Nicholas Ye, as one would expect from the founder of an independent creative agency that has long prided itself on being bold, is refreshingly blunt when asked why the company recently brought on former Observatory International executive Richard Bleasdale as MD: "We've reached a size and scale where most founders just tend to fuck their own businesses up," Ye told Campaign Asia-Pacific.
Quipping aside, he's not joking about the size and scale. In the last three years, TSLA has nearly quadrupled revenue and doubled its headcount, he said. The company recently added new business with Singapore food-tech company Grain.
"There are no signs of us slowing down, especially with briefs coming from our new family at Mother every day," Ye said. "We need to be able to come in silly every day, do great work and keep things fun. Richard's going to help us do just that, whilst we keep pace of our growth."
Ye allows that Bleasdale, who was already rising through the adland ranks before many TSLA staffers were born, might seem like a bit of a sore thumb at TSLA, where the "current makeup of our most senior leaders is young (below 35), female and Asian". But he asserts that the time was right to bring on an experienced honcho.
Bleasdale helmed Iris APAC, Rapp Collins and DDB Singapore before spending the last eight years at Observatory Internationalbefore the company closed its doors in Singapore in December. The lessons he learned, especially in the latter role, made this move a natural one, Bleasdale told Campaign.
"My previous role at The Observatory had me sitting in on hundreds, if not thousands, of credential and pitch presentations to clients who were desperately looking for real, original creative thinking to grow," he said. "Clients are looking for strong, independent, points of view on the marketing and business challenges they face and on how to best attack these challenges quickly and head-on. I think TSLA’s independence, its keen understanding of contemporary culture and its clear track record in crafting ideas that truly move Asian consumers and change their behaviours is exactly what marketers are looking for."
Bleasdale's main role will be to remove operational and commercial pressures from the founders, "so that they can stay stupid and stay fun", he said. "Another key part of my role is to ensure we build strong, lasting partnerships with ambitious marketers and brands here in Asia as we start to connect creative dots with our new family at Mother in London, New York and Los Angeles."
TSLA is investing in companies and talent that champion creativity, Ye said. "This includes an Asian-focused media and editorial company called Junk Asia and a programming and experiential agency called PPurpose," the latter of which was named Experiential Agency of the Year in the Southeast Asia region in Campaign's 2018 Agency of the Year Awards. "In the coming months we will announce key partnership stakes in companies that are, to us, leaders in the realms of research, design thinking and consulting, in a bid to create our own distinct family of talent and expertise."
The agency is "rebooting" its business team in Singapore to better handle "a more global calibre" of account, and plans to soon announce a new head of talent, Bleasdale said.
"We're also adding a new generation of creative leadership to the agency, bringing the total creative director count at TSLA to five including Nic," he added. "In Shanghai, we've just named new creative leadership in the form of Winson & Wanshi, who have come full circle from Mother London, Madre, and now back to Mother Shanghai."
After a few weeks on the job, Bleasdale said he's surprised by TSLA's outsized scale for an independent Singaporean outfit. That said, he believes he'll be able to help avoid some missteps. "Ours is an industry where you learn just as much, if not more, from your failures as you do you from your successes," he said. "I've worked closely with literally hundreds of agencies, many of whom were having huge success, but many of whom were also making lots of mistakes. And you start to realise that all of this 'action' is stored away, and gives me a real nose on the right and wrong decisions to make."
Is Ye worried that the addition of a silver-haired leader will change the chemistry that has brought TSLA this far? "We're not opposites," he said of himsel and Bleasdale. "But we are very different, as with most of us at the helm of TSLA. Modern, global creativity does demand diversity in every sense of the word, and we're proud that TSLA's isn't a company of same-same leadership and people, but a colourful home for creativity to both our talent and clients at any stage of their careers."