Staff Reporters
Aug 5, 2016

Women to Watch 2016: Agents of change

Against all odds, women in Asia-Pacific are fighting their way to the top. Those featured here are just a few leading the revolution.

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Michelle Wong | Director, CRM and analytics APAC, ME and Africa | McDonald's: After 16 years in creative and digital agencies—with TBWA Tequila followed by 11 at OgilvyOne—Michelle Wong decided to finally change sides and joined McDonald’s last year. In her own words she, “craved the first-hand experience of implementing and living the strategies which I developed”. Already, she has realised McDonald’s customer data strategy, moving it from mass marketing to mass personalisation. She has proved her point with pilot programmes that swiftly demonstrated not just economic returns but customer engagement rates. One such programme run in Singapore generated three times the ROI versus pre-implementation. Wong has since maintained this momentum throughout the organisation by creating a common language and forging new pathways for stakeholders to work on customer analytics, data management and route to customers. She has been working with local markets to customise initiatives that provide quick wins but are also aligned with the company’s long-term goals.

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Akanksha Jain | Regional partner Asia-Pacific | Mindshare: Akanksha Jain has built an impressive career at Mindshare, repeatedly climbing the career ladder since first joining the firm in Dehli in 2003. Described as one of the brightest stars in the network in the region, she is said to combine “super sharp strategic insight with strong quantitative skills and a powerful commercial acumen”. She is also highly respected by clients as diverse as Pepsi, YUM and Nestlé. Jain built her career in India, where she grew GroupM’s Advanced Technique Group from two people to 12, before winning a raft of awards in client-facing roles. She was then promoted to the regional team in Singapore overseeing APAC relationships with PepsiCo, Nestlé and Yum. This remit covers more than 10 markets, hundreds of agency staff and more than US$1bn in billings. In this role, she has created a wholly bespoke planning process for Pepsi, called Power Play, steered the brand’s programmatic direction resulting in the establishment of its Singapore programmatic hub PACE, and won a raft of new business from the FMCG giant. Ashutosh Srivastava, CEO Mindshare APAC, MENA and Russia, said Jain was “a future leader in our agency and in our industry”.

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Joan Cheng | Brand and marketing manager | Pizza Express Hong Kong: After graduating from high school, Cheng’s plans took a sudden change of direction when, for family reasons, she was unable to continue with her further education and instead took a job at McDonald’s so she could contribute financially to her family. Cheng poured such energy and drive into her first role as a customer service ambassador that she swiftly rose up the ranks to assistant marketing manager. She left McDonald’s in 2013 with a string of Kam Fan Awards and an Effie Award. While working full-time, Cheng also managed to pursue an Msc in marketing and a double diploma in business administration. Today, she is the newly appointed brand and marketing manager for PizzaExpress Hong Kong. In the three years since she joined the smaller chain, she has developed and implemented award-winning marketing campaigns for the launch of two restaurants in Hong Kong. This year alone, under her guidance, she steered a campaign to celebrate the chain’s 15th year in Hong Kong that led to 36 per cent growth in sales.

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Christine Lau | Chief operating officer | Pixels: After an impressive career at various internet companies such as RockYou, Yahoo and Netblue in San Francisco and California where she handled media buying, project management, ad operations, pricing and yield, Christine Lau returned to Hong Kong with Adsfactor—the ad network division of Pixel Media Group. After two years she was promoted to general manager, responsible for the entire business operations. One of her major contributions to the business was having the foresight to predict the growth and explosion of online video advertising when she launched Adsfactor.TV. In her current role, she has overseen the launch of Pixel's programmatic advertising solution, achieving over US$300,000 in revenue in the first month of operations, and re-organised operational, sales and business development functions of Pixels as a result of the merger between Pixel Media, Snap Mobile and Adsfactor. Kevin Huang, CEO of Pixels, said: “She is passionate about people and ensures that they are placed in the best positions to utilise their skills, passion and eagerness to learn.”

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Annika Payn | Head of brand | Zurich Insurance Group: Annika Payn is a Hong Kong-based branding and marketing professional with over 14 years of experience with creative agencies and in-house roles, eight of which have been in Asia. She started her career in her native Finland before moving to Hong Kong with Publicis in 2008 to win a pitch and project manage a brand refresh and global launch for Western Union, which was adapted to over 100 markets. In her current role at Zurich, Payn acts as a strategic marketing advisor to senior stakeholders across functions and organises brand training for all staff in APAC. In a busy last 18 months, she has rolled-out out a full brand refresh across eight markets, including collateral, advertising, office decor, corporate websites, a range of digital tools and assets, sponsorship and events. Payn has also activated a number of global campaigns regionally and managed Zurich’s Proud Partner sponsorship and event hospitality for some of the region’s most notable golf events. Colleagues praise her for “thinking about the business holistically” and for “her focus on the end customer”. She also earns admiration for refusing to “stay inside a marketing bubble but strives to learn from and offers her expertise to colleagues across departments”.

