Faaez Samadi
Jul 23, 2019

‘I want to pay it forward:’ Spikes Asia See It Be It leader Valerie Madon

Havas’ Southeast Asia chief creative speaks about adland’s progress on gender diversity, and the advice she has for future female leaders.

‘I want to pay it forward:’ Spikes Asia See It Be It leader Valerie Madon

Valerie Madon, Havas Group Singapore chairwoman and Southeast Asia chief creative officer, will lead the first ever See It Be It programme at Spikes Asia this year. She sat down with Campaign to discuss her goals for the programme, and share her experiences on her journey to becoming a creative leader.

Why did you choose to lead See It Be It at Spikes Asia?

For years, I’ve been asked “why are there so few female creatives at the top?” and I know it’s not a case of a lack of talent. For those who have succeeded, it has been an extremely tough journey and I’ve seen many talented female colleagues choose to leave the industry completely.

The decision to abandon a career she loves so much doesn’t happen overnight. It’s in the everyday and the challenges she faces in the workplace and at home. If we want to improve the situation, we need to stop generalising the problem and start taking actions to support each other.

For those of us who have succeeded from falling and picking ourselves up, others can learn from our experiences and be better prepared. I’m fortunate to have a network of successful female friends like my mentor Linda Locke and Pat Law whom I can call upon for advice. They have certainly played a critical role in making sure I stay in the game and if I can be that helpline for other women, I must pay it forward.

Diversity is a huge topic of conversation in APAC right now. How do you feel the creative industries have progressed with championing women in the region?

It’s encouraging to see that women are getting more seats at the table, but we want to make sure this is not just another box to be ticked. This cannot be only a PR-driven cause and women should be given these opportunities because they are equally qualified. That’s what I love about See It Be it. The three-day programme is designed to arm our delegates with as much knowledge as possible so that she may accelerate her growth and earn that seat. It must never be about giving women a handicap.

Whilst events like Spikes are investing in this agenda and keeping the focus alive, it’s more critical that companies embrace the need to make it a conducive work environment for her to have the best chance of success. For example, at Havas we launched the Femmes Forward programme in Singapore earlier this year, a comprehensive learning programme designed to advance women’s roles within the network. There’s enough talk in the industry but actions usually take some time.

You’re a creative leader in APAC. Tell us about your personal journey to the top. Did you have mentors? How important were they?

I’ve always felt like the luckiest person on earth because I never planned my career to be what it is today. I graduated from Nanyang Academy Of Fine Arts thinking I’ll be happy designing Hallmark cards for the rest of my life. Even till the day I left school, I never knew what ECD stood for. Hence everything that got me here was a result of landing the right opportunities and working very hard at it.

I will always love Leo Burnett for being my ‘school of advertising’ and having the prized opportunity to work with amazing mentors like Linda Locke who pushed me as far as I could go. I remember making dumb and naïve comments but Linda never made me feel stupid or small and instead continue to guide me through the work. On top of her busy schedule, I still got to review and brainstorm ideas with her. By setting an example of being relentless and committed to perfection, I took away priceless values that I believe have made me a better creative and person.

Valerie Madon

I was also lucky to be supported by male leaders like Mark Tutssel, who gave me the opportunity to be part of his global council at Leo Burnett. I will never forget the day I received a physical letter from him (it means so much more than an email), inviting me to join his council. Until then I had had little interaction with my global CCO and never thought anyone would have noticed me. It’s easy to underestimate what a confidence booster this can be for a young creative.

There are many others across my 20+ years in this industry and frankly, I can recall more men than women. Colleagues and bosses like Yang Yeo, Lo Sheungyan (Mayan) and Tom Doctoroff were always there for me and even today. Being appreciated is always a great encouragement to stay in the game.

Of course my most critical pillar of strength is my husband Farrokh Madon, who is chief creative officer of Wunderman Thompson Singapore. I am extremely fortunate to have a life partner who understands this business, and is someone I can confide in emotionally when the going really gets too tough.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced on your journey and how did you overcome them?

The biggest challenge is not having enough time and attention for everything: work, family and self. Looking back when I had my son at 27, I could have spent more time with him. Work was my first priority and everything else was second, which is absolutely wrong by any principle. Luckily I had great support from my mum and grandmother and he’s turned out to be a great man now at 17.

Parenthood with my second child is quite the opposite now with my priorities in the right place. By managing my schedules so that I can be home for dinner and working more productively after our 7-year-old is asleep makes me feel that my life is better balanced and I’m not compromising on any front.

The other big challenge for many creatives is dealing with politics in any organisation. As we rise through the ranks, it’s inevitable that we’ll experience some drama. It’s important to keep your integrity intact and stay honest.

How can we celebrate Asian creativity at Spikes Asia this year, and how can See It Be It contribute to this?

We all know this is the hotspot of the world’s economy for the next few years. It has the richest cultures and diversity married with the best advancement in technology outside the US.

I believe this is the strength that Asian creatives should leverage more. Technology needs culture to make it more human and meaningful. Given that most purchases are made by women, female creatives are naturally inclined to understand how women feel and know what motivates them.

While many may accuse women of being too emotional, this is also our strength. I hope that through See It Be It, my fellow female friends in our industry can see the value they bring and not underestimate what they are capable of.

What advice do you hope to pass on to the future female leaders at See It Be It at Spikes Asia?

You are more capable than you know but nothing comes easy so NEVER GIVE UP.

Never give up because you think you’ve been treated unfairly. There is always someone in your organisation who will hear you out and help you.

Never give up when you are not heard. Just speak louder.

Never give up but take a break when the going gets too tough.

Never give up because you feel it’s hard to juggle life and work. A good organisation will value great talent and work around you.

The only time you should ever give up is when this industry no longer brings you joy because life’s too short to not be happy.

Spikes Asia See It Be It is now open for applications. For further information and details on how to apply, please click here. The application deadline is 16 August with participants being announced in early September.

ALSO OPEN FOR NOMINATIONS: CAMPAIGN'S WOMEN TO WATCH

Women to Watch, compiled annually by the Campaign Asia-Pacific senior editorial team, is a list of profiles of 40 women from the marketing, media, advertising and communications industries across Asia-Pacific who are outpacing the competition with their achievements in the workplace. The entry deadline for this year's edition is August 2. Get the details and nominate now.

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