By: Yohan P Chawla
A leader who strongly believes in empowering his teams, works with them in a way that makes individuals business leaders and not just followers, aims on finding people who are culturally fit for the company. If anyone has ever heard any of these things,then I am sure that it must have been from the same source of course, Shamsuddin Jasani, Group MD – Isobar South Asia.
Shamsuddin Jasani, who is fondly known as Shams is a prolific leader. Why do I say so? Well, not only did he build Isobar from a 2-member team to whopping 300 member team but also grew the agency’s billing size from zero to a USD 150 million.
The numerous account wins and international awards including the Clio add to his list of achievements.
I caught up with him for a detailed insightful chat on both personal and professional fronts.
What did you specifically try to, well, mould or even change in the teams at Isobar since you have become Group MD. How have your responsibilities increased since then?
I am not trying to change anything. I am just taking the ethos of Isobar India across the South Asian region. We are launching in Sri Lanka. We also have acquired Fractal,as a part of Isobar India group.We are looking at more acquisitions in the future to be part of Isobar India group.
The idea remains the same. I will continue to lead the way I have always led — I don’t and I never look at myself as a boss. Take for example an agency like Fractal, they are very senior people who have come into the Denstu Aegis Network through an acquisition. They are looking for someone who can help them assimilate into such a large network.My job out there is to help them on that journey. I am not their boss. I am just trying to help them assimilate and get the culture of Isobar. How we work and fit together.
When we start Isobar in Sri Lanka, the idea is to take the same ethos of IsobarIndia, which has been successful for the last 10 years, to Isobar Sri Lanka, which is to empower leaders.
I am looking at someone who is a local talent, and empower that person to grow the business. I have been very fortunate to identify the talent.
A lot of young people at Isobar have done very well because the whole idea of empowerment. I keep on saying this again and again, I want to make myself redundant. My way of working is to empower them, mould them and give them enough so that they can take my place. As I said earlier, I am not looking at being the boss.
What are the most important things you look for in the people who come to join you? Values, or skills? What are the three most important values and skills respectively you look for?
My typical job interview lasts for about eight minutes. In that time, I gage whether I am comfortable with that person joining Isobar or no.
The first thing that I look in any person is, integrity. That is one common value all employees of Isobar have.
Second, I look for the person to be a cultural fit for Isobar. All the leaders at Isobar, are not flashy. Talk about Gopa, Shekher, Prachi or Priyanka — all of them are amazing talents. They are not the sort of leaders who will go out and boast,saying that they are great. It’s really these amazing people who are culturally very similar. They believe in working together and taking each other along.
There have been and will be people, who make mistakes and that’s more than just to do with the cultural fit. People who culturally fit within Isobar are just working together and are individuals who are constantly trying to push each other.
Third, is just my gut. It’s really a gut feeling and the connection that needs to happen in the 8 minute interview.
People have different ways of interviewing and hiring people. And I am not saying that there is a right or wrong way of doing so.For me, what has been successful is a mixture of head and heart. I then understand what the person is all about and how good is the person at the job.
People tend to not perform or be unsuccessful because there is a cultural fitment issue or a leadership issue.
Who was your first or most significant mentor or teacher in the professional space you are in? (You can name more than one person) Why do you think so? What specifically did you learn that has held you in good stead throughout?
My boss in my second job at Media Turf, Sunil Miranda. He was one of the key influences in my life about 14-15 years back. I learnt from him to remain calm under pressure.
One always needs a good boss. I am not saying this because Ashish Bhasin is my current boss, but I have truly learnt a lot in the last 10 years that I have spent with him.He has so much of experience and so many varied things that I am still learning. He has been able to run 27 agencies, which are operating under the Denstu Aegis Network.
What quest / mission / purpose drives you every day? What pleases you, and what doesn’t sit well with you; perhaps even angers you?
What drives me is to continuously better myself.
This is a very good question because this is the first thing I tell my team, how much ever one tries to drive a person, it’s ultimately the internal drive that makes one work.
My internal drive is two things, it’s about trying to learn more and more new things. I think at this level it’s lesser about how digital works but its more about how you work. I am always discovering newer ways of reaching out to people and understanding people. My ability to help as many people in the industry as possible is something that drives me. Digital is something I understand, and if one understands something so well then why keep it to oneself.
Since we last met in August for Isobar’s 10th anniversary special story. What have been the major developments since then?
We have had a lot of award wins. In September we won the Clio award. A lot of individuals at Isobar have won awards, which I am really proud of. Gopa, Shekhar, Prachi all of them have won awards. This sets us apart because we have some very strong leaders at Isobar, which makes my life much easier because I can concentrate on many other things.
