The next step for Mo­han Nam­biar

The for­mer MEC CEO’s agency is start­ing to make it­self known. Nam­biar dis­cusses the prin­ci­ples by which he runs Radix.

Campaign Middle East - - FRONT PAGE - By Austyn Al­li­son

Mo­han Nam­biar’s Radix is start­ing to grow. Hav­ing es­tab­lished a foothold in Dubai, the agency (it’s much more than a mere me­dia buy­ing unit, but more on that later) is now ex­pand­ing through part­ner­ships and af­fil­i­a­tions into Saudi Ara­bia, Egypt and, most re­cently, Oman.

The com­pany has ex­isted since the start of 2017, and Nam­biar has been of­fi­cially at the helm since Jan­uary 1 of this year, but the time wasn’t right be­fore to ei­ther move be­yond Radix’s home turf or to talk the new ven­ture up too much.

Apart from the lo­cal part­ner needed for any on­shore ven­ture in the UAE, Radix has no other own­ers or fi­nanc­ing be­hind it other than from Nam­biar him­self. Af­ter he left Me­di­aedge CIA, which he had founded in the re­gion and led for 25 years, Nam­biar took a year off be­fore com­ing back with Radix. (Hold­ing group WPP has since renamed MEC as Wave­maker.) Al­though Nam­biar in­sists he didn’t de­lib­er­ately poach from his for­mer work­place, sev­eral mem­bers of the Radix team ap­proached him from MEC and have moved across.

Nam­biar has had of­fers from in­vestors and says he is keep­ing those con­ver­sa­tions open, but was re­luc­tant to take on even silent part­ners at first. He says he didn’t want to be be­holden to earn­ings.

“I did not turn them down,” says Nam­biar. “My fo­cus is that I want to make sure that I build this right. … I am still very much in con­tact with them. I still share a great rap­port and pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship with them. I re­spect­fully re­gret­ted say­ing the time is not right.”

The rea­son is that he wouldn’t want to be rushed by out­side in­vestors ex­pect­ing a quick re­turn. “It’s go­ing to take time – one year, two years, three years or what­ever – so I don’t want to come un­der any pres­sure for rev­enue, say­ing that is the bot­tom line. I just want to make sure that my peo­ple on the floor are happy.”

He does not want his col­leagues – he re­fuses to call them staff, a pol­icy he has carried over from what he calls “my pre­vi­ous life” – to be fo­cused on money. He says they should fo­cus on their roles, not on tar­gets.

And al­though he talks it down him­self, there is ev­i­dently some­thing about Nam­biar that in­spires loy­alty. Many staff have fol­lowed him, and he says that al­though he left MEC with “zero ex­pec­ta­tions”, he re­ceived calls from clients of­fer­ing moral – and even­tu­ally prac­ti­cal and com­mer­cial – sup­port. One for­mer MEC staffer, now with nei­ther WPP nor Radix, re­cently told Cam­paign: “If Mo­han came to the MEC build­ing and whis­tled, the of­fices would empty.”

“When you come from be­ing a re­gional CEO of MENA, and come down to ground zero, I left that place with zero ex­pec­ta­tions of peo­ple,” says Nam­biar. “But I was so pleas­antly sur­prised when peo­ple called me. Me­dia own­ers called me, my ex-clients called me, my friends called me. It was so nice.”

Even so, he says he didn’t take ad­van­tage of peo­ple when they called. Again, in­tegrity is part of Nam­biar’s rep­u­ta­tion and a rea­son that he was able to hold on to busi­ness longer than most other me­dia agency heads.

“One of the key rea­sons I man­aged to hold all this busi­ness for a num­ber of years in my pre­vi­ous life is be­cause I was very trans­par­ent and hon­est about it,” he says.

He later adds: “I don’t have any­one who doesn’t smile at me in the street. I didn’t cre­ate any non­sense with peo­ple.”

Radix’s clients in­clude Nes­tle, Phillips, Noor Bank, Na­tional Bank of Oman and Land­mark Group. Nam­biar says he is fi­nally get­ting to know the agency lead­ers he once com­peted with, as he is no longer vy­ing with in­ter­na­tion­als for their key ac­counts. The agency is also pro­vid­ing me­dia ser­vices to lo­cal cre­ative agen­cies, in­clud­ing Tamra C2, Amber and Wa­ter­melon.

Al­though it deals in me­dia, and me­dia is Nam­biar’s field of ex­per­tise, Radix is not a me­dia agency. Nam­biar is hes­i­tant to put a clear la­bel on it, and ob­jects to the need to. It pro­vides “so­lu­tions”, which can stretch across cre­ative, mar­ket­ing, me­dia and more in the post-silo mar­ket­ing world that has evolved in the past five years or so.

