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Bossing It: Mazen Jawad on Nurturing Leadership


The CEO of Horizon Holdings MENA talks about failure as a natural part of success, transparency and the importance of the big picture

Bossing It: Mazen Jawad on Nurturing Leadership

Having completed 28 years at Horizon Holdings, Mazen Jawad has been appointed at the start of 2022 as the CEO of the group that represents five Interpublic Group agencies in the MENA region, including Horizon FCB MENA, BPN Mena, GolinMENA, Blue Barracuda and FuelContent. Mazen has been recognized as one of the forward thinking curators of business strategies and a cutting-edge creative when it comes to solutions. A believer in equal opportunities and with strong human values instilled into HR, he is an ‘adman to the core.’

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Mazen> We go through leadership experiences at school in team sports, games and academic projects. However, the one I would recall most during my career at Horizon FCB is when I led the Clairol brands from Athens for the MENA region. Not only it was my first leadership role, but it was over a significant region on a brand that I admire. Surely one of my favourite experiences. 

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?

Mazen> I like to see myself as the charismatic and transformational leader who works in partnership with people relevant to the task, choosing always the most suitable and relevant partners with the adequate balance of will & skill for the desired objective. 

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

Mazen> This is surely a Never Finished process. The founder of our group, Rafic Saadeh surely gave me the biggest lessons in leadership, first by being an exceptional example and mentor and by constantly orienting me on what impact every decision would make on the people we work with or on the business. Understanding in advance the outcome of decisions from an experienced person over the years was surely a great advantage that I was lucky to have. 

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?

Mazen> I am a passionate and an ambitious person … though the leadership position that I am holding today is surely a combination of performance, ambition, experience, insight, integrity and lots of guidance from our founder, with the support of our global CEO from FCB. You realize it when you can inspire, empower, motivate and drive people to make a difference, to take bigger steps than they thought they can to achieve their set goals and realize self-satisfaction… even more important, create more leaders. 

It was surely a process that took a lifetime and still progressing, and included guidance from both the FCB & the Horizon leadership. 

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?

Mazen> You can’t teach leadership. It starts as part of someone’s personality, and then needs heaps of nurturing, training and guidance… It requires patience, time and allow room for mistakes and learning from them at the earliest stages. 

It’s also a combination of personality traits seasoned with experience, age, maturity and learning that you acquire and develop everyday. You learn from your bosses & the experts, but you learn a lot as well from your peers, surround, clients and at times from your subordinates. Keep listening.     

Our global CEO, Carter Murray is another example I follow and learn from. Beyond that, Carter is always investing in the agency’s global leadership… the most memorable being the sessions we had at the University of Oxford for example. 

You learn most from people who love you and care for you. 

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

Mazen> Change! Taking people out of their comfort zone whether their way is working or not. You have to keep running fast enough, staying ahead, demonstrating that change is a need and not a desire for progress, relevance and to remain in the game… and most important never give up! 

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?

Mazen> You’ve got to fail (in different ways) or else you never learn. Failing is part of the process and part of the success. It provides significant learning and convincing for change, evolution and better ways. 

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?

Mazen> I am known to be the transparent type of person, always clear, direct, straightforward, authentic, at times brutally honest… sometimes with supporting data. I tend to always explain the full picture giving my team the ability to see the picture through my same lens with all its hidden gadgets. The more people understand you and feel this care & truth, the more they feel motivated to achieve the goal in partnership with you.  

You have to work closely with your people to create this Never Finished culture to keep everyone invested in the agency and excited to come to work everyday. 

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?

Mazen> I had many mentors growing in our global network, though the most notable has always been our founder and partner Rafic Saadeh… a process that started since I started in the company almost 28 years ago… since the first few days. 

I did transfer this mentorship to my friends and colleagues in the group, an obligation I always enjoy doing… nothing more rewarding than sharing your learning, advice & secrets to see your colleagues more successful, happier and in a better place. The stronger your team is, the stronger the agency group will be.  

My most notable experience mentoring a colleague was taking care of then, Reham Mufleh, an account director who was smart, brave, honest, a true adwoman with an incredible drive to achieve her goals. She’s not only a person I mentored to become the general manager of Horizon FCB Dubai (my previous ‘dream’ position), but also a person I learnt a lot from. Moreover, Reham became the first Arab head of a multinational agency in Dubai. 

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?

Mazen> 2021 was a great year! 

Challenging at the start though a catalyst in growth, creativity and transformation. We have a great and a very passionate leadership team who’s always happy to wake up in the morning to do great things. This feeling rich in passion, camaraderie, compassion and desire for excellence makes it easy for all of us to sail not only in difficult waters, but in any cyclone… and as our founder and today executive chairman always repeated: “we’re the Harbour in the Tempest”, a quote and a feeling that resides and beats in our hearts.  

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?

Mazen> We’re all expatriates in this region and naturally we’re a very diverse group of people coming from +27 countries working together as ONE big family. 

Over 40% of our workforce is female; out of which two out of four leaders heading our agencies in Dubai are females; one heading Horizon FCB Dubai and one heading Blue Barracuda. 

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

Mazen> My family and friends at the agency… people you can always count on.

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Horizon FCB Dubai, Thu, 13 Jan 2022 16:16:31 GMT