Emily Tan
Sep 5, 2011

Zecha steps down from TBWA-ISC Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR - With the retirement of TBWA-ISC Malaysia chairman Austen Zecha, one source says the agency will move toward a fully-owned model. TBWA has however categorically denied that a full acquisition is on the cards.

Zecha (left) retires leaving Cowie at the helm
Zecha (left) retires leaving Cowie at the helm

TBWA entered Malaysia in 2001 via a joint-venture with Zecha and his agency, Integrated Strategic Communications (ISC) forming the ISC Group of companies which then comprised TBWA-ISC, Tequila-Myalo, and Wizard Media Dynamics. The TBWA-ISC\ Malaysia advertising agency merged with sister integrated services company Tequila-Myalo\ Malaysia in 2009

One source close to the agency in Malaysia said that following Zecha's retirement, announced today, TBWA would move to acquire Zecha's shareholding of about 30 per cent, and rebrand the agency as a purely TBWA outfit.

TBWA's spokesperson has since categorically refuted this possibility.

Zecha, 72, founded ISC in 1994 and is credited with creating the award-winning 'Malaysia Truly Asia' campaign for Tourism Malaysia in 1999. Under the ISC name the agency was one of Tourism Malaysia's creative agencies for 12 years until last year when it withdrew from the tender process due to "ambiguity in the process".

Since the loss of the Tourism Malaysia account, the absorption of ISC into TBWA will not greatly affect the client list as most of the accounts were held under the TBWA name, said a source.

Over the years, Zecha has founded or co-founded 11 different agencies in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and over the past 40 years, selling some to leading multinational agencies in the region such as JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi, Landor & Associates and Edelman PR.

Commenting on his retirement, Zecha said, “My most unfortunate trait is restlessness, so I had better try to cultivate a permissible hobby such as gardening, stamp collecting or photography. Failing that, I’ll become only a cranky marketing and advertising critic.”

Stepping up as managing director is Aaron Cowie, currently the agency's chief operating officer. His promotion is part of the agency's succession plan which has been in motion for the past two years.

"We're doing away with the chairman title and won't start a CEO title. Managing director's good enough," said Cowie in a phone interview with Campaign today. "Effectively, I'll be taking over as per the succession plan we've held in place."

Cowie added that Zecha's retirement merely coincided with the loss of the Tourism Malaysia account. "It's just time. He's 72 and he's really comfortable with the move," he said. 

Executive vice-president Datuk Tim Garland has been named capital markets communications consultant to the agency and will be focusing on developing the Southeast Asian financial markets. It is understood that his new role will involve substantial travel and he will no longer be directly involved with the Malaysian agency.

Commenting on Garland's new role, Keith Smith, TBWA’s President International, said, “Garland merged his Myalo interactive marketing consultancy with TEQUILA in Malaysia in 2005. He has been an invaluable asset in developing and growing our now fully integrated Malaysian agency, especially in its award-winning digital and financial communications services.” Smith added, “Garland has left a legacy to be proud of.”

As managing director, Cowie will be supported by the management team headed by executive creative director Jeff Orr, head of account management Shaun Tay, deputy executive creative director Paul Lingan, head of digital Jordan Chua and finance director Yeong Hoong Meng, all of whom have been with TBWA-ISC for at least the past half dozen years.

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