Follow The Leader: Elie Khouri, CEO, Omnicom Media Group MENA
“A business leader who thinks and acts with agility and embraces innovation, rather than ignoring or resisting it, will run a business like an entrepreneur. This also requires intuition and fearlessness. None of this is dictated or limited by the size of the company, just the management style.”
"The first thing is to have a sense of purpose and stay true to it,” says Elie Khouri when asked about how he goes about his role as the CEO of Omnicom Media Group MENA. It’s no secret that the advertising industry is going through somewhat of a rough patch at the moment, but that’s what makes Khouri’s stewardship of his company in these challenging times particularly noteworthy- here’s a media exec who’s well-versed with the changes happening in his sector, and he is making sure that his firm -a pioneering marketing services group in its own right- is in tune with the trends that are manifesting themselves in the MENA locale.
That’d explain Khouri’s insistence on having “a sense of purpose” when leading an enterprise- it looks to be something that’s governing his own leadership strategy. “This single-mindedness is critical, because it acts as your North Star in the middle of a storm,” Khouri explains. “When everything else around you causes turbulence and requires agility, this consistency ensures you don’t lose your sense of direction.” It is this kind of foresight and vision that has led Khouri to be recognized as one of the MENA region’s foremost marketing mavens, sitting at the helm of a company that has four market leading agencies under its belt (OMD, PHD, Resolution, Hearts and Science), more than 20 offices across the region, and over 600 people as its employees.
Given the number of years he has been a part of this industry in the region, Khouri has had a first-hand view of the evolution of the marketing function, which has today moved beyond the 4P’s as laid out by Philip Kotler, a.k.a. the Father of Modern Marketing. “Any marketing student will remember Philip Kotler’s 4P’s (Product, Place, Price, and Promotion)- they still apply, of course, and other P’s have been added to modernize the thinking,” Khouri says. “The most significant of them is People, because brands have now embraced a more customer-centric view of their marketing, even working with the notion of Customer Lifetime Value (CLV).
"With digital media in general and social media in particular, marketing is less and less campaign-based, and more and more ‘always on.’ With addressable media, we are also getting closer to individuals, so we can make better predictions of the net profit attributed to the entire future relationship with a customer. This CLV concept projects a company or marketer beyond simple quarterly profits, and pushes them to take a much more long-term view of their customer relationship. This leads to much more meaningful investment decisions.”
Strategies like these are becoming increasingly popular in a landscape where enterprises big and small are looking to get more bang for their buck, and Khouri believes this has had an impact on how marketing is being perceived as well. “There are signs that the marketing role is becoming even more connected to business performance, and revenue in particular,” he says. “The more a business turns digital, the more the contribution of marketing can be measured. This means the profile and background of marketers will change further still, and focus even more on science. Millennials are a key driver of this evolution, and their growing presence in marketing roles will further push this digital thinking forward.
"What is interesting also is that we’ve evolved from the functional focus of a product or service (it washes whiter, it goes faster, etc.) to a much more emotional relationship between consumers and brands. The product experience has widened significantly, and considerations like social behavior, attitude and retail experience are significant contributors to preference and loyalty. To stand out, a brand must consider these changing consumer expectations. These trends play in the hands of smaller organizations, that are often younger, more digital and more agile than large businesses. Data is size-agnostic and can be very democratic in that it’s everywhere; you just need to know where to look and how to use it.”
Given this context, it’s easy to see that innovation is the need of the hour for this industry, and that’s why Khouri has been encouraging an entrepreneurial kind of mentality within his organization- it’s an essential component for the business’ sustainability, he says. “Innovation, like creativity or disruption, features in every conversation,” Khouri explains. “It may mean slightly different things depending on the industry you’re in, but ultimately, the notion remains the same, and we can’t get enough of it. We must constantly and consistently endeavor to improve and enhance the way we operate, the products we create, or the processes we use. Our clients or consumers expect it, and failure to deliver will result in loss of market share, both in terms of volume and value- not exactly an appealing prospect, so no, complacency is not the way forward.
"Entrepreneurialism is indeed rooted in this spirit of doing something different or better, because that’s where the opportunity lies and yes, we have embraced that approach internally. We’ve created smaller units within our agencies that run like small enterprises. We’re training our team leaders to think and work like entrepreneurs. The result is the agility of a small enterprise, and the resources of a large organization. This is literally the best of both worlds. Yes, a business leader who thinks and acts with agility and embraces innovation, rather than ignoring or resisting it, will run a business like an entrepreneur. This also requires intuition and fearlessness. None of this is dictated or limited by the size of the company, just the management style.”
