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My Biggest Lesson: Tony Rouhana

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Horizon FCB's Tony Rouhana on the point in his career where he went from engineer to an ad man

My Biggest Lesson: Tony Rouhana

Tony is a leader in the Marketing communication industry, and very well known for being successful in managing clients’ business, and network management skills. In 1992 the advertising industry lured one more unexpected victim and started his first job in the advertising industry in Jeddah Saudi Arabia. Then in 1997 Tony moved to Intermarkets/Y&R as a business development director. There, he continued to climb the ladder until he assumed the position of General Manager of the agency. During this 30-year career, of which 21 years at Horizon FCB group managing the Saudi Market. Tony has been directly managing the agency’s internal audience (offices leaders), and been involved in managing the local, regional and international key clients. The key to Tony’s successful career is leading by example, and leading from the front which resulted in an impressive agency growth on all levels even during the Covid19 lockdown.   

Besides being an advertising professional with a broad spectrum of contacts in the Saudi and the Middle East markets, Tony is a master diver, and a PADI diving instructor. He trained many of the agency’s team members and clients to become great scuba divers (After all advertising should be fun, and that was the way Tony relaxed on weekends in Jeddah). Tony’s other interests include underwater photography, spear fishing, reading and teaching.

Tony is a US Citizen born in Lebanon. He is 59 years old, married, father of four children.


It all started back in 1992 when the advertising industry lured me. It was my first interview with the CEO of an International agency in Saudi Arabia. This was the point that changed my entire career from being an Engineer to become an ad man. 

In the 90’s the advertising industry in Saudi Arabia was booming yet the lack of local talents created a major gap. Here comes an engineer trying to fit in an industry that was totally new to him hoping to build a career. During the interview I was asked many questions that were usually normal, from personal to technical. However, one of the questions was “Where do you see yourself in our agency if we decide to hire you?” 

My answer was spontaneous and said: “In your chair!” The CEO’s face changed seeing a young man in front of him with no experience whatsoever in advertising giving such an answer. 

He smiled and said: “You are an aggressive person to have such an answer with no experience”. I replied back “if you are looking for a change you need people that are crazy believing that they can take the bull by its horns and run with it.”

Right on the spot, I was hired and the CEO said:” let us see what you can do”. You have a three month probation period, and hopefully we can start seeing your plan to change things around. I was given the lowest job at the agency with the title of Advertising Coordinator. There was no one helping me at that time as I was the new kid on the block. I had to do my own findings and start collecting info and data on how things are being operated inside the agency. The first thing I looked into was how clients were being handled by the top ranking account directors. To my surprise, I learned that everything from daily decisions to management decisions were centralized in the hands of one person with no delegation whatsoever in terms of getting people involved that truly can make a difference on blue chip accounts internally and externally. 

On the last day before my probation period ended, I sent a memo calling for a meeting asking the CEO to be present. I was called into the CEO’s office by his secretary. To my surprise a shocking statement by the CEO shouted at me saying: “Who do you think you are sending a memo to the entire agency requesting a meeting without asking me first if you can do that?”

Again, my answer was: “either you accept my meeting request or tell me to go home.” I could see how angry he was when I was standing before him in his office. Then, he said “let me think about it and I will get back to you by the end of day”. I was totally nervous waiting all day hoping he would accept my request. 

Lucky me he accepted to attend, and asked his secretary to ensure that everyone is present on a Thursday which is the last day of the working week. At that time the weekend in Saudi Arabia was only one day (Friday).  

I started the meeting by saying: “The camel in the front leads the convoy but the one at the end takes all the beating.” Using camel in my statement gave a local cultural sense. I began asking the directors on how they handle their clients and the kind of decision making process they had. All without exception were saying we never take a decision without getting the approval of the CEO. Here I asked again, even small decisions on amending creative work or a media plan? The answer came yes.

Cutting the story short, I started seeing the face of the CEO getting a bit angry as he kind of figured out where I was leading to. 

Once I saw the anger on his face, I asked the CEO in a diplomatic way, if the directors come to him for advice or when they have a problem to solve. The answer was yes everyone comes to me to solve any problems and have my opinion on the smallest details. 

I said this is really great but do they come to you with solutions to choose from or you come up with the solutions? He answered sarcastically, I give the solution the way I see fit because I am the CEO. All employees were looking at me with sympathy because they all felt that I had broken every rule and I am going to be fired immediately.

My adrenaline was so high, and I said: Mr. CEO the change you are looking for should start with you because I see that every issue, be it small or big is being handled by you and you alone. I also said “One hand does not clap properly and will not make a loud sound for everyone to hear.” 

The CEO stood up commenting saying: “Tony you are absolutely right but this is the first time a junior is looking up at management without fear,” and what impressed me the most is you have collected all the necessary data to support your case. 

From an advertising coordinator to business development manager having full authority to re-organise the internal way of doing business to the external communication with existing clients and potential new business. This was a turning point in my career where I was loaded with big responsibilities, and a big challenge to prove myself in the advertising industry. 

The biggest lesson that I would like to share with everyone is to dream big, reach for the stars, yet keep their feet on the ground. If you believe in something, go for it. Never be scared to speak out. Never worry about making mistakes. Lead from the front and keep your head up. 

I used to tell my team that a leader will not bow his head down except in two places. When he is getting a haircut, and when he is praying. Keeping your head up with a positive attitude toward facing any issue is a key. Work hard, love what you do, and keep evolving at all times. Otherwise, you will miss the big opportunities that are out there for you. 

Today, I am leading a great team. They strongly feel so comfortable telling me if I am wrong or how they see things from a different perspective. My advice to all the young people who are joining the advertising industry is to either lead, follow, or get out of the way. If you feel that you cannot keep up with the fast moving industry that is constantly evolving to meet the market dynamics and build a story about your career and achievements, get out fast and find a place that you love and feel comfortable. 

Last but not the least, being a master diver, I say advertising is for those who can swim against the current and are not afraid to swim with sharks.   

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Horizon FCB Dubai, Wed, 16 Feb 2022 11:06:43 GMT