It’s been just over a year since Charles Cadell relocated from Singapore to Tokyo to lead McCann Worldgroup Japan as well as Asia-Pacific. He talks about the upheaval involved in making the Japan office a more attractive place to work, his stance on ‘transformation’, and the legacy he wants to leave.
Just before relocating to Japan last year, you said you felt a sense of renewed optimism in the market. Do you still feel it?
Absolutely I still do in terms of business. We saw a re-evaluation of the market, with China having slowed and clients looking at where to seek international growth. Those undercurrents haven’t changed. We are seeing in our international client base growing interest in Japan backed by dollars. A lot of that is fed by opportunities around the Olympics. Japanese companies looking abroad has been a theme forever but historically we haven’t had much traction. But we’re seeing something different now, in the area of B2B—using CRM in that space. The decision we made to invest in the market has been borne out and I don’t see why it should change.
Where does Japan sit in terms of profitability for McCann in the region?
We are the third in the region. China growth has been very strong. There is however another market that is also larger than us. I'm afraid however I cannot say who that is.
Why did Yasuyuki Katagi leave?
We needed to effect change—significant change—within the McCann brand in Japan and it was mutually felt that that would be best served under new leadership.
What have been the most important changes you’ve made since relocating to Tokyo?
My focus has almost entirely been on talent. The war far talent in Asia is tough but in Japan it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. So my focus has been on how do we ensure this is the best place to work. Making it the best place to work requires a very significant change in terms of where we are. Things we’re doing include positive discrimination—for women, working mothers and youth, and how they have a role or say in the running of the company. We’re also looking at the environment, and we’ve got to allow for more flexible working hours and for working from home. We will be introducing hotdesking and we don’t need to always see employees in the office. The commutes are nasty for most office workers so we are increasingly saying people can work from home and we’ll have the technology to support it.
Have you embraced Premium Friday?
Yes, we’re doing it but it’s more of a signal—we’re trying to take it as a concept and make it run deeper in the organization. The whole thing about overtime we’ve been watching closely and we’re trying to minimize it.
The final element is career planning—how do we ensure people have full use of McCann Worldgroup. We are working to give people the option of working overseas but we’re also bringing them back, using our geographic footprint to make them feel part of the broader network. We’re also changing how we evaluate people: managers are responsible for seeing that people take holiday, for the wellbeing of their staff. The bottom line is we believe there are benefits to being part of a multinational agency and we will not shrink from impinging them on Japan.
Are clients on board with your work-life balance goals?
We’ve reached out to all clients and asked for their support in managing people’s hours. The starting point is the basis that no one deliberately wants to make people work harder than they must. There’s basic goodwill, but there are two sides—the thinking that an agency can’t ever say no to a brief, and the fact that clients are faced with their own deadlines. So it comes down to looking at our process and their process and working out how we can mutually change things.
Is it a case of ‘lights off at 10pm’?
No, we’re not doing that. We track carefully every person’s hours so we know when they leave the office daily, weekly and monthly. We have a whole system of reports and feedback loops, which will ensure we’re on top of it. The issue is distinguishing between what are tokens or arbitrary numbers and what is fundamentally getting to the root of the issue. That takes a lot because you are challenging very fundamental cultural codes…It becomes a bigger task than saying “lights off at 10”, which is frankly meaningless.
Everyone is talking about the need for ‘transformation’, but the reality is that agencies are still reluctant to hire nontraditional people. What are you doing to address this?
The other week we invited 41 recruiters into the agency. We talked to them for a morning about the type of people we want to see. The thrust was that we are not really interested in what’s gone before. If we want to do what we want to do we can’t expect to do it by looking at the same people from the same universities with the same degrees. We are interested in interesting people first because if you find someone who has the positive attributes you’re looking for then you can find the spot for them…This year we have 21 new graduates joining. It’s the most we’ve hired for decades. People ask why and I say because they’re young and they’re going to keep us driven.
What about giving opportunities to senior talent?
We have no issue against hiring people midway through their careers, but the notion of bringing in outsiders at any level is fundamental. But like anything, you can talk about a vision but until it’s tangible it doesn’t mean anything.
In a recent interview, a creative director at McCann said her male seniors discouraged her from speaking out about women’s issues because it would make her look like a feminist. What is your perspective on this?
This is what we’re being very forceful about. There are certain cultural codes that we see as wrong and as a result we see too few women at the management table and too few working mothers. I am being extremely forceful in terms of positive discrimination. Diversification is not just a ‘nice to have’. We will increase the number of women in management and the number of women who choose to have children. I want people coming here because they think it’s the best place to have a family. But there’s another thing. You think the pressure is all on mothers with children, but it’s equal with fathers and aged parents. Flexi-time is not just about kids. So it’s going to become a much bigger theme and I ‘d like to leave a legacy in this space of making a difference to how people live their lives within the working environment in Japan. I think that would be a noble goal.
Comments have been edited and condensed for clarity and length.