Despite claiming to be lost in his early years (just like most of the teenagers), Aloha's general manager Ivan Leung knew early in his career that he'd like to set his foot in the advertising field. His first taste of ad land came after a former colleague referred him to a job interview at iClick Interactive as an associate account manager. Since then, his life has been closely connected to advertising and marketing.
During the time at iClick, Leung has garnered skills in service offerings including search engine marketing, display, video and social media by managing several client accounts spanning across several industries. He joined Aloha as account manager in 2016 and was promoted to general manager in 2020. As a leader, Leung believes that openness and communications are key to bring employees' potentials to their fullest. He is always willing to let his team explore their skillsets and to guide them to gain a better understanding of themselves, just like how he learnt from his mentors.
Find out more about Leung's journey in advertising thus far and who inspires him.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first job?
I did not have a concrete career direction being a young misguided fresh graduate from Toronto (spoiled too might I add). I didn’t commit to a direction until I started a role referred by my sister as a business analyst in a business credit rating company, Dun and Bradstreet.
In my mind, I always strived to be great at whatever I was going to do. The thing was, I really didn’t know what that was going to be.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first role in advertising?
I knew the corporate route I was heading towards would not suit me. I always had a fascination in marketing during school but never pursued it as I presumed my Chinese language deficiency would be a major drawback.
By luck or fate, probably a little bit of both, I was referred by a former colleague to interview at iClick Interactive as an associate account manager. I was convinced from that point on that this was the career path for me.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first impression of advertising?
I had a deep impression that advertising involved a group people in a boardroom brainstorming a tag line or a storyboard. I immediately realised how wrong my perception was on my first day.
Digital marketing involves a dynamic mix of skillsets. There is a significant technology aspect to make use of platform capabilities; there is a numerical side to analyse performance data to comprehend target audience; at the same time, at the core we are in a people business with an aim to understand and influence behaviour at the right time to the right people to act. There are so many areas to develop and I was motivated to take on the challenge.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who was the mentor who influenced you the most and how?
A few names come to mind. It’s cheesy but it starts with my family. My parents had the utmost trust in me when I didn’t have any in myself. They taught me to see the good in people. That single principle is integral to where I am today.
Although my sister and I have completely different personalities, she taught me the discipline required to succeed. She has been the benchmark to work towards and to exceed.
Career wise, I have been blessed to have good bosses who have guided me along the way. My first boss at D&B, Roy Ma, taught me what it takes to succeed in an individual and team setting. He gave me opportunities to prove my worth and at the same time, shown me the necessity to be team first as a team in synergy will always beat an individual.
Arthur Chan was a key mentor of mine in iClick. I remember how little confidence I had during the initial months entering a new field. He guided me to recognise the strong points I already had and focus to excel in those areas. He equally taught to identify weaknesses and tirelessly work to improve upon them. He taught me that every task must be completed with a level of standard, whether it be planning a casual team gathering or an important client pitch. Essentially, he trained me to make a habit of being great so that you don’t have to prepare to be great.
Hard skills can always be learnt but these people directed me to define the person that I am and the values I hold.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's the harshest criticism you've received and how did you cope with it?
You are bound to get some “rough” feedback after years in the industry. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes and to see things from their point of view. I self-reflect and identify areas that could have been done better. I then ask myself whether I had put in my best effort. If I did, I could live with the results while taking in learnings and brush off the rest.
A lot of times, under the harsh words comes worthwhile learnings and insights. Take the good and throw out the bad.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Describe your own management style now as a leader
I feel like I am evolving all the time in terms of my management style. I envision it to be like mixed marital arts. I have my fundamentals, but it is key to continue to grow and add on new parts of my game to cater to the changing working environment.
There are three correlated values that are core to my leadership style. First, I swear by an environment that invites openness and two-way communication. I do my best to cultivate an environment to encourage the importance of team member input. I believe that a communicative employee tends to lead to a happier employee; and a happier employee more often or not leads to a better overall output. Riding on this, the second value is transparency.
Staff is a massive factor in how the company grows. Therefore, every member deserves to know the reasoning behind decisions the company makes. It is all about buy-in over top-down. Lastly, it is about mentorship. Aloha didn’t get to where we are today by a singular hand. It is done by skill transfer and experience building to allow teammates to take on bigger challenges to allow leadership to take on even bigger feats.
I believe in letting my team explore their skillsets and to guide them to gain a better understanding of themselves, just like how my mentors did for me.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's one thing you wished employees understood about being a leader?
I remember looking up the difference between a boss and a leader. It is something that holds so much weight to me. A boss exercises control and gives orders in an authoritative way whereas a leader is someone who leads by inspiration, motivation, and guidance. A true leader is the ultimate support that puts the team ahead of themselves. A true leader is one that puts everyone else in the best position to success. A true leader is someone who questions themselves before anyone else.
Lastly, this doesn’t pertain to being a leader but a good principle to have. 'If you are always the smartest person in the room, you are probably in the wrong room.'
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What do you do during your free time?
I am a massive sports fan (yes, every sport). I am completely obsessed with the NBA and have been a die-hard Raptors fan since 1995. I would have never believed that I could witness my team win a championship in my lifetime. I can only hope my Maple Leafs and Blue Jays can do the same.
My dad took me to my first game in ’95 where the 72-10 Bulls led by Michael Jordan came to Toronto. That propelled not only my passion for basketball but also my love for sneakers. I started collecting in the 2010s and I am now closing in on 250 pairs (if not more). It is a vice of mine, but I always tell myself it could be worse.
I am not much of an athlete anymore, but tennis is something I enjoy these days.
On the other hand, I am passionate about nurturing growth in our industry on a grassroots level. I want to use my platform as part of iAB’s Education and Career committee to do whatever I can to help inspire others to join the industry that has given me so much.
I look to find it everywhere but a lot of times I find it in sports as superior athletes often need to be great as an individual as well as in a team setting. Kobe Bryant (Kobeeeeee) for example defines so many positive attributes of pushing the limits. “Mamba Mentality” is immensely inspirational. I also like small inspirational quotes. I have an app that pushes quotes on daily basis which often works as a great “pick me up”.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: If not in advertising, where would you be?
I honestly wouldn’t be able to tell you. I would have loved to work in the NBA or Nike but I am not going to pretend that I had any concrete plan when I was younger in making that happen.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in the industry?
First and foremost, you need to be curious and open to change to thrive in this industry. If not, don’t even bother as you will get left behind.
Secondly, we must stay up to date. There’s a lot of information we need to take in daily so I would recommend is to have information come to you so that you are actively informed.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2022?
I challenge my peers (along with myself) to do better in terms of education across all aspects our industry. We all need to do our part to uplift the industry. I believe what we do is such a big part of everyday life but there’s a lack of ambition to cultivate. This can be from a grassroots level to work together as an industry to better engage youngsters to generate greater hands-on exposure on our field. This could be an overall emphasis on the sector to put a microscope on the need for quality and value add over the stress on low costs and immediate delivery. I truly believe that issues such as these are impacting how individuals can learn and grow within the industry and in turn how teams and companies operate.