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Jessica Beaton | Senior account director | Dentsu Möbius Media: Jessica Beaton moved to Asia from the United States in 2006 to work with a Chinese mobile tech startup. As a program manager with a coding background, she helped build the platform and used her writing and editorial knowledge to create content for the site and mobile. Beaton then took on a publication and digital role at City Weekend before joining CNN to launch CNN Travel in both English and Chinese. She grew the site from scratch to millions of unique page views per month. After five years in China, Beaton moved to Hong Kong for the regional role of managing editor for Lifestyle Asia. She oversaw the Southeast Asia operations, opened the Kuala Lumpur office and developed new content-driven ad formats on the site for luxury ads from BMW to Cartier. During that time, Beaton completed an MBA at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, specialising in marketing and finance. In 2013, she joined Dentsu Möbius Media in Singapore and oversaw the growth of Sands China's global performance account, Singapore Airlines and won Disney Media as agency of record. Now Beaton oversees the daily operations of the business team and focuses on working to deliver new tech and trends insights to Dentsu Möbius Media’s teams and wider client base.

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Brittany Li | VP of business development | FansTang: Born and raised in Shanghai, educated and employed in the US and the UK, Brittany Li worked across different industries including government development organisations, banking and real estate, prior to joining FansTang. At the firm, which describes itself as a cross-platform media and analytics company, Li’s main task is to pair up brands in China with Hollywood celebrities to craft creative and localised digital content aimed at the Chinese Millennial. Her greatest achievement in the past year was the award-winning 2015 Coca-Cola China Movie Quote Bottle. Li was responsible for sourcing, managing and executing the branded content campaign, working alongside oca-Cola’s content agency Liquid Thread and the FansTang production team in the US. The team produced nine creative and localised branded content videos featuring China’s most beloved TV Show characters. Li also led the social media team that promoted the videos via 40 FansTang managed celebrity social media accounts. The campaign won Gold at the Great Wall Awards 2015 and the 22nd China International Advertising Festival respectively.

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Haruyo Kagawa | Country manager, Japan | Unruly: People like Haruyo Kagawa have an important role to play in advancing the use of digital platforms to build brands in Japan. Kagawa was appointed country manager for Unruly in the market in 2015. The move is the latest step on a journey to help grow Japan’s digital marketing pie. Prior to Unruly, she was a startup member of Facebook Japan, where she worked as sales director. She also helped establish Amazon Japan’s media business and Overture Japan, which is now Yahoo Search. Kagawa is passionate about moving advertisers away from an intrusive messaging towards a more considerate way of communicating with their target audiences. At Unruly, much of her time is spent working to educate brands as to what works and what doesn’t in online video. While intrusiveness is clearly wrong, the other extreme—removing branding altogether—isn’t right either. In a recent interview with Campaign, she noted that consumers are irritated by “brand dishonesty” and inflexibility, but are open to seeing advertising if it’s relevant to them. She is an advocate of putting control in the consumer’s hands and allowing them to opt in or out of seeing a certain type of advertising. She sees this as a priority for mobile in particular, where the user experience is mostly “dire”. Initiatives Kagawa will lead this year for Unruly include the launch of an ‘emotional audience targeting’ service and programmatic buying facility.

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Josephine Pan | GM | FCB Shanghai: Born and raised in Shanghai, Josephine Pan started her career at Ogilvy & Mather. But it was at JWT, working closely with her first mentor Tom Doctoroff that Pan earned her reputation. She became known as someone who could be trusted to help multinational brands like J&J and Wyeth find their way with Chinese consumers. After 10 years with JWT, Pan moved to what was then Draft FCB to lead the Nivea team. Pan earned the trust of the multinational and local staff. Over the last 12 months, and after a promotion to the role of general manager, Pan has enjoyed success both externally with local clients and also internally within FCB. She acts as a bridge between finance and operations to increase FCB’s productivity and profitability. Pan has spearheaded new business success at FCB Shanghai. Under her leadership, FCB Greater China has seen revenue from new business wins increase by 45 percent (2014-2015). Pan led key account wins during the last 12 months that include Hisense, Nubia, Pudong Development Bank, Bosch, and CCTV.

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Ang Wan-Gyn | Managing partner | PHD Singapore: It took Ang Wan-Gyn just 18 months to collect her first award, being named young media strategist of the year in 2000. Since then she has built on and diversified her client portfolio, working with brands in local, regional and global capacities, making good use of her strong strategic thinking, deep in-market knowledge and multi-region/cultural management and integration skills. She is also not one to rest on her laurels, taking an 18-month sabbatical five years into her career to pursue a master’s degree in public policy from Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. Since then, she rapidly progressed within Omnicom, reaching her current role in 2014, which spans operations, strategy, business development and talent management. Key highlights include 30 percent year-on-year consecutive revenue growth, headcount rising from 34 to 100 people and a tripling of digital billings each year. She also established the Global Strategic Planning Unit (GSU) in Singapore, one of just three such hubs for PHD globally. Susanna Tsui, APAC CEO PHD said: “Wan-Gyn is one of the strongest leaders in the region and one of our proudest moments was when she led the PHD Singapore team to win our first Cannes Media Lion in 2015.”

