Marketing Game Changers 2021: Mohammed Ismaeel, Visa CEMEA

Senior vice-president, marketing, Visa CEMEA

additional positions: Board ­member, The Marketing Society

years in current position: 5

years with company: 7

size of department: 73

previous jobs

P&G for 10 years (left as
associate MD)

HSBC for 10 years (left as head of marketing for MENA)

recent campaigns

We’ve just relaunched our brand campaign last month; and the activation of our Olympics sponsorship.

What is your objective in your current role?

Today I see my primary role as that of supporting, developing and nurturing growth in as many of my team and beyond as possible, and doing so with empathy.

Do you have a guiding principle?

I have principles and I’m not afraid to defend them. I am always direct, open and fair.

How do you make agency relationships work?

By giving them the space and trust to do what we initially brought them in to do. They are partners, not service providers. I expect them to have a voice and be able to use it.

What work do you wish you had done?

Honestly, in the 30 years I’ve been working, and across the varied industries and brands I’ve been part of, I’ve been lucky to dabble in most things. One thing I would like to – and intend to – do more of, however, is marketing with a higher purpose.

Who inspires you professionally?

Al Kelly, Visa CEO, a direct but genuine, passionate, values-driven leader who showcases the human side of a business leader better than anyone I’ve ever met at his level.

What is the biggest challenge in marketing at the moment?

How to gain and maintain brand loyalty with an upcoming consumer group that is very unforgiving.

What is the next big opportunity in marketing?

I wish I had a crystal ball. However, I believe if brands don’t step up and deliver beyond the rational and functional aspects of their brand they will find it tougher to engage. People need to experience the value (and the values) of the brand in a way that makes them feel something meaningful. If you crack that consistently you might actually find some semblance of brand loyalty.

What can we expect to see from you and your brand in the next year?

Our multi-year brand evolution, where phase one has just gone live and will be expanding across the region over the coming quarter.

Recent achievements

Growing my team by 25 per cent across the region and building a truly connected and collaborative organisation, all done remotely.


What are you working on?
All of the above.

Who are you following?
People who make me laugh.

What are you craving?
Pecan pie.

Who are you hiding from?
My gym instructor.

What are you playing?
Golf Rival.

What are you listening to?
Most things from Defected Records.

What are you reading?
Pillars of the Earth.

What are you watching?
Ted Lasso.

What is your good habit?

What is your bad habit?

Agency reference

Joyce Hallak, Visa CEMEA client lead at Starcom and general manager, Starcom Levant 

Mohammed is one of the most strategic marketers I’ve had the opportunity to work with; his leadership of the CEMEA marketing team, who lead brand and marketing activities across 90 markets, is driving the growth of Visa not just as a credit card company but as a network connecting everyone everywhere. 

The biggest collaboration with Mohammed in the past few months was around the brand relaunch, Meet Visa, and it’s been quite exciting being part of this journey; it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for agency teams to work on the reintroduction of one of the most iconic brands in the world. The UAE is one of the first markets globally to launch the brand evolution and Mohammed has been instrumental in guiding the rollout of this reintroduction across creative and media.  

As a leader, he is a very approachable person with an amazing sense of humour; he has a passion for guiding, growing and pushing forward all people working with him, which makes the agency an extension of his team and elevates the collaboration and partnership spirit. With this inclusive spirit, we simply work and deliver as one Visa team.