By Anna Chua-Norbert, Chief Culture Officer of DDB Group Philippines
While having coffee with my Chairman and CEO at the beautiful FPLA campus in Antipolo during a session break of our 3rd year Bernbach Leadership Program, our conversation was inspired by the lessons shared by his global colleagues about their own leadership journey and experiences. My dad, Gil Chua, and I, talked about leadership legacy and all the nice words that were said about him by his peers who commended him for his commitment to invest in the further education of his people.
It made me wonder what my own peers think about working for him.
It’s not unusual to work for a family business in this country but imagine spending every day with your father, running a company with him, and reporting to him as a salaried employee. Could you?
Neither could I, until ten years ago, when my beloved Dad bravely took over the DDB business to save the people & brands he has loved for 41 years and to finally live his life-long vision for the Group.
My Dad started in AMA when he was 19, as a media clerk. He rose to the top doing the rounds in the departments, helping brands such as Bear Brand, Nescáfe, Milo, Nido and Smart to become market leaders under his watch. When the global alignment wave hit the country, it disrupted the business. Always the man leading in a crisis and after weeks of soul-searching, he made the brave choice to forge his own path. He took over the company. He knew that there were many risks involved, but he had the courage to move forward in spite of it.
I once asked him about how he became comfortable with the situation with all the responsibilities on his shoulders. His answer was plainspoken and simple—whether the business succeeded or failed, he would do whatever it took to provide for his family. He was willing to accept the outcome of his decision, regardless how hard he would have to work.
I’d like to point out that the majority of our people and leaders are not blood- related, but they are like family. We hire for attitude & train for skill. We reward based on performance.
After venturing overseas and doing their own thing, leading brands, businesses, and people, many have opted to work with the company’s ‘patriarch’ GGC, our Group Chair & CEO at DDB Group Philippines. I wanted to get a better understanding of what it is like to work so closely with our commander-in-chief, fixer of all things, strategic General, cheer master, perpetual sunshine and most importantly, Dad.
I asked them what important lessons they have learned from the Jedi Master and how the lessons apply to all aspiring leaders, at this moment of turbulence.
Diane Chua, daughter and Managing Director of Tribal Worldwide PH; Ela Chua, daughter-in-law and General Manager of Optimax; Chewy Chua, son and Managing Director of Agile Intelligence; Vina Henson, MD of DDB MNL; Judd Balayan, Group CFO; Jeff Dytuco, MD of FOSA Group; Bob Vito, MD of Ripple8; Sarah de Joya, Niece, Copywriter of DDB PHL; Rachel Warren, Creative Strategic Director, Agile Intelligence; Craig Lonnee, Group COO; Liam Capati, MD of TouchXDA; Elaine de Padua, MD of DDB PHL; Ciara Mabanta-Ong, Account Director, Ripple8; Tony Samson, Group CMO.
All share their funny, touching and real responses about the man of the hour.
Diane: As the youngest and most recent addition to the DDB Group family, what are you the most surprised by working for your Dad?
When I started working for GGC, I was amazed by his optimism, infectious energy and humility. His passion to help clients and people succeed. He jumps in wherever he is needed, taking care of tasks, nothing is menial. He never stops learning. He is anticipatory with his clients’ needs and makes it his business to be available and be approachable. You don’t hear of many CEOs who are able to hear you out without a scheduled appointment, but my Dad always puts people first, whether they are part of his family, the Group family, or our clients who have become like family.
Ela: What’s it like being in business with your father-in-law?
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from Papa. Some of it has been media, on the job learning, but more of it has been related to caring for clients. In a nutshell, I have learned from him that if you put the clients’ needs first and genuinely take care of them, then everything else will fall into line. As for being in business with my father-in-law, our personalities are different from one another enough that we pair well. There is a lot of time spent talking shop and learning.
Chewy: From the business perspective, and in your role as the first born son, what have you learned from your Father?
Working with my Dad has taught me the value in investing in people. He has always tried to show respect to clients and our talents and he is extremely compassionate. He is genuine and that has facilitated the respect he has with clients and our talents. He also has shown me the value in hard work beats any high level IQ.
Vina: How has GGC influenced your life? My Father, no, my mentor has influenced my life in so many ways, but GGC’s ability to persevere has made the most solid impact. I’ve never heard GGC say “I can’t.” He gets a thrill from a challenge. He has shown me that through sheer will-power we are capable of accomplishing most anything.
Sarah: You started your career in DDB as a fresh graduate, 21years old. What’s the first lesson you learned from GGC and how did it help you?
Having a solid work ethic that didn’t just entail showing up, but actually delivering, every day. When I was new to the biz, I came up with materials just for the sake of being creative. But later on, I realized that it’s not about me or the team — the core was our clients and using creativity to help them develop the most innovative business solutions. I learned how to be a true partner to our clients, to be responsible for them, and this is one of GGC’s traits that I admire and want to emulate.
Rachel: Welcome back to The Group. You started as a fresh graduate in DDB, can how working with GGC inspired your global aspirations at such a young age?