“Radix is an agency that pro­vides so­lu­tions to clients,” he says. “Why would we call it a me­dia agency? Are we do­ing only me­dia plan­ning? We are pro­vid­ing cre­ative so­lu­tions, we are do­ing ac­ti­va­tions, we are do­ing brand in­te­gra­tion, we are do­ing all of that.”

Radix, says Nam­biar, is “in­te­grated, fu­ture-ready and cus­tomer-fo­cused”.

Be­ing a small op­er­a­tion – Radix’s

“One of the key rea­sons I man­aged to hold all this busi­ness for a num­ber of years in my pre­vi­ous life is be­cause I was very trans­par­ent and hon­est about it.”

“We all have to ac­cept the fact that mar­gins are not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to be the same as we were op­er­at­ing with. Mar­gins are down, and there is no way they are go­ing to go back up. You have to re­alise and ac­cept the fact that this is now how it is.”

Dubai of­fice em­ploys about 30 peo­ple – the com­pany can be both nim­ble and in­te­grated, at­tributes that have proved a chal­lenge for tra­di­tional hold­ing-com­pany me­dia agen­cies.

“If you look at a hold­ing com­pany, you are just part of a hold­ing com­pany,” he says of net­work agen­cies. “When you are told to prac­tise cer­tain dis­ci­plines, you over­step if you try to do things that are not part of your agenda. Then, within hold­ing com­pa­nies you cre­ate con­flict be­cause you are step­ping on some­one else’s toes.”

He says that he tried to of­fer so­lu­tions out­side of me­dia plan­ning and buy­ing in his pre­vi­ous life, but “there are so many is­sues and prob­lems that you cre­ate” with try­ing to pro­vide PR, cre­ative ser­vices, dig­i­tal and con­tent, un­til “you don’t know what you are do­ing”.

Hold­ing com­pa­nies “are now start­ing to talk the lan­guage of be­ing ag­ile, be­ing lean,” he says. But while Radix can pro­vide an in­te­grated ap­proach, Nam­biar “could not have pro­vided it as part of a hold­ing com­pany, un­less you cre­ate a unit within”.

That ap­proach is be­com­ing more com­mon among in­ter­na­tional groups. Om­ni­com, for ex­am­ple, has a best-of agency that han­dles McDon­ald’s in the US, and WPP’s Global Team Blue was han­dling Ford un­til it lost a chunk of the busi­ness re­cently.

Nam­biar says the prob­lems with such units are: “How many will you cre­ate? And what hap­pens to your par­ents?” That is, the agen­cies within the group that have con­trib­uted staff and re­sources to the client-spe­cific unit. “What is go­ing to be the essence of the or­gan­i­sa­tion?” he asks.

In­te­gra­tion and flex­i­bil­ity are be­com­ing es­sen­tial now the old model of high mar­gins is over. “In this part of the world, ev­ery­one com­plains about not do­ing well,” he says. “But why isn’t any­one say­ing that over the last 25 years you did good in so many of those years?”

Al­though he points out that the re­gion’s rulers are still mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ments in the econ­omy, he’s not say­ing the squeeze is short-term. “We all have to ac­cept the fact that mar­gins are not nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to be the same as we were op­er­at­ing with. Mar­gins are down, and there is no way they are go­ing to go back up. You have to re­alise and ac­cept the fact that this is now how it is.”

But Nam­biar en­joys a chal­lenge. “The com­fort zone is not there any more,” he says. “You are strug­gling, but that strug­gle holds, from my point of view, a bet­ter en­joy­ment than the com­fort zone that you op­er­ated within be­fore.”

It means all the busi­ness and rev­enue that comes in – to Radix and to any other agency – has been hard-earned, rather than be­ing eas­ily won.

Nam­biar of­ten hires promis­ing but in­ex­pe­ri­enced young staff, giv­ing them their first breaks and in­still­ing the loy­alty that drives them to work hard for him. And he has two pieces of ad­vice for them. The first is to recog­nise that oth­ers will soon be in their shoes. “Al­ways look down, be­cause if you do not recog­nise where you come from you are in trou­ble,” he says.

His sec­ond piece of ad­vice is: “When you are trav­el­ling to a des­ti­na­tion, your fo­cus should never be the des­ti­na­tion; it is the jour­ney. If you fo­cus on the des­ti­na­tion, you’ll not be able to com­plete the jour­ney; just fo­cus on the jour­ney.”

The des­ti­na­tion might be tar­gets and fi­nan­cial goals, but Nam­biar is fo­cus­ing on the work that makes up the Radix jour­ney. If he takes care of the means, the end will take care of it­self, and his new jour­ney will reach a suc­cess­ful des­ti­na­tion.

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