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Daisy Zhu | Managing director | MSLGroup China: Daisy Zhu heads of one of the largest agencies in the MSLGROUP network with over 200 staff across the Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Chengdu. Since assuming the role in 2014, she is credited with turning the agency into a business-driven communications consultancy “where analytics are applied to big data to uncover compelling insight that is translated into integrated, channel-agnostic campaigns that deliver real business impact for clients”. This approach has won the trust of new clients over the past year including GE, Volkswagen, Schneider Electric, JCI, Lego and Madame Tussauds. But Zhu and her team have also expanded their remits with existing clients such as AXA, IKEA, Xintiandi, P&G and H3C. The firm’s digital business grew by 40 percent in 2015, something colleagues attribute to Zhu’s “vision to disrupt the communications industry and pursuing broader marketing and digital assignments beyond traditional PR”. Glenn Osaki, president of MSLGROUP in Asia, said: “Our industry is facing the greatest challenges and changes ever in our history, and this demands leaders have a transformative vision, business acumen, and agile management skills. Daisy demonstrates all of these and more.”

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Kim Hann | Executive director | 2DataFish: Coming from an eclectic background, which includes a stint at Reader’s Digest, establishing her own brand as a fashion designer and web developer, Kim Hann brings a diverse range of skills and experience to her work at 2DataFish. Hann founded the agency with her brother, Steven Hann, in 2010, and successfully developed it to become one of Adobe’s Premium partners. She had the belief and intuition to create a business that was a ‘no-name’ to demonstrating to enterprise clients that the brand could change their business and drive measurable value. Since the data and personalisation business was acquired by Publicis last August, she has overseen its successful integration into the network. The agency now fulfils a central role in Publicis.Sapient’s services, influencing every aspect of their business from UX, strategy, technology, media performance and ecommerce.

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Jennifer Santos | Chief media officer | Publicis One Philippines: Jennifer Santos started her career in Manila as an account executive at Grey, Lowe and Leo Burnett handling both international and local clients. At each of these agencies, she was promoted quickly and became an account director with local and regional responsibilities. By the age of 27, she was leading her own team and began winning creative awards for her team’s work. Santos went on to become the marketing director for Globe Telecom—a former client—and she led the repositioning of the brand and the launch of a new advertising campaign. During her stint at Saatchi & Saatchi Thailand, the agency got its highest ever client evaluation. Santos then worked at P&G for seven years and with all of P&G’s agencies in Asia. In 2012, she joined Mindshare Philippines as managing partner. Within three months of heading the team, they set up a 60-to-70-person operation handling the ATL and newly acquired digital media business. Last year, Santos became CEO of Zenith Optimedia Philippines. This year Publicis One management expanded her remit to add chief media officer in charge of Starcom Mediavest on top of her Zenith role.

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Ayami Nakao Pelata | Corporate officer - SVP | Hakuhodo International: In 2015, Hakuhodo gave Ayami Nakao the task of building Hakuhodo into a serious global network. While the agency still wields a lot of power in Japan, that is no small challenge. Unifying the network itself is one part of it, but her bigger responsibility is to guide Japanese clients in their quest to become more global. Truly cross-cultural people like Nakao, who can see things from both a Japanese and international perspective, are going to be a key factor for those brands in achieving their aims. Nakao acted as something of a bridge in the establishment of TBWA Hakuhodo. In an interview with Campaign last year, she said her aim had been to make the entity more than the sum of its parts, “to give it a spirit and a soul”. She will need to continue to apply that thinking in building Hakuhodo’s international offices and in helping brands “not just stand out, but stand for something”. It is early days, but things look to be moving in the right direction. According to Hakuhodo, Nakao has contributed substantial growth to what was a previously negligible business in the US; doubled the volume of business with two key clients, and won two further new pieces of business from Japanese companies looking to become stronger global brands.

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Judy Tao | Chief creative officer | Dentsu One Taiwan: Judy Tao was the first Cannes Lions winner in Greater China and she has built leading brands in Taiwan, such as Chai Li Won (King of Tea), 7-Select and Dr. Milker. She also helped struggling brands get back on top, as was the case with Zespri. She is the first creative to break through a rule that Nike commercials couldn’t feature local creative ideas in Taiwan. Her 'Hip hoop' campaign won the creative award from Nike’s headquarters and became the campaign that global agencies followed as a reference point. Tao has acted as ECD and CEO concurrently, and is a pioneer in her field in Taiwan. She also takes an unconventional approach to management. In the past year, Tao has led creative teams that have not only won the most awards ever for Dentsu K, but she has paid great attention to assisting the development of young talent regarding innovation. Tao conducts advertising lectures at university. She was also the regular judge for the TV show “Taiwan inventor”, which encouraged young people to invent and innovate. In the show, Tao gave advice on the value of innovation. Moreover, she has been the judge for creative awards several times.