When I met GGC over 20 years ago, he was already an encouraging, charismatic leader who brought in a lot of positive energy. We would talk, he would listen, ask questions and share his perspectives. I learned a lot from him because he was always honest about his business challenges, his accomplishments, and his key learnings. He sets his people up for success, and gives us the confidence to dream big and pursue our life goals.
Liam: What makes working with GGC unique and how has it helped you in your career?
Trust in his people, a deep passion for the business, and a genuine care for the well-being of our clients and their businesses are the invaluable lessons that I have had the opportunity to learn from GGC. But more importantly, I continue to be inspired and moved by GGC’s deep humility despite his stature and accomplishments in his tenured life.
Bob: As a creative director turned PR practitioner, leading the most awarded PR company in the Country, how did GGC help with your transition?
GGC always used to tell me, “Kung hindi tayo sasali, hindi tayo mananalo.” Parang tatay lang ‘yung pag-advise n’ya. At first glance it sounds painfully obvious. But what he was really saying was: 1) we need to be brave if we want to win and 2) he was ready to give his full support to the ideas we believed in. With his full support we started Ripple8, which would later go on to win Miss Universe, Jollibee and Quill Agency of the Year. We’ve never stopped being brave since.
Judd: You have been at GGC’s side in the peaks and through. What makes your relationship work?
With GGC, dwelling on the problems is a fruitless activity, but dwelling on the possibilities is a fruitful pursuit. That’s how he has become a successful leader and entrepreneur—by focusing on and cultivating opportunities.
Jeff: You’ve been with us in the agency side and us servicing you as our client, now back with us for ten years, leading the fastest growing manpower, production, activation and logistics arm of the Group. What’s the success formula behind your growth and how has GGC inspired you?
Trust. I value that GGC has allowed me to grow professionally by trusting me to manage the companies under my watch. Even if we don’t see each other often, I am always driven and guided by his trust in me, that my decisions are always for the good of the people and the company. This is also cascaded to my management team who mostly came from the ranks and were with us when we started. We have empowered them, and are now not just managing accounts, but leading their respective business units driven and guided by the same principles.
Ciara: What is it like working in a start-up within The Group?
GGC would tell us about how he worked from the ground up for many years and how experiencing and rising above trials were really part of the growth equation. I joined DDB’s PR arm when it was fairly new and much less seasoned than the lead ATL group. Seeing how much it has grown gives that reward for any trial that surfaced throughout the past 7 years, and gives that motivation to push forward. DDB has always cultivated the culture of experiencing, learning, and growing, with GGC at the helm of it all–resilient and authentic enough to set that example.
Elaine: What valuable lessons have you learned from GGC and how do the lessons apply now that you are running you own company – DDB PHL.
To give generously of myself, of my prerogatives and prestige so that others may grow;
To be genuine—totoong tao—in my dealings with people; and
To have the confidence to trust, serve and lead those around me,
Because GGC himself is a truly Generous, Genuine, Confident man.
Craig: Being that you have worked with GGC the longest on many occasions at different points in his career, do you have a truly memorable story you can share of the earlier days working with him? My first business discussion with Gil and his senior team was at a workshop in in manila a few decades ago, I remember thinking, what on earth can I offer the team, what can I say about DDB that maybe vaguely valuable. Even then, I reflected, it’s a tight family unit, who thought and acted as one, one family. Running a business is hard work. Running a family business, when your shareholders are your own kids, and wife, however, add a layer of difficulty, because the stakes are higher. I always have and still do am perpetually struck by Gil’s thoughtfulness, his generosity knows no limits. A perennial who millennials revere – wisdom that delight and inspires.
Tony: You have been one of his mentor and trusted friend. What do you think makes GGC successful? Great leaders are also great listeners. It takes humility to listen to the opinion of others. Gil’s leadership is quickly accepted because it is based on consensus and an active and inclusive search for the best ideas, no matter where it comes from.
Finishing our cup of coffee, I had to ask, “What’s next for GGC and DDB Group?“
He replied, “The opportunities and blessings I have stem from the simple truths taught to me by my mentors and the people who have invested their time to be with us. I am grateful for their perseverance in the face of adversity, for their dedication, courage to care for our clients and one another, their cheerfulness in delivery of the life-changing work. We have grown confident in our abilities, so what’s next for us? If God permits, maybe it is time to expand.”
You’ve always been a huge fan of Star Wars and your favorite Yoda quote is “Do. Or Do not. There is no try.” I know this isn’t a throwaway sentiment; it’s a way of life. You have taught us to have the couramge to do things, to focus on the present, and essentially, to grow up. Thank you for being a constant reminder to commit to something completely, win or lose in spite of all the obstacles. Thank you for showing us how to embrace the outcome of our choices and to choose with kindness and positivity.
In another life, would I still want to work for my father? In a heartbeat, it is a yes.
The Chairman and CEO is a living legend and I am very proud to be his child.
Happy Blessed Birthday, GGC!