It is understood that Zaim's new job responsibilities include continuing to serve core client Mondelez out of the US as well as setting up an e-commerce offering for the market.
No successor has been named, but Carat Asia-Pacific CEO Sean O'Brien will temporarily take over. Zaim indicated the company is in the final stages of a decision.
Zaim told Campaign Asia-Pacific in an exclusive interview that Carat has been looking for a replacement while he travelled back and forth between New York and Shanghai during an ongoing transition period that started early this year.
"I actually have two jobs now, and personally it's very taxing on me," he said. "My China job ends at 6 pm and my New York one starts then."
Having been in the mainland Chinese market for nearly 10 years, Zaim said he initiated his own career advancement in January 2015. "I need to move out now, not later, to benefit my career," he said. The condition was to look for his own successor before leaving China.
Zaim became CEO of Carat China in March 2012. The business has grown by 120 percent since then, he claimed, adding that China is now Carat's third largest revenue-contributor globally.
Last July, Carat China lost a decade-long client, BMW China, said to be worth US$450 million in billings, to Starcom China. Clients remaining on the roster include Adidas, British Airways, Disney Shanghai, Ferrero, Lego, Mondelēz, Nippon Paint, Pernod Ricard, Red Star Macalline, Wyeth, Pfizer and Tinghsin International Group.
Given the market's importance, filling Zaim's shoes is crucial. "I’ll be honest, the CEO task is more challenging than in 2012 since we are now growing from a larger base than before," he said.
Carat's management team is not in favour of hiring a "typical media-agency person who holds a traditional mindset", he said. However, existing second-in-commands at Carat China seem to fall into that category and are not a good fit, he said.
"The talent in the market is still very traditional," he said. "The first option, after looking internally as a rule of thumb, was to look for senior agency leaders from other media agencies, which we quickly decided within the first six months, this is not the route to take. The second option is to bring in someone with a slightly different background who will be more suitable for Carat."
The way Carat structures its operations is different from other international media agencies, Zaim said. "None of the other big media agencies have e-commerce divisions like us," he said. "When we set it up, we took a different wheel. E-commerce to us is still media: transactional media. So we went ahead and hired people from Taobao and other e-commerce platforms for this division."