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Caryll Van Dort | Managing director | MSLGroup Sri Lanka: Caryll Van Dort is hailed as a dynamic PR professional, who is renowned for “her passion, her unwavering dedication and her effervescent personality”. Under her leadership, the agency’s PR operation has grown from strength to strength and is currently the most awarded PR unit in Sri Lanka. She has tripled her team from three to nine and the firm won the first-ever gold medal for the country in the Public Relations and Corporate Responsibility category at Spikes Asia last year. Most recently, Van Dort helped steer her team through the transition from being part of Arc Worldwide to becoming part of MSLGROUP. She currently handles a rapidly expanding portfolio of over 25 retainer clients, including global giants such as Coca-Cola, Samsung, Land Rover UNICEF and Jiffy. She also manages leading local clients such as Blue Mountain, Serendib Flour Mills, and Mihin Lanka.

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Denise Thi | Managing director | Isobar Vietnam: Denise Thi established the PR firm Emerald in 2009 before it morphed into a digital marketing agency and was subsequently acquired by the Dentsu Aegis Network and changed its name to Emerald—Linked by Isobar. In April, Isobar officially launched in Vietnam, completing the M&A process, with Thi remaining as managing director. Thi has since repositioned the agency as a business consulting partner with digital creativity as its core strength, bringing in a raft of new clients, especially a group of big players from the property and banking services industry. The agency now handles ecommerce and CRM strategy for Triumph, Kimberly-Clark and Bridgestone; sales-lead generation campaigns for BMW, Nam Long Group, Vietnam International Bank (VIB) and Hong Leong Bank; and digital creative campaigns for Kido, Abbott, Adidas, Sapporo, THP Group and Air France. Between May 2015 and May 2016, Isobar Vietnam enjoyed an 117-percent uplift in billings and expanded its client base by 112 percent.

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Kaoru Hashimoto | Country manager, Japan | Sizmek: Kaoru Hashimoto joined Sizmek (then known as MediaMind) as a sales engineer more than three and a half years ago, in a role that required excellent communication and project management skills along with vast technical knowledge. Her performance in this role demonstrated her ability to lead and at the start of 2015 the company named her country manager for Japan. In the past year, Hashimoto is credited with stabilising Sizmek’s business in Japan, and establishing a strong team with key new hires. She has also implemented new operational and management processes which have raised service levels leading to a higher rate of client satisfaction. Hashimoto additionally worked closely with the local marketing manager to develop and implement marketing campaigns in the region aimed at raising awareness of Sizmek’s brand.

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Rachel Wong | Chief strategist and head | UM Rally Hong Kong: Rachel Wong’s irrepressible drive, infectious energy and enviable success rate have earned her the nickname “uber planner” within the UM network just two years after she joined. When Wong took control of UM’s social media division, UM Rally, the team consisted of just two full-time staff. In under two years that has increased to 20 due to the rapid pace at which the team’s business has been building. Rally now accounts for 30 percent of UM’s total revenue, and so far this year has racked up 65 percent revenue growth over the same period in 2015—itself a bumper year. Under Wong’s leadership, the team has chalked up 14 new social and social-digital wins for brands including Andrex, Huggies, Pizza Hut, Lenovo and DBS. Her characteristic style is to strike a balance between data and creativity, and Wong has shown she has no qualms about embracing new technology or challenging taboos—her first campaign for Pizza Hut incorporated 3D-printing while a video campaign for Andrex worked with a Hong Kong comedienne to broach the sticky subject of cleaning up after using the toilet. Wong’s high-octane approach has led to her being described as a “red Ferrari” by one client. “Rachel thinks fast, talks fast, acts fast,” explains Ravel Lai, group IT director for Jardine Restaurant Group Hong Kong. “She is a passionate professional with superb performance.”

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Kim McKay | Founder & director | Klick Communications: Kim McKay founded Klick Communications in 2008 after coming to the conclusion while running marketing for Toga Hotels that “the agency a client wanted didn't exist”. She saw a gap in the market around the then-novel concept of monitoring how conversations drive behavioural change rather than judging performance by measuring “artificial campaign spikes”. Four years later, McKay expanded out from Australia with an office in LA, then last year she made the surprising step of adding another in Hawaii. With the island state ranked the worst in the US for business, she recognises this was a high-stakes gamble–but it has paid off, with the Honolulu office netting 18 clients in its first 10 months of operations, including Hawaii Tourism, Four Seasons, Nite Run and DFS. The home team in Australia, meanwhile, celebrated its best year ever, expanding its client roster by 130 percent and maintaining 35 percent profit. McKay is driven by change–by looking at how the world is changing and assessing what else needs to change. Her research team is developing Scrunch, a piece of proprietary software that aims to enable marketers to measure the effectiveness of online influencers. She also has plans to launch Klick offices in two new international markets, and expand the agency's service offerings through creative mergers.

