Barry Lustig
Jan 5, 2016

We're getting closer to being the most creatively driven agency: McCann's Wu

Nearly 18 months into his role as McCann's regional chief talent officer, Jean-Michel Wu spoke to Barry Lustig of Cormorant Group about the requirements of a position that is for the most part behind the scenes, and the most important challenges he faces.

Jean-Michel Wu
Jean-Michel Wu

What do you understand the role of chief talent officer to be?

The answer depends on what companies generically call 'HR' and 'talent'. I see the chief talent officer as a group leader who's accountable for the overall talent strategy for an agency.

I’d say that talent is at the top of the pyramid because it plays such an important role in all aspects of an agency’s business. And of course I’d say that because that’s what I do.

What makes your role special?

Charles Cadell, the president of McCann Worldgroup Asia, invited me to McCann because he wanted the talent function to have real input into the strategy and vision of the agency.

I joined McCann a year or so ago because they haven’t just been talking about talent and talent management. They’ve started to invest in it.

How has McCann changed since you arrived?

Until “Dumb Ways to Die” (which came out in 2012 from McCann, Melbourne), McCann wasn't on anyone’s creative radar so to speak.

After that, it got quite interesting here. We brought in Patrick Rona to lead digital. We brought in John Woodward to Tokyo as chief strategy officer for Japan, and he is just excellent in terms of his planning abilities and experience. We also hired a great new CMO for Asia-Pacific, Jessica Davey.

We’re getting closer to our goal of becoming the most creatively driven agency in the world.

Why is it so hard to break down agency silos?

What we, and everyone else, are trying to do is break down silos. Wherever you go, it’s always the same conversation.

The main driver behind breaking down silos is not about the agency side—it’s about what clients want, and how we can accommodate them.

How can agencies compete for talent with technology companies?

It’s horses for courses. What we are trying to do is change incrementally. The goal isn’t massive transformational change. We are focusing on areas where we make our bread and butter.
Some hires can be more transformational. But it’s jumping the gun to bring in talent without the structure in which they are able to perform. Hires coming in with new skills need to be supported, and people who work around them need to be informed about what they actually do.

What makes being a talent director in Asia different to elsewhere?

You literally have to change who you are to speak across different cultures. A talent director needs to be a chameleon. In some other regions, you can work with people pretty much the same way no matter where they are. That’s not the case here in Asia.

The challenge of communicating with many different kinds of people and cultures is part of what makes my job so enjoyable.

Barry Lustig is partner of Cormorant Group, a brand and market strategy consultancy with a focus on Asia-Pacific


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