Asked & An­swered

Sea­soned com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sional, Ghada el Khatib, who was at the helm of two com­pa­nies in Beirut (PR com­pany Asda'a BM and ad agency Y&R) joined Plus Hold­ing com­pany as Chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer early on this year. With blunt sin­cer­ity, she tells Arabad

ArabAd - - CONTENTS -

Ghada El Khatib: The Gi­ant Leap

I headed Asda’a for eight full years, lift­ing it from the dol­drums of anonymity to rank among the lead­ers in the mar­ket place,

What prompted your de­ci­sion to leave Y&R and Asda’a? It prob­a­bly wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion, was it?

My de­ci­sion to leave Y&R and Asda’a was not made on a whim, but was rather a well thought-out de­ci­sion, which once reached was, in fact, easy to make. Af­ter hav­ing spent 25+ years in the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try - well over half of my life - and 8+ years as the Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of Asda’a and MD of var­i­ous other com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Wun­der­man and Y&R, I felt it was time to do some­thing new. I have reached full pro­fes­sional ma­tu­rity and my ex­pec­ta­tions are high ca­reer-wise. I’m not in­ter­ested in do­ing some­thing rou­tine, man­ag­ing the sta­tus-quo, and giv­ing 150% to a com­pany ev­ery day with lit­tle recog­ni­tion, re­ward and re­turn. For me, I would give 150% where I can spread my wings and de­ploy the full scope of my po­ten­tial in terms of strat­egy devel­op­ment and lead­er­ship in a less con­stricted en­vi­ron­ment that en­ables me to con­tinue to grow and ex­pand pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally.

Was part of the rea­son to quit the com­mu­ni­ca­tion field be­cause you felt there was not much hap­pen­ing any­more, or was the per­sonal drive no longer present at your former agency?

I do not agree that not much is hap­pen­ing in the com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­dus­try. With the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion, in­for­ma­tion con­sump­tion and con­sumer be­hav­iour are con­stantly chang­ing and this is im­pact­ing the tools, mech­a­nisms, and strate­gies that me­dia, ad­ver­tis­ing, and PR agencies use. In my opin­ion, what has been hap­pen­ing to the com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­dus­try in re­cent years is noth­ing short of

an in­dus­trial revo­lu­tion - truly fas­ci­nat­ing and in­ter­est­ing times to be en­gaged in this in­dus­try. It is a time when agencies need in­no­va­tive strate­gic think­ing, which re­gional and cor­po­rate head­quar­ter units should help lead, but also a time when agencies need to think and act quickly to re­spond to the rapid tech­no­log­i­cal changes and re­sult­ing changes to con­sumer be­hav­iour and client ex­pec­ta­tions. The Com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­dus­try is be­com­ing more cen­tralised and cor­po­rate, which is re­duc­ing the au­ton­omy of re­gional and coun­try of­fices, re­strict­ing their abil­ity to re­spond quickly to the in­dus­try changes, and re­duc­ing the per­sonal touch that is so im­por­tant in this in­dus­try and ex­pected by clients, es­pe­cially in the MENA re­gion.

Do you find it easy to switch sides and oc­cupy the client seat?

I have been suc­cess­ful over the years, whether as a Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor or a Client Ser­vic­ing Di­rec­tor, pre­cisely be­cause I was able to put my­self in my clients’ shoes and see their needs and con­cerns through their eyes. For me, agency or client side, the heart of the is­sue is one and the same – ev­ery or­gan­i­sa­tion needs to be ap­pro­pri­ately struc­tured, staffed with skilled, hard­work­ing, and mo­ti­vated em­ploy­ees, have solid pro­cesses and pro­ce­dures that don’t choke the cre­ativ­ity and am­bi­tion out of its staff, ef­fi­cient, and flexible in or­der to per­form to its fullest ca­pac­ity. From what I’ve seen, hav­ing worked with many com­pa­nies in many in­dus­tries over the years, those that are most suc­cess­ful are the ones with ex­cel­lent lead­er­ship and high qual­ity man­age­ment that fo­cus on set­ting the right course strate­gi­cally for the com­pany and ex­cel at op­er­a­tional­is­ing and man­ag­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of that strat­egy. In or­der to ob­tain max­i­mum force and ef­fec­tive­ness, the strat­egy needs to be com­mu­ni­cated to and un­der­stood by all staff in the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and du­ties, re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, and per­for­mance met­rics for all po­si­tions need to be tied to the strate­gic ob­jec­tives. In this way, ev­ery ef­fort ex­erted leads to the goal and in this way ev­ery em­ployee is acutely aware of and con­stantly mon­i­tor­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal changes and mar­ket swings that can po­ten­tially im­pact the busi­ness. A com­mit­ted work­force is one in which staff know their jobs, un­der­stand how their work con­trib­utes to the bot­tom line, and is in­vested in the suc­cess of the com­pany.