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Mavis Neo | Co-founder and creative director | TSLA: From the founding of TSLA in the dining room of an apartment nine years ago, to being largely responsible for its awarded Southeast Asia Experiential Agency of the Year last year, Mavis Neo shows that she is a woman to watch in the creative agencies. She has worked with Nespresso, Jetstar and Zespri which are some of the most highly visible campaigns in 2015, namely her work on the regional Zespri account which saw the creation of Asia’s first morning, alcohol-free rave which celebrated conscious clubbing and spread awareness for Zespri’s Golden Kiwi. Additionally, Neo has a deep passion for exporting Asian creativity and culture globally. Tracy Ho, marketing manager at Zespri, said Neo “is one of those rare creatives with both the heart and creative vision to transform brands”, thus it is more than likely Neo will continue to accelerate the strive for TSLA’s vision of becoming Asia’s Global Creative Agency.

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Regina Goh | MD Asia | Blis Asia: Known to her friends as the “tech geek”, Regina Goh is a mobile expert with a solid record for achieving real growth and performance across the digital marketing sphere. Goh started out as a software engineer for a mobile tech firm, and has since crammed a diverse range of experiences into her 15-year career. She joined Blis in January 2015, tasked with leading and building the global location tech company’s Asian operations. In 18 months with the firm, Goh has almost trebled her staff and expanded the Singapore team from a sales-only function to include account managers. Goh has also been activating new revenue in the region and growing the operation into a multimillion-dollar business. She has a fundamentally democratic management style, believing team members should be equally free to voice opinions and make suggestions, irrespective of seniority.

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Annie Boo | Managing director | Y&R China: Already a rising star within the Y&R network while running Tiger Beer’s global business out of Malaysia, Annie Boo became one of the youngest agency heads in the region when she was named managing director of Y&R Shanghai in 2015. Describing her as bringing “a breath of fresh air to the agency”, Y&R China’ s chairman and chief strategic officer Stephen Drummond added that Boo balanced "the right amount of madness and calmness to mobilise and inspire”. Boo is responsible for almost 50 percent of the agency’s profit growth in the last 12 months and major new business wins, including Bosch China. Together with the ECD and chairman, Boo has co-piloted the agency’s successes at international award shows, and 2015 saw Y&R retain its crown as China’s most-awarded agency at Cannes for the third consecutive year, while also bagging the agency’s first ever Grand Effie. Boo strongly believes in nurturing the creative talents of the team and organises events such as ‘oil painting Friday’.

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Kristy Castleton | Founder & CEO | Rebel and Soul: After working on a friend’s event project in Singapore, Kristy Castleton never left and instead founded her own international event agency, Rebel and Soul. Since its founding in late 2013, the agency has only grown. In the last year alone, Rebel and Soul has delivered 37 events in eight countries and served many of Southeast Asia’s leading brands, with clients including Thomson Reuters and Credit Suisse, as well as international brands, such as Facebook and Chanel. A self-confessed “nerd at heart”, Castleton’s love for technology has driven her agency’s use of innovative and functional event-tech that helps create the positive interactions and memorable life-enhancing experiences for both consumers and brands that she envisioned when founding the agency. She is also known for her work on groundbreaking tech-solutions, such as the Neuromance installation at the Dentsu Aegis Network Spikes party that took real-life relationships into a digital game-like world, promoting social engagement that connected with consumers.

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Sunshine Farzan | Vice president and managing consultant | MetLife Hong Kong: At MetLife, Sunshine Farzan is leading the most significant branding and marketing efforts in the company’s 20-year history in Hong Kong. She has taken an innovative approach to promoting MetLife in Hong Kong, and made the brand stand out against more established competitors with higher budgets through a creative use of digital and social platforms. A digital obsessive, her passion for using social media and mobile to connect with consumers has recently seen award-winning campaigns to acquire and engage with customers. However, her horizon extends beyond the virtual world, and Farzan believes in designing campaigns that seamlessly integrate their offline and online elements. Her notable achievements include ‘MetLife infinity’, Hong Kong’s most popular insurance app; the local launch of ‘Dream for my child’, a viral social media video; the recent ‘Light up your dreams’ mobile-led brand campaign; as well as the launch of MetLife Breast Cancer Protector, Hong Kong’s first online breast cancer product, in partnership with Hong Kong Breast Cancer Foundation.

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Michelle Toy | Head of marketing and communications APAC | BNP Paribas: Michelle Toy began building her career 10 years ago, initially learning the marketing models of corporate access on the agency side with clients such as Merrill Lynch and CLSA. Since then, she has been the vice-president at Nomura, vice-president of global marketing at State Street Asia-Pacific, before taking on her current role at BNP Paribas, one of the top three banks with an integrated solution. It is here that Toy has accomplished her biggest achievements yet. She has developed and implemented successful multichannel marketing strategies aimed at enhancing BNP Paribas’ market share in the region and also contributed to the bank’s media partnership with Global Trading that granted the bank access to front office executives to introduce their services as the largest third-party clearer in Hong Kong.

