As clients and agencies increasingly look overseas to Asia for growth opportunities, smaller and midsize outfits like kbs+ are setting up offices in China, Singapore and beyond, challenging larger agencies such as Ogilvy and Grey with existing footprints in the area. Grace Blue also recently opened offices in Asia, and we quickly discovered that those climbing the ranks in advertising and communications would be well advised to consider that the fastest, most interesting route to the top could involve a detour, or permanent station, in the Asian market.
While businesses throughout the world have entered into what I call the Agility Era—a lightning-fast environment where quick thinking, brave decision making and an uncanny ability to see the big picture are valued above all else—the Asian market is particularly dynamic and vastly different from anything you'll experience in the West. While that makes it incredibly challenging, it also means that working in Asia can be an amazing opportunity for those with global leadership ambitions to gain experience and exposure.
Each country has its own unique environment, with different challenges and opportunities. The Chinese market is trending toward hiring Chinese talent at the leadership level, but there's great demand and opportunity for Westerners with specialized and emergent skills in new areas of our industry such as communications planning, data and shopper marketing. Developing markets like the Philippines or Vietnam on the other hand offer a wider range of opportunity with more leadership roles available to Westerners. There's no better place to show that you're willing to face challenges outside your comfort zone while gaining valuable cultural insights into a growing market. Here's what else you'll get out of it:
You'll prove your bravery
Few things are as valuable in the Agility Era as bravery. The ability to take action and make tough decisions is essential for leaders in any situation, but doing so as you learn to navigate a new and unfamiliar environment takes a special kind of fearlessness. A stint in Asia shows that you're willing to learn on your feet and test your skills in new and developing areas of the industry.
You'll learn your worth
Making the move to Asia isn't about coming from the West and bestowing your wisdom on your Eastern colleagues. It's about seeing where your skills fit in and figuring out how to add value to the market. Taking yourself out of your element is a great way to shine a light on what you're bringing to the table, while you also see what skills you may be lacking.
You'll see the big picture
The best leaders never make a big decision without understanding the implications within the greater context for their business. The ability to see the big picture is a necessary asset in the Agility Era. With so many clients looking to expand in Asia, having a clear picture of how those markets operate in relation to the rest of the world is crucial. Understanding how to do good business in the West is an essential asset to sustain any global company; a global mindset is what's needed to set you apart from your competition.
You'll bring back something valuable
Beyond gaining a better understanding of the market and the culture of the region, confronting problems you've never faced before will force you to innovate and absorb new perspectives that will translate to challenges you'll face back at home. And, given the region is leapfrogging the rest of the world in terms of digital sophistication with the proliferation of mobile devices, you'll be able to bring back unique insights into the best practices for reaching consumers on digital and mobile channels.
It'll be the hardest thing you'll ever do
Climbing the ladder or heading up a team in Asia is like training at high altitude—it's a huge, fast-paced region filled with varied and complicated cultural traditions, demanding clients, and a rapidly evolving media landscape in terms of digital, business and commerce. But it's also why so many executives who have proven themselves there are later tapped to head up the global leadership of their organizations.
As Asian companies grow and become increasingly global, a career in Asia is becoming more desirable for top talent around the world. It's now imperative that agency and communication leaders alike need to be global citizens, so you couldn't have a better training ground for your future leadership role than heading East.
Claim to fame Jay Haines, founding partner of global executive search firm Grace Blue, is a die-hard Arsenal fan.
Base New York
This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.