Alex Saber’s lessons from the ladder

With 25 years of experience, the Publicis Media chairman says people, empowerment and trust are essential

This year marks a milestone in what has been an exciting and fulfilling career for me: a quarter of a century as an industry veteran. When I think about my career, I can’t help but be inspired by a remarkable journey. My passion for the industry and its people has not waned with time, although it’s been tested several times.

Truth is, the past 25 years have been dotted with beautiful memories, unforgettable people and many successes. Yet they have also had their fair share of headwinds and mistakes.

This is a point in my life to ask myself: what will I take forward into next year, and what have I learned? While my experience – coupled with unforgiving and ever-changing times – offers many lessons to share, here are the ones that stood the test of time.

People are our strength

One thing I realised early on in my career is that I owe a lot of my good fortune to the talented women and men I surround myself with. Simply put, winning takes talent, and our growth record is a testament to the arsenal of talent that exists within Publicis Media Middle East.

I am constantly in awe of our people’s dedication, competitive spirit, excellence, and, above all, the energy that is palpable throughout the organisation, even through the toughest of times.

Our employees are an extension of a generation that exhibits unprecedented entrepreneurial spirit and values, innovation and creativity. And it is our responsibility as companies to foster this spirit, give it room to grow, and not let our relentless pressure for growth and efficiency drive away humanity from the workplace. Strong corporate cultures that put people at the forefront not only facilitate their adaptation to a changing world, but they also mould them into agents of change.

People have been and always will be our main asset and driver. If we don’t understand or explore how we can nurture and grow our local talent, then we, as companies, will have failed as leaders to propel them into the future.

Good things come to those who empower others

Strong women are transforming societies and leading positive change in the world today. Contrary to what was once predominantly a public relations stunt, replete with buzzwords, women’s empowerment is now an undeniable reality that society and companies can no longer ignore.

In a far cry from older days, the world is no longer turning a deaf ear to women’s ambitious voices. High-profile movements like #MeToo and #Time’sUp, while originating in the US, have echoed around the world in countries near and far.

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in our region, where governments are championing and expanding women’s rights. While the UAE has always been at the forefront of the inclusion of women in leadership roles, the Saudi government has recently been hailed for overturning the ban on women drivers, as well as allowing women to ditch the traditional abaya dress.

Publicis Media Middle East has always played a pivotal role in supporting women’s healthy work-life balance, but even more so in adopting an open space for them to grow and excel. Our diversity is built on a highly inclusive environment and winning culture where everyone – men and women – can achieve their full potential. We manage our talent pipeline to ensure we have a sufficient and balanced pool of experienced talent at all levels.

Here is where I reiterate that putting people first is how companies can weather many storms. This might be too measured a statement for headline-makers, but it will certainly get businesses closer to – if not owning – being part of the future.

Trust takes years to build, seconds to break

Some companies tend to cast a wide net of technical jargon and craftily designed media plans that promise an all-encompassing offering to impress clients. What they fail to consider is that trust is the cornerstone upon which we build our relationships.

It is the same philosophy I have personally embraced from the beginning. It might be unorthodox for any group head to carry on long-distance and proxy relationships with a client, but even in my position I was never one to perpetuate the chairman stereotype, sitting on a high chair disconnected from the ladder down. I have always prided myself on having an open-door policy and maintaining close and personal ties with clients, not only because it is imperative for the business, but also because I take business very personally.

Perhaps my greatest legacy is that my work ethic has allowed me to forge longstanding relationships with clients. Some I am proud to call friends.

Publicis Media Middle East has always enjoyed stronger, more trusting client relationships. Our pitch cycles have been much longer than the industry average, which demonstrates the value and quality of our work and the depth of our relationships with clients. This is evident in 25 years of partnership with P&G and Mars, 17 years with Mondelez and 16 years with Fromagerie Bel, to name a few.

I am incredibly energised by what the future has in store for our company, and I am lucky to be setting sail into the future alongside talented women and men of Publicis Media Middle East.

I applaud our Groupe’s vision for the future and its bravery to pivot ahead of the industry. Our vision, our work and our people will continue to speak for themselves for years to come.