Enjoying his Life’s Passion
By Ghada Harb
October 31, 2008
It is very rare to find people who are in touch with their passion as much as Joseph Ghossoub is. Being hard working, pragmatic, and very passionate about what he does have helped Mr. Ghossoub master his passion for advertising, becoming along the way the CEO of The Holding Group (THG).
The past two decades have witnessed a spectacular and uninterrupted rise in the Middle East’s economy. During this time, The Holding Group boldly set the pace as the leader in the marketing and communications sector under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Ghossoub.
Today's Outlook presents you with a comprehensive interview that showcases the exceptional dedication, inspiring intellect and unprecedented passion of Mr. Ghossoub that is part of the winning formula that transformed THG – parent company of Team/Young & Rubicam, Intermarkets Advertising, ASDA’A Public Relations, mediaedge:cia and Wunderman – into one of the most successful group of companies in the advertising and media industry.
THG has witnessed many changes in the past nine years; could you tell us how you succeeded in expanding to become a leader in the region?
It is a long story of course, but it’s short in time; it took probably ten years to make THG by far the leading and the largest communication group in the Middle East and that has not been just by chance or by mistake as many would like to believe. No one can take all credit by saying that this was only a personal effort, although there is no doubt that personal effort is an imperative leadership quality; this was a group effort; this was team work. We surrounded ourselves with the best colleagues that share the same school of thought; the school of thought is simple: do what you like to do and do it the best way you can irrespective of time, money and of all the elements that people overly focus on at the inception of a business. It took a lot of hard work and late nights – and I am not only talking about myself; I am referring to the inspiring collective effort of all involved, an effort that has positioned us where we are today. Another essential ingredient in the recipe for success is passion! I have always believed that when you really want to do something in life, regardless of whether it is a personal endeavor or a business venture, if you do not do it with passion, and if you do not have love for what you do, you will never succeed. I am very passionate about what I do and this passion transcends everything and permeates everyone, making it a very passionate environment. You have to have a school of thought and everybody has to believe in it. By believing in what you want to achieve and by believing in the passion that you have, you end up being successful. This is a recipe that never fails.
How do you explain this expansion in the business?
Today we have approximately 1500 staff members, with eight or nine companies which comprise of 45 offices around the region. When I started, staff figures were no more than 10 in Dubai, probably 10 in Saudi Arabia and another 10 in Abu Dhabi.
The economic growth of the area that we are operating in, most particularly the one witnessed in the UAE and the Middle East with the exception of Lebanon that sees ups and downs all the time but whose overall economic growth has actually been the biggest part of this achievement, has most definitely contributed to our success. When the economy is growing around you, you take advantage of that growth and the opportunities it presents. Without an economy that really helps you in achieving, you achieve less.
How do you see the advertising business in the region in terms of professionalism, creativity and figures?
When I first began working in advertising in Dubai, UAE, we used to work with four newspapers, two TV stations, two magazines and one radio station. That was the easy life my friend, really easy life! Doing a campaign and doing a media schedule was a no-brainer! You couldn’t go wrong – if you missed one newspaper it was no big deal. But then it all began to change. Beginning around 1990 and 1991, we started seeing satellite TV beaming in and we found ourselves with a massive media inflow that we were unaccustomed to. Things started growing at a fast pace which only got faster when the cellular phone started to surface, followed closely by the internet or what the internet was back then. The growth phase continued and finally stabilized by the end of 1997 with 500 TV stations, 260 magazines, 16 newspapers and around 180 radio stations. The industry boomed in the 1990’s in a big way, not only in one country on a national level, but also on an international level. The easy life was no more; the advertising business evolved into more of a science; more know-how with a lot more planning and thought needed. The growth of the media industry was not all that was changed; the technological boom also led to a change in people’s mindsets, both those working within the industry and those working outside the industry. So it was a different environment all together with things becoming more specialized, and as such we came to the area of specialization in the year 2000 where the big divisions within our business took place. The whole environment of our business changed in that it used to be a full-service agency where a customer was serviced from A-Z; we basically covered all the steps involved. But with the emergence of so many companies that specialized in these different steps, we found ourselves in a business that was no longer there; so we had to cope with that change and adapt to that change to make it work to our advantage.
Do you believe there is a need and demand for more people in the field of advertising?
