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OMG MENA CEO Elie Khouri On Making His Company A 'Great Place To Work'

OMG MENA CEO Elie Khouri On Making His Company A 'Great Place To Work'
Image credit: OMG MENA

Earlier this year, Elie Khouri, chief executive of Omnicom Media Group MENA (OMG MENA), the media services division of the Omnicom Group, was recognized as ‘Leader of the Year for 2016-2017' by Great Place To Work In the UAE, for his efforts in keeping the company on the Top Companies list for seven years, and for achieving the highest Trust scores from direct reports amongst all leaders in the Top Companies program.

OMG MENA came second on the seventh annual list of ‘Top Companies to Work For’ in the UAE, which is the largest yet for Great Place to Work, recognizing the top 24 companies with outstanding workplace cultures.

According to Great Place to Work in the UAE, OMG MENA’s people are the company’s biggest asset, which sets the organization apart from its competitors. The communications group focuses on the continuous development and wellbeing of staff and has become famous for its workplace culture, for adding purpose to the roles of its employees, for stimulating their growth through a comprehensive learning and development academy, and for promoting a healthier lifestyle with its corporate wellness program.

In line with this, the company recently extended maternity leave to 90 days, way beyond the number of days stipulated by the UAE labor law, and developed a dedicated smartphone app – OMGene – to strengthen its ability to connect with their employees and keep them abreast of the latest developments within the company, gauge their feedback and ultimately add value to their relationship.

Related: The Winning Formula: Creating The Kind Of Company People Love Working For

Entrepreneur Middle East caught up with Elie Khouri for a chat about his efforts to continuously improve OMG MENA's workplace experience, and elevate employees’ perception of management.

When it comes to your leadership approach, what do you focus on: processes or results?

At Omnicom Media Group, everything starts with purpose, which unites and drives our people. Our purpose is to build our clients’ businesses by engaging, entertaining and empowering consumers to make smarter choices. 

Processes are clearly important but we’re driven by results and this is why we place our people at the heart of what we do. They are the starting point of a virtuous cycle, which puts them before “product” and before “profit”. We attract, invest and nurture amazing people. This means we strive to provide a stimulating and supportive environment that fosters their creativity and entrepreneurship, as well as their personal and professional growth. Ultimately, we seek to achieve a balance between how much they contribute and receive from the company. If we get this right, and the results of the Great Place to Work Institute over the last six years seem to indicate we’re on the right track, our people will relentlessly deliver the most effective product, applying rigor in everything they do, including spotting the next big thing. 

How does your company respond to and overcome failures? 

It goes without saying that we gain much more wisdom from failure than from success. Some cultures allow failure more easily than others but this truth remains: to truly succeed, you have to have failed. Economic swings certainly provide opportunities to test our buoyancy, thriving on the highs and surviving the lows. In all industries, there will be macro-lows, like a war or a recession, but also micro-ones, like the loss of a major client.

We take a long-term view. We always focus on challenging the status quo to build the future, not just for ourselves but also the wider industry. When we started in 2002, the state of audience research on TV was hardly adequate but instead of lamenting a sad state of affairs, we decided to create our own source of data. Six months after opening our office, we had continuous TV viewership data with which to plan advertising campaigns more accurately. That study eventually became an industry standard. Yes, we compete with others but we also collaborate with them for the greater good. We all have a role to play in our sector.

This is also true internally and our collaborative and entrepreneurial culture provides the impetus and confidence for our teams to try, test and sometimes fail. When they do, they soon get back up, try again, armed with a newfound knowledge, and succeed.

It takes courage and confidence to step into the unknown but the rewards can be substantial. Actively seeking the feedback of our teams on our internal policies and processes initially was a similar leap of faith. We’ve learned immensely from the exercise and we keep making improvements to better address needs and solve problems. This is how you build your tomorrow: test and learn.

Related: How We're Building JadoPado As An Organization

When you meet a new, potential business partner, are you able to evaluate what kind of workplace culture that CEO has established in his/her company? 

Internally, as well as externally, shared values are a powerful magnet. We certainly try to work with partners who embrace our values. Exploring the culture fit with potential business partners is a key part of the discovery process, as common goals and principles are essential building blocks for a sustainable and healthy relationship.

We’ve also invited all stakeholders to join us in the transformative process. Be it industry initiatives or organizational development, we hope to lead by example. We believe strongly in corporate culture and hope others will follow suit in placing a stronger emphasis on theirs because we’re convinced everyone benefits from this.

Have you noticed Omnicom Media Group MENA’s creative workplace initiatives having wide industry impact, and how? What are your future plans in this regard? 

When employees move from one company to another, they take their previous experience and expectations with them. When they share them in the form of ideas and suggestions, they help spread the significance of company culture and its benefits across our industry. This is how we progress collectively, learning from each other, influencing one another. It’s great to see more examples of knowledge sharing, sustainability and corporate wellness. We’re also happy to see more communications consultancies being listed as Great Places to Work in the UAE and around the world.

One initiative we’re also thrilled to share with our global network is OMGene, our employee app, launched about a year ago. Because two-way communication is the cornerstone of our approach, this grass-root initiative is a fantastic development that has facilitated a better exchange of ideas and views within the company. Our most salient ideas, like the extended maternity leave, have come from it.

It’ll probably come across as corny but as a communications company, we truly believe in the power of effective communications to not only overcome issues but also propel us forward.

Related: Family-Like Teams Build Extraordinary Businesses