fastest growing office, globally! And I want to take a moment to recognise some key people who made this possible – Thomas Xavier, Arvind Sharma, Kaushik Mitra, Sagar Prajapati, Sameera Dowerah, Rohit Mani, Abhijit Shetty, Vivek Krishnanan, Rohan Kapoor and Tanya Onkar, among others. That was truly a dream team, and I’d work with them again in a heartbeat. 

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so, how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Anish> Yes, I always knew I was meant to lead. I was always too impatient for it to happen, which is why I made the most of every opportunity that came my way, or created opportunities of my own to make way for my goals. 

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Anish> I think it’s a little of both. The fact that there are certain personality traits that bring out leadership qualities in an individual can’t be ignored. Personalities are also shaped through many other factors… your upbringing, friends, peer influences, circumstances, etc. But there are certain skills that can be learnt and imbibed. One’s ability to learn from experiences, of yourself and of others, determines how good a leader you can be. 

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Anish> I’ve always been a very impatient person. I consider it to be my strongest virtue. But sometimes I’ve run faster than my team. And I’ve had to force myself to slow down. 

I also consider every interaction with my clients and my teams as an opportunity to inspire. Sometimes, it’s very hard to live up to. So, I’ve learnt to just take things easy every now and then.

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Anish> Sometimes, I think it’s alright to lose small battles to win the war. I’ve always been entrepreneurial and that involves taking risks. As calculative as you might want to be, some risks won’t go your way (that’s why it’s a risk!). However, to learn from them and to course correct is an ability I have come to embrace, and hence every small failure has led me to accomplish a big win.  

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Anish> I believe to earn respect, one has to give respect. Being transparent with people is the most significant way of being respectful. That goes for any relationship, personal or professional. 

Whether it comes to business performance, managing conflicts or acknowledging failure, I’ve always tried my best to be transparent with my management, my teams and my clients. Some people believe that transparency is a sign of weakness. To me its not. It gives confidence to people to know the reality, and also that as their leader, you have it under control. Moreover, it gives you credibility, which makes doing business easy.

However, to be transparent, you have to be responsible. And the people privy to information have to act responsibly, as well. This needs working upon and doesn’t happen by accident.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Anish> If you want to count your blessings, count your mentors. I have been blessed to train under some of the finest minds in the industry. Today, I’m the sum total for all their efforts, and only they’re to blame for what I’ve become (chuckle!)

The first is Kanchan Datta of Inner Circle Advertising, who taught me the ground rules of the game, when I joined them as a management trainee. 
Sanjeev Khanna, who was my management supervisor at Ogilvy Kolkata, taught me one of life’s biggest lessons - how to stand your ground, even when you’re getting bullied. 

“Mash” - Mahesh Chauhan - when he was group president at Rediffusion Y&R, has been my biggest supporter and strongest critic. He taught me management as it’s meant to be, and the business of advertising beyond what’s visible at the surface.

Gautam Talwar, when he was chief strategy officer of Rediffusion-Y&R, taught me how to focus and think straight, on how to sift insights from heaps of information. 

Achieng Butler, erstwhile head of marketing at Airtel Africa, taught me how to look at problems from the client’s point of view. This made me have clearer understanding of looking at advertising as a service industry, and how mutual trust is important in building strong client-agency bonds. And it also proved that clients can be mentors too. 

Thomas Xavier, when he was NCD and chairman at Leo Burnett-Orchard. He taught me how to find purpose in my work. In many ways, I was the raw talent that he polished. And in the process, he helped me find purpose in my own life.

Arvind Sharma, when he was chairman of Leo Burnett. He taught me how important it was to be good with numbers, and how advertising is as much a business, as it’s a passion. 

As for me, yes, I’m mentoring every one of my team members in M&C Saatchi Indonesia. They are all leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. And I’m certain some of them will be very big names in the industry.

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Anish> Yes, it has been a difficult year. But it’s also been a period where we’ve thrived. Our business grew by 700% during the pandemic, including accolades like two Agency of the Year Golds and lots of creative awards. It took a really special effort to get there. 

We had just celebrated our 2nd anniversary when the pandemic hit Indonesia. This could be lethal for a developing business like ours. We were faced with two choices… watch everything crumple, or take the fight to the pandemic. I could foresee how lots of things were going to change, and businesses would struggle to deal with them. So, I carved out our manifesto for dealing with the pandemic, “Champions of Change”. 

To aid this, we drafted the 5Cs of Compassion, Continuity, Collaboration, Creativity and Change Management. Expanding on these is perhaps another topic in itself, but broadly it led us to deal with change for ourselves and our clients. 

We built a sense of safety and security around our teams. We were one of the first companies to start working from home, almost a month before the official lockdown in Jakarta, insulating our teams from risks of using public transport. Where the industry did pay-cuts, we awarded promotions, bonuses and increments. While others created redundancies, we ensured job security and hired extensively. While other companies tried to wriggle out of Ramadan bonuses, we disbursed them in full, and in advance. We were quick to replace marketing plans we’d been working on for months on end, and proposed proactive plans to our clients to mitigate the changes in consumer behaviour across categories. We devised ways of managing production remotely, ensuring brands could engage with their consumers in a relevant and timely fashion. And while doing this, we counselled our teams and help them deal with the mental fatigue and time management issues that came with the complications of working from home.

We retained all our talent and our clients and added lots of out-of-scope work, including winning a string of new accounts, ending the year 2nd of the R3 New Business League. Making our teams feel safe and secure ensured they brought their best game into play, and the results speak for themselves. 

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Anish> Indonesia is fairly balanced with respect to gender representation in the work force. However, we worked towards having more senior women in our management, which led to hiring of Nadia Yuliani as our creative director, and Eva Luntungan as our business director. We had provisions to safeguard against gender discrimination on making remuneration decisions from the day we launched our agency. In addition to this, we did programs like Diversity and Inclusion Week to celebrate the rich cultural diversity of our people that makes us unique and interesting. 

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Anish> In our business, our intellectual capital is everything, and that’s powered by our talent. However, being a new agency, we deliberated a culture that was unlike any other. From onboarding our new talent, to constantly reminding our teams about what it means to be in M&C Saatchi Indonesia, we take a lot of effort in inculcating our values in our teams. During the pandemic, we did this through frequent virtual meetings and town halls. This has been particularly difficult for the new talent that has joined us during the pandemic, to fully understand our culture. But those who’ve been around have been handholding their new colleagues, and that’s the only way we’ve managed to imprint some semblance of our culture across the agency.

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Anish> Meditation, contemplation, articles, books, TedTalks and conversations sharing experiences with my peers are the tools I rely on. But above all, my instinct is the most powerful tool in my arsenal.

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