Our business lives on the younger generation, that’s for sure! Without newcomers in our business there is the potential risk of becoming non-creative. Being a very demanding industry and a very heavy requirement business, not everybody can be in it and not many can stay in it. But this new blood, this new breed, is always required because it brings fresh ideas and fresh thoughts and at the same time, the younger generation is responsible for moving the market. I have been talking to universities both in Lebanon and abroad and I even sit on several university boards, consulting with them about changing the curriculum to make it more relevant. While I in no way intend to offend any university, the courses and the curriculum that have been there for probably the last 10 or 20 years, need updating to reflect today’s fast moving business environment. What our requirements are today are far different from what they used to be seven or eight years ago, yet universities are still teaching the same things. Students are graduating from universities without the knowledge of what is required of them today. So it is our duty to enlighten the universities and schools that are teaching this communication business on what the requirements of today’s business and today’s industry are, so at least they can prepare students for the real world; equipped with the knowledge and skills they need in order to be an asset to the industry.
What do you think we are lacking in this filed?
We lack a lot. Like it or not, we are a young industry. The first generation of advertisers goes back to probably the 1960’s and none of them were advertising graduates or mass communication graduates. They were businessmen and businesswomen; they had marketing minds and they recognized that this business was in demand with entrepreneurs coming from varied background – but now that this field has been discovered, it needs more to be sustained and to grow. That is, if you are in this business and do not know exactly what this business is, then you have absolutely no business to be in it. In a similar fashion, you cannot be a lawyer without going to law school so how can you be an advertising expert without going to advertising school?
You are present in many countries in the region. How different is the clientele in Dubai versus the clientele in Lebanon. How do you describe the clientele in the region?
Our business deals with a multitude of products and a multitude of clients. If I were to be born again and asked what I would like to do in my life, I would choose advertising as a business. If you have the curiosity and you have the love of knowing and the love of learning, this is the business to be in for sure. It gets you into a different mindset of how people think and familiarizes you with different cultures. It is not only about what people think about the mass market and what you want to sell to those people, it is also about what the clients and what the people sitting behind the desk think. I have found that there is a big gap between the two. To make things clearer, let me put it this way: if you ever ask a father or a mother about their child, they will pronounce them the most beautiful and the most intelligent child in the world, and this is only natural because it is their child. I always relate this phenomenal parental mindset to the product manager and to the owner of the company because to him/her, their company is the best company in the world. However, this may not be how the market views that particular company – just as it may not be the way other people see that parent’s child; in fact, it is likely that the child is not as intelligent or as beautiful as the parent may like to think. This is where the expertise of a talented agency works with the clientele to overcome these obstacles and create value in the marketplace and redefine the image of the clientele’s company.
What should we expect from THG in the near future?
The expectation from THG is growth; we did not get this far only to stop here. I believe THG will keep on going and keep on moving with whatever the markets around us demand. Our business is changing tremendously. Today we are living in an era where this industry has become much more electronic and technical. Things are moving forward and we have to be prepared for that; we have to be ready for the next stage and for the next few years which I believe are going to be completely different from what we see today. Of course, television will always be there, and print will always be there, but there will also be other elements in the same way that we have seen the jump from two TV stations to 500. We will see a jump in different forms of media and different ways. The younger generation of today has different ways of communicating than I used to have in my own days; I never had a cellular phone; I never had internet; I never had a play station. Today the internet is everywhere and laptops, cellular phones and video games are something that almost everybody has. So it is this element of change and innovation that we keep on moving with and we keep on looking for to see what the future will hold and to cope with those changes. We hope that we can make it a success.
You have been honored with the first Dubai Lynx Advertising Person of the Year Award. How do you feel about that?
I feel great about it! Actually, it’s quite an honor. I am grateful for receiving so many awards because when you receive something like this, it makes you feel good; it makes you feel that you have been recognized and that your contribution to the business and the industry is appreciated. At the end of the day, this is the best that you can hope for.
You also received the Lebanese Order of the Cedar from the former President Emile Lahoud…!
That has been the biggest honor that I’ve ever received. The new Advertising Person of the Year comes and goes, being listed as one of the Top 20 Influential Businessmen in the Arab World is also an honor, but to receive your own country’s top medal is something special. Something emotional and different than anything else, and for that I am very grateful and very honored.
What is your message to the young entering the advertising field?
My eternal message to the younger generation considering this business is to forget about it if they do not have the passion for it. For those that try it, if after a month, two or three, they feel that they do not have the passion for it, to just get out. If not, they will end up doing wrong to themselves as well as to the industry. This is an industry that gives you a lifetime career that is probably one of the best careers that you can hope for as long as you like it and you have the passion for it. This is not just a job or just a source of income; it is a lifestyle; it is something that you have to live and breathe; you really have to have the five senses for it, and if you don’t, then just get out of it and move to something else – do yourself a favor and do us a favor…