Seeking driven soulmates

Seeking driven soulmates

He was first sent to Asia to “turn around a crisis of confidence” at public relations and advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather’s Taiwan office. He did so well that in two-and-a-half years — a relatively short period of time — adman Stephen Mangham was sent to lead the Singapore regional office.



He was first sent to Asia to “turn around a crisis of confidence” at public relations and advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather’s Taiwan office. He did so well that in two-and-a-half years — a relatively short period of time — adman Stephen Mangham was sent to lead the Singapore regional office.Under his watch, the Singapore office grew as a regional and international hub, nearly tripling its revenue and expanding from 240 people to some 600 employees in less than six years. But shortly after he was appointed to head the Indonesian office in 2011, Mr Mangham gave up the comforts of heading a big corporation to start his own advertising agency — taking with him Ogilvy client and Malaysia’s second-biggest lender, CIMB, sparking off a well-publicised lawsuit.

“It was fascinating and stressful,” says the 52-year-old British native of the lawsuit. Ogilvy Singapore sued Mr Mangham and his partner, as well as their newly-founded company ManghamGaxiola, for poaching a client, while Mr Mangham countersued over money owed to him. The matter was eventually settled out of court, with the founders issuing a public apology earlier this year and Ogilvy paying Mr Mangham back his pension.

It might have been a rocky start for Mr Mangham’s fledging business, but it did not deter him from his ambitions — and it is clear as we speak that he is one driven individual. In 22 months, his boutique ad agency has added Samsung Asia, Greenfields, Beiersdorf and, most recently, Bobson Jeans to its list of seven clients.

“We’re carefully picking companies. We’re looking for ambitious companies,” explains Mr Mangham over tea at The St Regis Singapore. “We’re quite an ambitious agency and we’re looking for soulmates.” 


Despite his now-obvious passion for advertising, Mr Mangham, a law graduate from Oxford University, said: “I got started in the industry by accident. I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to work in advertising.” That changed after he became Editor of his university newspaper, Cherwell.

“I started thinking, ‘I’m quite interested in working in an industry which is all about persuasion.’” (He initially thought of pursuing journalism but was later advised to consider advertising.)

He recalls with humour how his law tutor was at first understanding that, given his responsibilities at the newspaper where he spent more than 80 hours each week, the young Mr Mangham would need help catching up with his work.

“He was not quite pleased at the end of the next term when he realised how much work I had to do over the summer to catch up — but we got there in the end,” he says.

After graduating, he applied for various jobs in advertising and banking. “I got turned down for all the jobs in banking and got quite a few offers for advertising. So perhaps someone was trying to tell me something.”

His interview technique — which was possibly what landed him his first job at ad agency Leo Burnett in London, beating out 3,000 applicants for one of five spots — was to show editions of his university’s newspapers from before he became Editor and what they looked like after.


After working for about three years in London, Mr Mangham moved to Germany where he worked for Saatchi and Saatchi with Procter & Gamble (P&G) as a client. “I knew very little of the world when I left university at 21; I had never been on a plane up to that point.”

The travel bug bit deep. With clients based in Switzerland and Austria, “I had a great time travelling to Geneva and Vienna, and three of my P&G clients became longtime friends and godfathers to my second son,” says the father of four (“all boys, because we wanted a girl,” he quips).

He returned to the United Kingdom after nearly three years, got married and moved to Budapest to run a young ad company, Bates, “which was a really crazy thing to do in 1992”.

“Central and Eastern Europe was like undiscovered territory. The (Berlin) wall had just come down two years earlier,” he explains. “Something of an adventure and risk. But I love the adventure, so I went.”

He spent a decade there growing Bates from nine employees to 75, and ended up running Saatchi and Saatchi’s Central and Eastern European network. “I was travelling everywhere from the Baltics to the Balkans to Russia. It was great.”

Keen to work in Asia, Mr Mangham applied to work with Ogilvy and was sent to Taiwan.


Having worked with a myriad of people from different cultures, Mr Mangham appears perturbed when asked if he has ever felt there was a preference for Caucasian men over Asians in the creative and advertising sector.

“I’ve never thought of that perspective,” he says. “I think it’s really important that you appreciate there are differences in the way people behave and think, and you don’t judge the differences; just accept and understand them.”

When he was in Hungary, for instance, he wanted to make a change to one of the frames on a storyboard, only to receive word from his staff that “the artist disagrees”.

“I said, ‘Yeah but the artist isn’t being invited to decide what’s in the frame’ … So I thought about that for a second and said, ‘Could I see him?’”

To defuse the situation, he first told the artist how talented he was and that the company was keen to work with him — but they had to meet the client’s needs. If the artist did what was needed, they could continue to work together. The artist agreed and made the changes.

Notes Mr Mangham: “He got confused between being a commercial artist and an artist because people didn’t necessarily think commercially in Hungary in the early days.”

In another instance, Mr Mangham says he was “upbraided” by an older professor for “exploiting young people because you pay them less than the more senior people, yet they work just as long hours”.

On meeting such people with disparate perspectives, he points out: “You’ve just got to understand that they come from a different mindset and you try and meet them halfway and harness what they’ve got to offer.”

When Mr Mangham was in Taiwan, he faced a different challenge: Most of the agency staff did not speak English. He used an interpreter, but he also took into consideration the feelings of his staff.

To avoid embarrassing his creative head, for instance, Mr Mangham would hold meetings with the man alone. “If he had to struggle to think of how to say something, then he hasn’t got lots of people looking at him. It became easier for us to talk and that was fine.”


Now at ManghamGaxiola, he works with clients across the globe. “One’s based in Malaysia, another one in Manila, a third one is in Shanghai and Hamburg,” he lists.

He believes his firm has the edge in developing relevant campaigns for its clients because it is based in Singapore.

The Republic “has always been a melting pot. It has practised multiculturalism from day one as a state, and because of that, it’s a really good place to develop creative work for regional (and) international brands where you need ideas that are not all about the local market but have a global perspective”, says Mr Mangham, who has been based here for eight years.

On his decision to start his own firm, he says: “I wanted to get back to working with clients and working on creative campaigns, ideas. It’s almost like the headmaster who rarely teaches — I wanted to teach again.”

Mr Mangham comes across as most intense when he talks about work. He was always “pretty self-motivated”, letting on that he was “the nerdy guy” in school.

He thrives on intellectual stimulation. “I get a real thrill out of working with creative people. I find it fascinating, I love ideas, I love concepts,” he shares, citing philosophy, political thought and history as among his interests.

And his go-getter spirit has also served him well in matters of the heart — securing him the hand of his wife less than two months after they met. “I proposed six weeks after meeting her, but I was actually holding back for four of those weeks,” he confides.

“We got married five months after and got our first baby 10 months after that,” says the proud father who will be celebrating his 25th wedding anniversary next September.

He laughs: “I must admit I couldn’t recommend it as a sensible course of action for anyone.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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