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Kyoko Matsushita | APAC CEO | Essence: Kyoko Matsushita is not afraid to do what she feels needs to be done. In Japan, where she is based, that means rocking the boat in order to get marketers up to speed with the rest of the world in using digital to build brands, and in using data to back up their actions. But she is also making convincing progress on a bigger challenge, which is cementing Essence in Asia-Pacific. Matsushita joined Essence in 2014 from a background in gaming and technology, having worked most recently at Gree, and before that Electronic Arts and Sony. At Gree, she was based in London as VP for EMEA of the Mobile Game Studio, overseeing a team of more than 70 and managing product development, marketing, media and business operations. She was swayed to make the move by the emphasis Essence puts on developing proprietary tools. Matsushita’s style is to avoid compromise when hiring, and she likes to work with people with complementary skillsets to her own. Soon after setting up the Japan office, she extended her role to include Singapore as regional MD. A year of strong revenue growth, and smooth management of Essence’s acquisition by GroupM, saw her promoted to Asia-Pacific CEO in February. The network now also covers Shanghai and Sydney.

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Jane Gu | Operations director | OMG China: Jane Gu began her career in an insights role at Mindshare before joining Accenture, where she first worked with Doug Pearce—her current boss at OMG China. Gu was an integral part of the team which “started from zero and built the entire offering”, spending almost six years working across multiple APAC markets gaining a deep insight and understanding of the media landscape in the process. Gu later transferred to Accenture’s Singapore office before receiving the call from OMG China. In the past year, Gu has been involved in a number of structural change projects, including moving and appropriating resources to continue expanding OMG, OMD and PHD’s programmatic offerings. Her post calls on her to span the gap between the finance and business teams in each department. Each has different targets, but Gu has to keep the over-arching corporate budget in mind, while also instituting global office requirements. Pearce said: “Jane is a star who is always there in the background, helping our teams be the best we can be, committed to helping us improve and adapt to change.”

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Yu Yu Din | Director | Wave Digital, Myanmar: Yu Yu Din returned to her native Myanmar in 2014 after two decades abroad, to establish Mango Myanmar Group’s digital arm in a country with virtually no internet. She has built the Wave Digital team from the ground up, mentoring and training young talent in what is effectively a virgin market. Testament to Din’s commitment to the project, she netted her first client before Wave Digital was fully formed and before she had even officially joined the Mango Group.Din’s career started early—making short films in New York at the age of just 16, then later working with a band of independent media centre activists to produce live television and radio shows off Free Speech TV and WBAI. She moved to India in 2002, and had her eyes opened to the potentials of digital media, leading her to take an IT degree in Kolkata. Prior to her return to Myanmar, Din was Genesis Burson-Marsteller’s head digital strategist in India, at the head of an award-winning team.

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Kimberlee Wells | CEO | Whybin TBWA Melbourne: Since Kimberlee Wells joined Whybin TBWA in 2011, she has been hailed as a "game-changer", ascending from national head of customer strategy to CEO in four-and-a-half years. Wells has led the business through significant changes such as integrating print and digital studios. She is also passionate about creating opportunities for her staff and has introduced training programmes to foster in-house talent. Wells is credited with changing agency processes and client protocols, leading to strong creative ideas including the rebranding of an ANZ bank branch into GAYNZ for Mardi Gras. She is also behind the Medibank campaign that put breastfeeding mothers on TV for the first time and #equalfuture, the campaign that demanded a Senate enquiry into financial gender equality. The agency has been recognised in over 80 international awards including Cannes Lions, One Show, New York Festivals and D&AD. Keith Smith, international president of global brands TBWA, says Wells “brought new thinking and a completely different way of working to what had always been a very male-dominated advertising culture”.

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Jeanette Phang | Director, business Intelligence | OMD China: A literature and history graduate who spent time at university parsing medieval English and studying Russian history typically doesn’t end up spearheading new media and advertising strategies. However, Jeanette Phang’s desire to understand people and their motivations fuelled her desire to pursue a career in advertising. She held creative, digital and media roles in Asia and Australia before moving to OMD China in September 2014. Since then she has been integral to the agency’s progress in thought-leadership work, evolving their data intelligence and advancing their attribution knowledge. In the last year, Phang’s work spanned the entire media-planning process: from budget setting to market prioritization, optimised media mix and channel planning. Fundamentally, her work goes beyond short-term planning but impacts long-term marketing plans for clients. This focus on delivering what’s right for clients has resulted in significant increases in revenue and projects for OMD Business Intelligence. In the past 12 months, paid projects grew by 200 percent and revenue by 55 percent. Under the tension of tighter budgets with higher expectations, Phang has helped clients like Mizone, H&M and Visa redefine how they invest in media in China. Stephen Li, APAC CEO of OMD, said: “Jeanette Phang is exuberant and enthusiastic, her energy and humour are contagious. Her colleagues respect her professionalism, passion and willingness to get her hands dirty to get the work done.”