What will be some of your ob­jec­tives at Plus Hold­ing?

My ob­jec­tives at Plus Hold­ings re­volve around pro­vid­ing the type of lead­er­ship out­lined above. But first and fore­most, I in­tend to make a dif­fer­ence at all lev­els of the or­gan­i­sa­tion. And in my ca­pac­ity as COO, I shall have the tools and the means to suc­ceed.

What have been the great­est chal­lenges faced dur­ing all these years at the helm of Asda’a and Y&R?

The chal­lenges that I faced at Asda’a BM are dif­fer­ent than what I faced at Y&R. I headed Asda’a - even be­fore it be­came Bur­son-marsteller - for eight full years, lift­ing it from the dol­drums of anonymity to rank among the lead­ers in the mar­ket place, from a com­pany that was con­sis­tently los­ing money to a highly suc­cess­ful profit cen­ter. I was given full author­ity and lat­i­tude in man­ag­ing Asda’a, in part be­cause it was such a a fail­ure when I took it over and no­body be­lieved it could be­come the suc­cess that it is to­day. I am rather proud of my achieve­ments at Asda’a BM, proud of what the com­pany stands for to­day. Y&R is a dif­fer­ent story. I spent around 14 years in this com­pany. I left as client ser­vic­ing di­rec­tor and moved to Asda’a BM for eight years, be­fore ad­ding Y&R back to my port­fo­lio as MD. By then, Y&R had been ac­quired by WPP, and what they did was to repli­cate WPP’S man­age­ment style, reg­u­la­tions, and pro­cesses in all the re­gion. This pro­duced a highly bu­reau­cratic and cen­tralised sys­tem with ex­ces­sive and un­nec­es­sary pa­per work, time-con­sum­ing re­port­ing that was of­ten not use­ful nor rel­e­vant, and a se­vere re­duc­tion in de­ci­sion­mak­ing power and author­ity at the coun­try level - all of which cre­ated un­end­ing ob­sta­cles to our work. You could not en­list a new client with­out hav­ing to ask for his pedi­gree and his­tory and clear it through HQ, or take to lunch a valu­able con­tact with­out hav­ing to fill forms that re­quired a num­ber of sig­na­tures, let alone re­cruit and hire new staff with­out a long ap­proval process from HQ that took months and was of­ten de­layed much longer. Y&R flour­ished in Le­banon and in MENA back when its op­er­a­tions were man­aged lo­cally and led re­gion­ally by one of the great pioneers of the in­dus­try in MENA. Un­for­tu­nately, the highly cen­tralised and con­stric­tive sys­tem im­posed does not en­able the coun­try teams to re­spond to in­dus­try chal­lenges quickly enough to be com­pet­i­tive and serve its clients well.

What do you be­lieve will be your next big­gest chal­lenge?

My next big­gest chal­lenge, en­ter­ing an en­tirely new field, is to quickly mas­ter its rules and pro­ce­dures and mod­ify those pro­ce­dures that are un­nec­es­sary in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate ef­fi­ciency and en­sure the or­gan­i­sa­tion can quickly re­spond to op­er­a­tional chal­lenges and changes in the mar­ket. Alert to the his­tory and po­ten­tial of the com­pany I just joined, I in­tend on mak­ing a suc­cess out of it and leav­ing my im­print. There is much I need to learn and this is ex­tremely ex­cit­ing for me...

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