He also pledged to continue to “break down national borders” with country offices judged on their overall contribution and not a single P&L, and forecasted even closer collaboration between Havas Creative and Havas Media.
Guenes, who had effectively been CEO in all but name for the past year or so before his official appointment in October, said the network's current growth figure of around 14 percent would be bolstered by organic growth and the impact of recent acquisitions.
Havas, which had been without a CEO in Southeast Asia since Naomi Troni departed early last year, recently acquired Indochina network Riverorchid, which has operations in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.
“Overall, the numbers look good this year,” Guenes said. “But are they where we want it to be? The answer is no. We want to grow by 25 to 35 percent per year, for the past few years it has been around 14 percent.”
Singapore has been a particularly tough market this year, largely due to loss of NTUC FairPrice to ADK. Havas Media, however, retained the media contract.
“Singapore is one of our most important and most expensive countries, and when you take a hit here you feel it," he said. "We have been winning a lot of business here but we had one big loss, NTUC FairPrice, which was a very highly valued client."
Guenes said future strategy would be a continuation of the “one Southeast Asia” drive, where teams and country operations are expected to see “beyond borders”.
“I’m a finance guy, so maybe I shouldn’t say this,” he added, “but numbers are not the main indicator for us for a particular country, because very often we are using people across borders. Every country has its strength and special skills, and we can’t duplicate that across every country if we want to be very efficient and deliver the best service to clients.”
Citing examples, he said Thailand is leading a lot of creative work in the region; Singapore is overseeing considerable international work and providing strategic direction; the PR arm is working closely on projects with the Indonesia office, while the Indonesia team offers sampling and activation resources.
“The objective now is to further strengthen this culture and further remove P&L limitations,” he added.
Guenes, a 13-year Havas veteran, said the strategy started with the five existing markets the network had and has been strengthen by the RiverOrchid acquisition—a deal that was particularly attractive to Havas because the firm wanted to remain a local specialist and not outgrow the region.
“That’s one of the main reasons we wanted to work with them,” said Guenes. “Also, they are integrated, work across the region and share resources across borders. It was a good match.”
He revealed the network remained “acquisition hungry” and said talks are ongoing with several outfits. He stressed, however, that all decisions are made on a collective, not regional, basis.
Key to any new deal, however, will be the ability to quickly integrate and collaborate.
“People now think of themselves as part of one company ‘Southeast Asia’, instead of Havas Worldwide Singapore or Havas Siren Singapore," he said. "That is happening slowly and surely and it has to continue."
Guenes also said the relationship between Havas Creative and Havas Media was following a similar path.
“Every agency network can put the media network together with the creative network, but we are trying to implement something more," he said. "We want the media and creative to compliment each other so we can win and service the client in the way they deserve.
“It sounds very dramatic, but it is like old times. We separated and now we are coming back together and most people are embracing it. We are no longer trying to eat each other’s pie.”