The Drum Awards Festival - Official Deadline

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Mando’s award-winning managing director Ian Finch talks Leadership


By Michael Feeley, Founder and chief exec

January 28, 2016 | 6 min read

Last month, Ian Finch, founder and managing director of Mando Group, was named ‘Agency Leader of the Year’ at The Drum Network Awards. Here, Finch shares his thoughts on managing change, nurturing talent and setting strategy…

Mando's Ian Finch.

Having founded the agency in 1997, has the strategy changed much over the past 20 years?

Absolutely. There have been three main ‘eras’ of Mando Group to date. In the early days, we did a lot of interactive design work, working with leading games companies, developing multi-language campaign sites for Playstation titles and things like that.

Then, post the ‘’ bubble, we did a lot of build work for ad agencies. Like a lot of agencies around that time we ended up building our own CMS, our own email security product and so on and we became very technical – very focused on processes and systems – as a result. We’d moved from being creatively-led to technology-led.

As a response to that, in the late noughties we decided that, while we still wanted to be viewed as a safe pair of hands as a technical partner, we also wanted to bring back all that early design flair, put an extra focus on the creative expertise we have and to focus on working directly with the big brands again. We also decided to ditch our proprietary technology and to partner with big tech vendors like Microsoft and Sitecore which, further our ‘enterprise’ credentials.

Following a further refining of direction, much of the last couple of years has been spent pulling apart our in-house systems and processes then putting them back together again in a way that we think is gives us the right platform for growth over the next few years. Our offer is now more agile, dynamic and consultative and very much aligned to business change

As a leader, what factors influence the formation of strategy most?

Any good leader relies heavily on the people around them to help shape and inform their decision making. If you have good people in place and trust their advice, it would be crazy not to listen to them.

We also have non-exec directors that I rely on to sound-board ideas and to help me benchmark what we’re doing against other agencies. It’s about asking the right questions and then listening to the answers. What are our customers saying? What are our partners saying? What are their customers saying? It all feeds in.

Bigger decisions are almost always discussed as a team but, in the end, it’s up to the leader to pull the trigger. Not every decision will be collegiate and unanimous. Sometimes you simply have to go with your gut and I think, for a lot of my career, I didn’t pay enough attention to that. These days, I realise that intuition is actually a massive part of running a business. The trick is to be able to listen to it without becoming a meglomanic!

How visible should an agency leader be to customers?

I’m sure there are other leaders out there who would advocate a different approach but I’ve always felt that as a leader I need to be close to customers. After all, a big part of my job is selling Mando and what we do. Based on the sheer number of business cards I’m handed each week, I’ve got a massive advantage when it comes to winning new business and so it would feel like I’m not playing to my strengths if I wasn’t engaged with our customers and prospects.

That said, I’ve put a great operations team in place which allows me to focus on the strategic offer, rather than delivery and to be constantly refining our offering within the current market context.

What is your approach to identifying what skills you need to bring on board and attracting the right talent?

For me, the key aspect that you need is ‘blend’. The right mix of experienced people and fresh talent. Young blood brings drive and ambition to the table and, at times, a little bit of chaos to keep everyone sharp. Good chaos. Too much young talent and it can become a challenge to nurture them in the right way, and, at times, be taken seriously by bigger brands. Too many old hands and you can become a little bit safe, which is a dangerous place for a digital agency to be.

The other thing to consider is the level of training and learning support you provide for your people in-house. We put a lot of resource into training, reviewing and monitoring our team, giving individuals the opportunity, experience and skills they need to stay engaged with the marketplace.

Given the rapid nature of market change, how far ahead is it wise to plan for?

The important thing is that the company is able to rally around a big goal. At a higher strategic level, this would mean considering what things might look like in, say, five years. At an operational level I’d recommend a normal planning scale of around three years with the real detail being in the 12-18months period.

The key thing is to share the plan with your team and to report regularly on how the business is performing against that plan so that you can make adjustments along the way. It’s great to have a direction of travel but the world changes every day, you have to be agile enough to be able to pivot when required.


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