#GettingToKnow Mike Khouri, CEO @ Tactical

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Tell us a bit about your role! Is there a “typical” day?

I don’t think there’s ever a typical day. And I love that there isn’t.

I started Tactical ten years ago during the early days of the iPhone and in the ever-changing city of Dubai. It was an agency born on social and inspired by culture, so the pace of change in the work we do and the way we work has always been rapid.

Within this wonderful chaos, my role is to keep calm while still maintaining progress, so truthfully, no two days are the same. I’d be asking questions if they were.

What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?

Failure. I’m my own biggest critic and throughout my journey at Tactical I’ve learnt that working on a thousand iterations far outweighs 10,000 hours of doing the same thing.


Failing and iterating doesn’t always come easy though. As the stakes get higher and decisions become more consequential, the cost of failure naturally weighs heavier.

I’ve learnt that building a really strong team of problem solvers, and not being too shy or proud to ask for help, is the best way to overcome this.

What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?

I’ve never worked in a traditional agency. Before starting Tactical, in the early days of the app store, I built and launched an app. When it went live, I thought I’d be the next Zuckerberg or Bezos.

Instead, nothing happened. Barely a few downloads.

Every agency I turned to for guidance offered the same traditional solutions to a new, digital problem. I felt there was a better way of going to market, a better way for brands to tell stories in the new era of mobile and social, so that’s what we set out to do with Tactical.

What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?

Both happened the same day.

It was April 2020. Lockdowns crippled the globe and we ended up losing our biggest retainer at the time - and our first major client - due to global cutbacks. It was hard. It had nothing to do with performance, just financial pressure, and it shook our world.


Later that day we won a new account - the biggest win to date as an agency. Emotions were all over the place. To say the corona-coaster was real is an understatement.

Which individuals and/or agencies do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?

I’m wary of industry heroes. I believe the industry is in a funk. Agencies are either trying to retrofit outdated solutions to fight tomorrow’s battles, or jumping on the latest hype moment pretending to be a specialist on anything and everything.

What we’re trying to do is different. Not just in the work we do as an agency, but also the way we work as a business.

I’m constantly curious about what best in class looks like. Whether that's product, culture, operations - and plenty more - so when I look for inspo, I tend to go beyond our industry.

If you could go back to your teenage years, would you have done things differently? Do you have any regrets?

I was lucky to grow up in Dubai at a time when it was still considered a small town. Most people didn’t know anything about it and I met expats from all walks of life.


This, coupled with a pace of change that quickly put Dubai on the map, gave me a perspective on people and culture that I probably wouldn’t get exposed to in many other places in the world.

While there’s been times I wished I specialised earlier in my career, when looking back, I now see the value of starting wide and experimenting a lot.

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I’m a failed NBA dreamer. I grew up obsessed with the game, until my wobbly knees gave way.

What’s your one big dream for the future of the industry?

As I said earlier, I think the industry is in a funk. We’re trying to build the agency of the future; one that’s measured on outcomes, not hours.

How we get there is a journey, a long one, as there’s decades of industry scar tissue that needs to be worked against. I believe the model of the future is one of productization, among other things, and if done properly, will reward our team and partners by giving clarity on what everyone is measured on - the final outcome.


And with all industries due to feel the impact of automation and AI in the coming years, we’re just as vulnerable, so we might as well act now and get ahead of the curve in leveraging technology to unlock new value to our partners and across the industry.

What are your top tips for aspiring creative professionals?

Figure out what you’re obsessed with. Start wide and experiment. Experiment a lot. When you find something that grabs your focus, and time just evaporates, then you know you’re onto something. At that point, dig deeper and begin to specialise.

Another tip is asking for feedback. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. Never think you’re too accomplished to learn from others. Always manage up and ask for feedback. I have a group of advisors I actively go to and ask for input on my performance, and I find it so rewarding.

What are your top tips for other creative leaders?

People. You’re only ever as good as the people around you, so surround yourself with the best.


And to follow that, if you want to grow in your career, then stop focusing on it. Focus on your people instead. As they rise, you rise. It’s the quickest path to growth and is the core of great leadership.

When you think about your team, what is the thing that matters to you the most?

Impact. If we’re going to measure on outcomes as a business, then as a team, we need to obsess about impact internally.

For us, impact is measured on performance AND behaviour.

Not everyone coming in will immediately deliver on performance, which is why behaviour is so important.

This means building a team that aligns on a set of principles, and if we do that, then I’m convinced we’ll deliver with impact.

Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?

Build your personal board of advisors. It doesn’t matter how junior or senior you are, you should always be learning and it’s surprising how forthcoming mentors can be. Find people in and out of your industry who’ve achieved what you’re trying to do, and ask them to coach you. It’s incredible how effective this can be for anyone with ambition.


As for reading, look for industry or subject matter classics. Anything new is still being qualified. Anything longlasting has stood the test of time. Pick the latter, but apply a current lens and stress test against what is happening in the industry right now. 

For everything else, lean on X. Sure it’s conflicting, but it’s often where great thought leadership originates, whether you agree with it or not.


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