So, what is Khouri’s leadership mantra at OMG MENA? “Our mantra is simple, and can be summarized in four P’s,” he replies. “It starts with our Purpose, our mission, if you will. It is to build our clients’ business by engaging, entertaining and empowering consumers to make smarter choices. The second is People, without whom none of this would be possible. We attract, nurture and retain amazing people, providing them with a stimulating environment that fosters creativity and entrepreneurship. They deliver the third P: Product. We apply rigor in everything we do. We invest in tech, data, content and everything in between to make us more effective.
"When the three P’s are done right, we get the last one, Profit, an obligation we have towards all our stakeholders. To achieve this, we stay true to our values, which guide our thinking, behavior and recruitment. The first is caring, as we take great pride in responsibly developing compassionate and nurturing relationships with our employees, clients and partners. The second is pioneering, to stay ahead of the curve. We’re innovative and constantly searching for ideas that fuel success for our brands and people. We’re also conscious about maintaining high levels of humility, our third value. We seek and provide honest feedback, learn from both mistakes and successes in equal measure and never underestimate our competitors. Lastly, agility. We aim to always be curious and insightful. Reinventing, reacting and responding is the only way to truly add value."
Ask the exec: Elie Khouri, CEO, Omnicom Media Group MENA
From your personal perspective, what are some of the main considerations that entrepreneurs should keep in mind when starting up a business in the MENA region?
“In my 28 years here, I have never stopped being fascinated by the energy of this place. Nothing’s impossible, nothing’s too big. The region’s business and consumer confidence often top the global charts. Our can-do attitude is the envy of other countries because it liberates the energy and achieves results. This is a potent formula for business and one that others embrace more and more. What’s more, there is also a strong resilience when conditions turn sour. We bounce back faster and faster each time. This is important for entrepreneurs, because it’s never plain sailing and the ability, actually the agility, to pivot is an essential aspect of effective leaders. Contingency plans, alternative routes, backup solutions are all essential elements that entrepreneurs must consider when they launch their business as nothing is set in stone.
"Talent is an essential without a measure of failure. This agility resides in the leadership, but also the team around it. Entrepreneurs need to lean on the right talent, be it a team or a network of contacts, to be able to fully execute the vision, no matter what the conditions are. Finding the optimal mix between skills, experience, chemistry, values and passion isn’t easy, of course, but it’s a critical factor of success. Talent is an essential resource; funds are obviously another. To raise funds smartly, entrepreneurs need to create demonstrable and tangible value to investors or shareholders. They also need to be clear about their need to grow their business, as this provides investors with the confidence that the business is competently and judiciously managed.
"One last thing, and I speak from experience, entrepreneurs need to seek out a mentor, someone who brings composure, impartial and independent advice, as well as contacts to the table. This type of trustworthy and long-term support is invaluable and yet often disregarded. Mentors also empower and strengthen their entrepreneurs’ personal growth focusing on their sense of purpose, decision-making, emotional intelligence, creativity and motivation, among other things.”
Take the lead: Elie Khouri's tips for 'treps
1. Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you “Seek people who offer a different perspective, as it helps you paint a sharper picture, shed more light on situations and reduce risk. Don’t be afraid of being challenged and pushed, that’s how you achieve greater things.”
2. Be generous “Today’s leaders must be caring, putting the interests of their staff first. People at the top of an organization need to be genuine, generous and selfless to earn and justify their employees’ trust. This can be done in several ways, including giving people access and time, paying attention to their needs and feelings, and improving their welfare at work.”
3. Your people must get more than what they give “More than just a salary, people’s compensation for their work today includes self-actualization and purpose. Beyond the transaction of salary for time and effort, you want emotionally engaged employees who, to truly feel connected, must get back from work at least as much as they put in.”
4. Remain agile and adapt to change quickly “The fastchanging environment in which we live calls for agile, rather than just adaptable, leaders. Speed is a key consideration because fast is better than perfect. If time to market was once measured in years, it is now set in terms of weeks. Be decisive, think and act confidently and effectively, pivoting when changing conditions require a new direction.”
5. Stay ahead of the game by investing in the future “When everything around you is changing at breakneck speed, you need to be able to make smart bets on the future. Some of these will require a leap of faith. Being innovative, a pioneer, necessitates a fair amount of gut but the rewards of being ahead of the curve are huge.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.