We have paid a lot of focus on upping out quality of work to global standards. So a lot of work which you will see in the near future is an example how we are taking creative work to the next level.
We Launched the Block chain Playbook to help marketers embrace technology.
And ofcourse, lots and lots of account wins. We won the Digital mandate for Marks & Spencers and Colorbar, among others.
Which have been the best initiatives Isobar has rolled out, whether over the years, or recently, or a mix of both. That you are proud of.
Two years ago, I had formulated something known as the Women’s Council.
We want more women leaders to be in senior positions which was one major reason why the women’s council was made.
Another reason is, look, I am married and I have a four-year old son. I have seen what my wife went through. It becomes very difficult for women to leave their jobs and come back post the baby. Even before the government made it mandatory we had a six month paid maternity leave and an 18 month guaranteed job back. So if one leaves due to maternity, then she can get her job back in a span of 12 to 18 months guaranteed.
I am really proud of this policy. I am not kind of pandering or trying to be a feminist or anything like that, I just believe that, having more women at senior roles gives us an edge because it brings a balance to the organization. I mean, if you speak to a furniture brand, they would prefer talking to women.If I have only men working on the account it just doesn’t make sense. It’s just not from the equality perspective, yes, diversity is a big focus for us but it also makes a lot of business sense.
Second thing I am proud of is the fact that we are making business leaders and not just followers here at Isobar. That happens when we empower them.
Third, we had set the objective of winning a big international award last year, which has now been achieved. It’s important to set business objectives for individuals or teams to work for. Goals are important and one needs to have them. Spelling it out and putting it down as a KPI means people work towards them.
Which are the recent projects which challenged isobar to stand up and deliver completely innovative solutions? Please share some insights about the same.
We have an Innovation Lab called the Isobar NowLab. There are a few products that we have launched within that. One of the products is called I-tag, with the I-tag one can never lose their bag anywhere in the world because the tag has a built in GPS tracker. Once the luggage is checked-in, you know the luggage travels with you. We came up with the solution to the problem of losing luggage.
A lot more innovative projects are under process and we shall come out with them soon.
What according to you were the biggest challenges in and around 2018 and which are the key trends that you can map for the next year?
First, GDPR, which has been a wake-up call for the entire industry. We have been at the forefront of it. If you see we have been shouting our heads out that and I have said this that it might mean short-term pain but it’s needed to clean the system. That’s one thing we need to work together as an industry, because it has to happen for the good of the society and the good for people. Data is safe and not being used in the wrong manner.
Secondly, brand safe content is another big thing that is happening around. Brands are wanting to be seen in a more brand safe environment. This means that more and more focus is shifting from user generated content to created content.
That’s why there is this whole explosion of OTT platforms. Our data consumption is bigger than US and China, which essentially means people are consuming more content.
Initially on an average, we used to consume about 500 MB data a month and now we consume close to 1 GB data per day. Even after this we have data left.
I think the next big revolution again is going to be brought by Jio, once again. When they bring broadband at home. They will change the way you consume television. Imagine every home moving from appointment viewership to viewership on demand. The entire OTT revolution is going to the change the way we watch television because of the infrastructure changes happening it’s going to happen at a much faster rate, than it has happened in the past.
Any content creation plans by Isobar?
Yes absolutely. Content has been earmarked as a big thing here at Isobar. Well maybe through an acquisition.
So organically we have already started with Orange Candy Productions, which obviously looks into content creation. The Reebok campaign video was been done by Orange Candy productions.
We are also looking at content partnerships. We are looking at working with Voot or Hotstar on being able to leverage our clients in the videos they make. You will hear very soon an India-first partnership which Isobar has got into with a very big OTT player. You will hear that as it happens. So, yes,content is a big play that we will be getting into.
A small progress report on Isobar Commerce. How has the company been doing and what has been the response from the market?
Isobar commerce has kicked off nicely. We already have 3 clients on board. We will announce the same very soon. We have the best skill sets for any kind of development on ecommerce platforms. So any brand that wants to look at E-commerce in a really big way, is where we step in.
A piece of advice you would want to give to our readers who also include young media and entertainment professionals who look up to you.
Yes, just one thing, please go and create opportunities. Don’t sit back and wait for opportunities. I have been successful only because I identified opportunities and created them.
Try them, fail and understand to what extent you can go. Don’t just sit there doing nothing. Opportunities don’t come like that, you have to be in the right place and go and create it.