Ronald Howes of Memac Ogilvy MENA talks to us about his career in communications and the importance of humility and never underestimating anyone
Ronald Howes, Chief Operating Officer – MENA, Memac Ogilvy, has worked in communications for over 23 years. He’s spent the last 11 years at Memac Ogilvy Dubai (MENA Hub) managing over 200 people in advertising, PR, Geometry Global, CRM, branding, sports marketing and healthcare. He helped steer Memac Ogilvy to achieve Agency of the Year at the Lynx (MENA 2010 and 2014) and also won Campaign’s Agency of the Year award in 2013.
Felice Hurst, MD of Hanson Search Dubai, recently caught up with Ronald to find out more about his career and how he made it to the top.
How did you get into communications?
The basis of any society is its ability to communicate properly with others. We do that all the time. I think the power and the opportunity for growth in the development of society are based on our ability to communicate effectively. This is something I found very interesting. I also felt the communications industry was well-suited to my character. I had worked in marketing and sometimes was on the receiving end of the work advertisers created. I could see that there were great opportunities that these marketers didn’t take advantage of, and I also saw there was a gap between what marketers wanted and expected, and what advertisers and communicators were trying to sell. I actually took a downgrade in position at first, but it was worth it. I enjoyed the challenge, even though it involved a lot of hard work and long hours. It has helped me to lead as well. I never ask someone to do something that I’ve never done before - I’ve done that job.
What personal attributes do you think have most helped you in the course of your career?
One of them is humility, which is not necessarily easy. Often as an agency, you’re trying to showcase the best that you can be. But humility is also about respecting the people you’re talking to and not underestimating them. I try to never underestimate people because often I can be surprised and unprepared for what I need to do later on.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
The most difficult thing for me was people, rather than situations or markets. Attracting very good people is difficult. When I came to Dubai, we had an agency that was doing OK but not very well. I felt that the key to changing this was to attract great people. The biggest challenge was attracting people of calibre to an agency that wasn’t particularly attractive at that time – aside from the package we were offering. We wanted people who would come in with that pioneering, challenging mindset. It was difficult because the one way you could do it was by offering more money, but then you’d probably attract a mercenary rather than someone who wants to make a difference. So getting those two or three key people who could turn things round was difficult.
Who has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?
Our former global CEO, Miles Young. He inspired me because he had a brilliant thinking mind, was devastatingly smart, direct, and clear about what he needed. And he was able to share his vision with people. That way you could see how your part helped make a difference.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Never underestimate anyone. Overestimating people’s capabilities is better because if they don’t deliver to that level, that’s fine. Underestimating someone can lead to situations which are a lot more difficult and expensive.
What do you think will be the biggest changes in the global communications industry in the next 10 years?
I think that simplicity will become increasingly important. Everything is very advanced, there is a lot of innovation and pace is changing very fast. You’re required to learn a lot, to change a lot, to interact a lot. I think that with all of that, the biggest challenge is how you can keep it simple so that people really understand what you’re talking about. Somehow things have become very complex. Making things simple again will be the biggest challenge for all of us.
What three words best describe you as a communicator?
Intuitive. Good listener. Mentor.
What’s your dream role?
I’m not sure I’d say it’s my dream role, but I’d like to be able to look at our network here and see how you can get the best out of the different offices we have. I don’t want equality; I want offices to be able to excel in their own specific capabilities. I suppose it’s about being an enabler. In a way, it’s what a conductor does. He’s got some great musicians, they all have their own specialisations. What he does is get the best out of each musician so that all together you get something really special. —
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