Caroline Chan’s position as GroupM’s CEO is a result of years of hard work and resilience in the marketing and communications industry. Describing herself as a leader with clear vision and directions, she always shares the success and review the failures and learnings together with her team, and understands that being a team player and able to facilitate or nurture employees to grow is the most essential element as being a leader.
Chan started off as a media assistant in Dentsu, Young & Rubicam, then switched to OMD as general manager in 2000, where she met her mentor Jackson Kwok and cultivated her strategy planning and business presentation skills since then.
With over 20 years of experience in the media industry, she has rich experience in various account portfolios from telecom, travel, banking and finance to beauty and luxury brands categories. She also supports charities organisations by involving and participating in the marketing campaigns and activities of Mother’s Choice, Aids Foundation and Sedan Chair Charities Fund. Find out more about Chan's journey in advertising thus far and who inspires her.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first job?
Though I did not study marketing or communications in the university, advertising is always my dream job. So, I kept exploring the opportunities to get into the industry. I saw an opening in school and applied it right away though my preferred role is the account servicing role. I told myself, let’s give it a try, and so I joined Dentsu , Young & Rubican as a media Assistant .
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first role in advertising?
As the junior media practitioner, I was in charge of media buying and co-ordination from media scheduling, to booking, material handling and monitoring. I worked o n regional business and the key client was an international hotel chain . I still remember being very frustrated in the first six months being as I was tasked with a lot of tedious work such as billing, booking and reporting. But after that experience, I became aware that possessing a solid operations background is crucial for every planner or strategist to solidify his or her understanding of media and marketing processes. There are fast tracks, but no short-cuts to success.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What was your first impression of advertising?
It was not as glamourous as I saw on TV or movie. It was probably because Media department at that time was working in backroom , and the role was not as important as creative department . Yet, I had the opportunities to meet the artists, and celebrities , and work with people in TV stations, that kept me excited to work in the media industry.
While media department was evolved to independent agency, media teams played a more dominant part in the whole advertising development . I recognised the career path in media industry was as good as working in creative or account servicing team. By then, I committed myself in the media industry until now, with no regret.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Who was the mentor who influenced you the most and how?
I am very lucky to meet good bosses in my whole career life. Jackson Kwok, was my report manager during the dates in Zenith and OMD. I learnt from him strategic planning and business pitch presentation. My way of business thinking and approach was nurtured by him.
Amrita Randhawa was the regional management I worked with during my days in Mindshare HK. Her intelligence, persistence, and energetic way of leading is my role model. I still remember one of her quotes “Pick the hardest job, not the one paying the most, or with the best title, pick the one you think you can’t do” that keep me forward and not back down easily.
Last but not the least, My mom. She is a superwoman who runs her own business and still works every day at the age of 78.
As an entrepreneur, she is a down to earth person, and has built a long, trusted working relationship with her partners and clients. She’s my role model who has demonstrated that one will not fail if one works hard and keeps trying. No short-cuts and speculation.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's the harshest criticism you've received and how did you cope with it?
Not sure it is good or not… I tried very hard, but I could not recall any harsh criticism.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Describe your own management style now as a leader
I think I am a leader with clear vision and directions to share and work together with my team . I w ould fix the goal s early of a year and then, run sessions with my team to design and align the strategy to go.
I like to work close with my team, especially in advertising, it is all about teamwork. So I work with the team all along together, share the success and review the failures and learnings together.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What's one thing you wished employees understood about being a leader?
A leader does not mean he or she is the smartest or most capable one , but the one who knows and designs where the company should head to, and facilitate or nurture the people to play their best for their career growth .
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What do you do during your free time?
I am an active person, and always want to try and experience new things. Before pandemic, I travelled a lot.
I would travel by myself for new experiences, say Cooking trip in Tuscany, Painting trip in Le Marche, drama course in University of the Arts London etc. Those were great memories where I could meet new friends and learn new things, and more importantly, they offered space for me to recharge and reset out of the busy work life.
In the last 3 years while travel was impossible. I signed up a law degree course to let myself to expose to something totally different. That was a bit tough where there was not much free time left after work and study. I made it and finished the course last month. I felt accomplished.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Where do you find your inspiration?
To me, t ravelling is always a good way for inspiration – meet new friends, learn new things, experience new culture . When I grow older, I tend to enjoy a lower pace in travelling . I t becomes my habit to pick at least one or two museums of th at destination to visit where I can know their culture well. This always inspires me a lot .
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: If not in advertising, where would you be?
I actually got the job offer in one of the TV stations since my graduation, but I picked media agency at the end. I think I might work in TV channels on program production and end up to be the manager of Mirror (haha).
If I am not in advertising now, I think I would go back to school.
I never study abroad, except those short courses. I would like to be a full time student in one of the reputable university in the UK or the States. But I would study something totally unrelated to marketing and media.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a career in the industry?
First, you must enjoy what you do. Before you like it, you must have to understand what this business is about. Media advertising evolves and transforms very fast, and not many people know what this industry is.
Things could be very tedious to start with, but it is important to learn and familiar with all the basics, especially in media. After, you can leap forward quick in your area of interests be it on strategy, or data or content.
MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What issue would you like to see the industry change in 2022?
Talent is our key asset. While we are facing the shortage of talent and high attrition rate, we shall put more effort to train the new blood, and nurture our home-grown talents. We shall stop poaching talents from the competitions in unreasonable package increment . W e shall work together to grow our talents in the market.
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