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Miki Iwamura | MD of brand and marketing APAC | Google: Miki Iwamura joined Google when the brand was “irrelevant” in Japan, and has played an integral role in building it into the leading position it’s in today. Her approach has focused on two main aims: making Google’s technology relatable and appealing to everyday people, and giving marketers at companies big and small a compelling reason to use that technology to build their own brands. Much of the work she champions for Google is experiential or utility-based, and sometimes seeks to bring about social change. She is credited with helping change perceptions towards YouTube creators with the campaign ‘I live what I love’, which resulted in “YouTuber” becoming a household word. Her most recent initiative is ‘Women will’, an ambitious project that uses technology to help women return to work after becoming mothers. As part of this, Google’s team visited around 15,000 villages to give training in basic web skills, and in Japan generated 5,000 ideas to support working mothers with the help of more than 1,000 companies.

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Nandita Pal | GM, SEA and HK | Near: In the past 12 months, Nandita has grown Near’s revenue by 300 percent and has gained traction in new markets such as\ Vietnam and Thailand. She has grown the business across all verticals, even making headway in the Philippines to become one of the strongest markets in the region. In her role in scaling Near’s flagship location and audience intelligence product, Allspark, across SEA & Hong Kong, Nandita has executed rapid deployment across all geographies and continues to grow key vertical focusses such as Retail and expanded into other verticals like Auto, BFSI etc.

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Miranda Dimopoulos | CEO | IAB Singapore: Miranda Dimopoulos took the reins at IAB in Singapore in 2014 and has launched herself into the role with tremendous enthusiasm. Her first actions included upgrading member's access to the research, case studies and global best practice that underpin the IAB’s training programmes, and establishing seven professional committees to help set industry standards in their area of specialisation. The IAB’s membership has since increased fivefold and demand for the association's professional training sessions has rocketed—educating over 2,500 professionals in her tenure so far. In recognition, the IAB promoted Dimopoulos to CEO early this year. She has also led the IAB to take a proactive role in addressing key issues facing the industry—she brought together key personnel from the region’s main tech players to confront ad fraud and is working to set a globally recognised viewability standard for Southeast Asia. Dimopoulos draws on extensive experience agency-side with Publicis Groupe in data analysis and global new business. After seven years of engaging some of the multinational French agency’s key accounts in multiple markets, she came into her own to develop full end-to-end digital strategies for clients including Google, Tourism Victoria, and L’Oréal.

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Winnie Lee | Head of strategy | Appier: With a master’s degree in biological sciences and a PhD in immunology, Winnie Lee might not appear the most natural fit for an artificial intelligence tech company. Yet she has been at the forefront of Appier’s journey from a small tech firm in Taiwan, to its growth into a cross-functional organisation with more than 150 employees across 11 countries. Lee was the first non-engineering employee and has continued to build the firm’s non-engineering teams and functions. She strives continually to align the company’s vision, culture and goals. Lee is passionate about growing the tech ecosystem in the region, likening it to her background in immunology, stating that “the key to success is asking the big questions” and experimentation. “You figure out the real problem you’re solving for your users, then you need to be willing to launch and iterate quickly, improving your service as feedback comes in.” Appier CEO and co-founder, Chih-Han Yu says Lee’s “contributions to strategy and organisation are one of the key reasons why Appier has become the Appier of today”.

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Nathamon Kongthananon | CEO | iProspect Thailand: Known among staff for her “warrior” personality, Nathamon Kongthananon is intensely driven and willing to aggressively work towards high goals. Testament to this and the self-confidence that is the fact she established her first company in 2005 at the age of just 24, digital agency Flexmedia. Four years later, she launched a subsidiary company, Search Maximizer, which developed into a highly profitable unit, and was bought out by Adways Japan in 2012. Turning her full attention back to Flexmedia, Kongthananon continued to expand the business, taking it from an initial two employees to over 30 in 2015, when the agency was acquired by iProspect. Since becoming part of Dentsu Aegis Network, the agency’s staff has more than doubled again, currently more than 70 with plans to expand further to hit 200 by 2020. Kongthananon is passionate about mentorship and drives her team to keep digital innovation at the heart of the business. She has taken an active role in the wider network, becoming a member of One @ Dentsu Aegis, a diversity initiative that promotes female leadership and CSR partnerships across the APAC region.

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Rosemary Merz | Managing director | Text100 Hong Kong: Two years ago, Rosemary Merz took on full responsibility for the agency’s performance in Hong Kong. Since her appointment, operating profit has increased by 270 percent. This growth directly represents delivery against a strategy to deliver integrated services that reach beyond traditional PR. Merz was behind the hire of Text100 Asia’s first dedicated content strategist and she turned search marketing into a key part of the business. This resulted in her securing one of Text100’s top five clients in Asia-Pacific, Four Seasons. Last year, Merz successfully led the merger of her former agency Bite and sister agency Text100. Through the merger, Merz retained all but two clients (due to conflict issues), sustained a high staff retention rate and grew the business. As a manager, Merz makes it her responsibility to guide each team member in their career and is credited with raising retention rates to some of the highest levels in the company’s history in Hong Kong.

