Sean Donovan, TBWA\South Africa Group CEO, has been tasked with advancing the agency's position across the Asia region, where he'll take on the role of TBWA\Asia president, effective later this year.
Earlier this year, Singapore Airlines reappointed TBWA as its global lead creative agency, signing a five-year contract, followed by Hilton Hotels and Resorts having appointed TBWA\Singapore as its agency of record for regional creative.
Troy Ruhanen, TBWA\Worldwide CEO comments: “In his time leading our agencies in South Africa, Sean has run a group of successful companies and pushed them to the next level of performance, encouraging integration, collaboration, strengthening client relationships, attracting top talent, and driving a new standard of creativity.
“Entrepreneurship and innovation are in his DNA. He’s got a knack for building chemistry across markets and leads with a roll-up-the-sleeves management style. He is the ideal person to lead the vibrant and diverse markets of Asia, where we continue to innovate at speed and scale.”
I am humbled and honoured to take on this additional role within TBWA\Asia. I’ve been a huge fan of the many innovations, products and business offerings that have come out of the region for years and look forward to working with many of our agencies to continue to push the industry forward. It is a privilege to take on this new role while continuing to lead the TBWA Group in South Africa during our search for a successor. A step I take with confidence because of the strong management we have in place across all of our agencies. South Africa will always have a special place in my heart, and I’m incredibly proud to attribute my knowledge and creative compass to the African market. It now feels like the right time to bring this knowledge and energy into a market as enterprising and progressive as Asia, and I can’t wait to grab the opportunity.
Here, Donovan continues to tell us what the promotion means to him, about his time at TBWA\SA and what he’s looking forward to regarding his move to the Asia office…
How do you feel about being appointed TBWA's Asia president and moving to Asia?
Extremely excited and tinged with sadness. Excited for the new and the possible but saddened at the realisation that the brilliant people – friends, colleagues, clients – will be a smaller part of my day.
What excites you most about the agency and its presence in the Asian market in particular?
The Disruption Company is something I believe in and excites me daily.
The philosophy of grabbing a greater share of the future on behalf of our clients is as applicable in Soweto as Saigon.
I’m blessed to be moving from one dynamic market to another where constraints and conventions are relegated behind innovation and challenging the status quo. Combined with the sheer scale of Asia and the market dynamics like digital penetration and the rate of innovation, this presents a pretty exciting place to be.
What do you love most about your career in advertising?
The people and the sense of the possible. When I reflect, the highs have always been because of, and enjoyed with, the special talented people the industry attracts. We’re really lucky to come to work every day with people who believe that they can achieve things tomorrow that they couldn’t yesterday. I think it’s so endemic that people only fully understand it when they make a change.
I also love that the curiosity of the industry – that no two days are ever the same. I love that we’re at another change juncture where we have more tools available to us to do what we do than at any time before and that we’re attracting skill sets that we historically didn’t.
Tell us a bit about your time at TBWA\SA and how this has equipped you for your new position.
I see myself as a bit of an entrepreneur at heart. My time at TBWA goes back to 2010 when it bought a small share of an agency I started with a couple of great partners, Openco. It was an amazing learning ground to get your hands dirty with all the fundamentals of the business, from sleepless nights over cashflow to understanding the need to invest in the best people. From Openco I took the role of MD of TBWA’s coastal region (Durban, PE and Cape Town) based in Durban and at the end of 2016 I took on the role of group CEO.
Any career highlights you’re particularly proud of?
The ones I’m most proud of probably aren’t the most obvious to an outside eye. I’m really proud of the leaders and the work they’ve done in the past few years in the different group agencies to achieve the recognition they have. Karabo and Pete and the rest of the team have done a really stellar job in completely reinventing an agency in Hunt\Lascaris. Similarly, Nathan, Adam and David and their team have done an incredible job to move Grid from a design shop into a holistic brand offering.
But the thing that probably jumps out for me most are the instances when we’ve thrown people, whose potential we had faith in, into the deep end and watched them flourish and develop into admired and respected leaders.
To listening and learning, meeting new people and having new experiences. From a personal perspective, I’m looking forward to my son experiencing a new environment and the growth that comes from that.
What’s at the top of your to-do list?
As I’ll still take responsibility for SA after I move until a successor is in place and transitioned properly into the role, my list has gotten a bit longer. But it has also forced me to be more focused. Top of the list is identifying and easing that successor in. Second and third items are what learnings I can bring from the SA market and help deploy in Asia, and vice versa.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to for work?
Luke and Tessa of the TBWA\Global team gave us a great gift earlier this year where they kindly summarised 60+ trend reports and mapped the predictions out against area of impact and a likely adoption timeframe. This has proven an invaluable time-saver for me and allows me to now spend that time (slowly) learning Mandarin.
Tell us something about yourself not generally known?
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