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Monica Bhatia Kapur | Digital director APAC | Maxus: On joining Maxus Indonesia three years ago, Monica Kapur faced a daunting uphill struggle. Despite being a digital rookie herself and armed with an equally inexperienced team, she set out to convince a cyber-skeptic market to move their ad dollars away from tried-and-trusted TV. At the same time, Kapur needed to grapple with the massive L’Oréal Indonesia account, which spanned three verticals and more than 15 brands. Kapur took these challenges in her stride, growing Maxus Indonesia’s digital business by 400 percent, setting L’Oréal on an award-winning digital roll and training up that green team into 12 seasoned ‘digital evangelists’. In the process, she helped bring in six new businesses for Maxus and increase billing by 24 percent. Kapur has since moved to the Singapore office to take on an enlarged role across the APAC region. She has been instrumental in overhauling the digital acceleration process for key clients, and has rolled out digital measurement processes, consolidating digital media buys to drive efficiencies and formalising regular knowledge management. Having progressed swiftly from digital innocent to mentor, Kapur places a strong emphasis on nurturing talent. Her weekly ‘Maxus Huddle’ speeds up the development process within the office, while her ‘Connexus’ and ‘Maxus Academy’ initiatives are boosting skills across the region.

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Upasana Roy | Vice president, head of marketing and communications | DigitasLBI: Upasana Roy's passion for strategic planning began early in her career, during the five-year stint she put in at Google as a fresh graduate. Having begun as a lowly ad copy reviewer, she had worked her way up to become an industry analyst in the internet giant's prestigious India-facing large customer sales team, and this set her on a trajectory that has taken her from publisher to client-side and finally into agency work. On joining DigitasLBi last year, Roy set about establishing core efficiencies on which to peg the agency's reputation. In order to demonstrate to the team the value of planning as an integral function, she reorganised core functionalities around four “pillars”: data-driven innovation, brand planning, advocacy and engagement, and multiplatform user experience planning. Advocacy and engagement have been a particular focus, and Roy has built this up to scale and deliver in ways that agencies generally need to outsource – successfully launching more than 30 influencer campaigns and five advocacy projects since January.In the past year, Roy has personally led 28 pitches for new business, of which 22 proved successful, bringing in names including Nivea, Tata Unistore, hotstar, Corona and Hoegaarden.

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Jiravara Virayavardhana | Managing director | Ogilvy & Mather Advertising Thailand: Jiravara Virayavardhana joined Ogilvy & Mather at the age of 25. In less than a decade, Virayavardhana moved through the ranks to become business director handling international and local clients including Kimberly-Clark, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GSK, Rolex and Estée Lauder. In 2008, her performance caught the eyes of top management and she was appointed managing director of Ogilvy Public Relations Bangkok. She drove Ogilvy Public Relations to the top spot with the highest billing in Thailand of 218 million baht (US$6.2 million) in 2013. This year, Virayavardhana stepped up as managing director of Ogilvy & Mather on the advertising side of the agency. She is focused on turning the agency and industry around as the ad industry faces one of its worst hurdles in Thailand, as evident in the decreased ad spent in the past couple of years. Her plan has been to put the “right person in the right job” and to inject new talent into the agency. She has created sustainable team structures through a mentor system. Team leaders are encouraged to grow as mentors and managers for their team rather than just as individuals.

(Note to desktop users: Hover mouse to expand captions on above pictures; move mouse away from picture to collapse)

Conversations around gender equality in the workplace have come a long way since the 1950s. But recent events in the industry—a party at Cannes that vetted female invitees based on looks, a Cannes-winning ad that many thought condoned rape, recent incendiary comments by Kevin Roberts—make it seem like just that: a conversation with not enough action behind it.

Furthermore, as we have explored in Social pressures, not bias, hold women back, workplace hurdles to gender equality can be insidiously different across cultures and markets.

Our Women to Watch list celebrates the disruptors: women who have succeeded against all odds and are changing industry norms and practices.

The 40 women we've selected are presented above, in no particular order. (Desktop users: Hover your mouse over the captions to expand them. Mobile users: Just swipe to proceed through the list.)

The stories you'll read above show that positive change is taking place. Nonetheless, women are still under-represented in leadership roles, which is why we continue to believe female role models need to be singled out and celebrated in a feature like this. We'll happily stop doing this annual feature when true equality is achieved. Who knows, maybe one day we'll even have to consider launching an annual 'Men to Watch' list.

Finally, to provide more context, we've created a special collection of equality-related recent content, presenting many different viewpoints on this critical issue.  

Women to Watch is brought to you this year by TBWA
 

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