Malcolm Poynton on why you should nurture your ambitions

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"It’s always incredibly exciting to build creative teams and inspire them to achieve things greater than they ever expected."

Malcolm Poynton is a leader many professionals in the industry would envy. Grown up in New Zealand with sports and pencils as his daily bread, Malcolm is now heading the global division of Cheil, guiding the agency's expansion across different territories around the world.

Malcolm believes that, given different occasions and turns in life, he would have become an architect. But if this below is the kind of strength and drive his team can benefit from, we're quite sure it was always supposed to be this way.

Today we are Getting to Know Cheil's first ever global chief creative officer, an incredibly passionate team leader with enormous ambitions for the future of his company, the industry and, most importantly, his team.


Tell us about your current role…

As Cheil Worldwide’s first ever Global Chief Creative Officer, my every day is developing our cutting-edge creative product and capabilities. Each week, I bring together our creative leads from a number of Cheil offices and sibling agencies; Barbarian Group, BMB, Iris, McKinney and PengTai. 

I built our global creative council around our unique and disparate disciplines - retail architecture, experiential, mobile, dotcom and advertising - combining both our most established and our most rapidly emerging markets. Our global creative council is like no other. This gives us much more exciting conversations since our reference points are broad and far-reaching. It’s designed to keep pushing us forward in unique ways that come from having mobile tech at the centre of our DNA. And, as lead agency for Samsung, we are always looking ahead of the industry when it comes to how consumers live their lives through mobile. 

How did you get to your current position? What was the biggest challenge?

I’d say the biggest factors contributing towards getting to my current role have been a constant curiosity for what comes next - rather than the typical industry obsession for what’s been - caring about the people I work with, and an appetite for spurring teams on to climb mountains, no matter the conditions. It’s always incredibly exciting to build creative teams and inspire them to achieve things greater than they ever expected. 

I set challenges for us to make our mark as the newest global creative network around and I’d say realising these ambitions is the biggest challenge. We’ve gone from a little-known creative network from South Korea to being recognised as one of the world’s top ten global creative networks, with Agency of the Year titles for the APAC region, China, Hong Kong, India and South Korea. And now we have our Spain, Romania, Brazil and Central America offices all ranking in the top five in their markets, too. So, the challenges get bigger with each ambition we realise. 

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

Having grown up in rural New Zealand, the role my background played in my career is probably not too obvious. I grew up on a diet of sport; rugby, fishing, skiing, athletics and yachting. Whatever time I couldn’t fill with sport, I filled with creative pursuits; designing, drawing and painting. In 1984, I became the youngest member of the New Zealand Yachting Team so ended up focussing on sport for some time. I then leapt into studying architecture. So, I’d say it’s the cocktail of full-on competitive sports and the team building that comes with that as well as the creative world of design and architecture that have most contributed to my career.

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

If I’d taken a different turn earlier in life, I’d definitely be an architect. Architecture is on both sides of my family so I’ve always been immersed in it to some extent. I’m amazed that most people take for granted the role architecture plays in our lives just as I am excited to see how technology has opened up the possibilities of architecture today. As much as I am a fan of Bauhaus and the modernism of the 20th century, today’s post-Bauhaus era has given rise to an incredibly dynamic dimension in our cities and a far more sympathetic approach to rural architecture, too. 

What’s your secret to keeping the team inspired and motivated?

Keeping teams inspired is what it’s all about. If I shared the secret as to how I do that, it wouldn’t be much of a secret. What I will share is that as brilliant as Cannes, D&AD and our global creative festivals are, I am a big believer in drawing on other forms of creative expression and pioneers beyond our industry to inspire us as to what’s next. 

How has COVID-19 affected you as a leader?

I’ve always been fascinated by the tension between global and local views when it comes to brands and how networks work. While we refer to COVID as a global pandemic, it’s actually a local issue. It is impacting people in so many different ways around the world. For me, having empathy and understanding of the vastly different situations we find our teams facing in their local markets matters a lot. Paying attention to the unique circumstances means it’s possible to build an even greater connection between our creative leads. A network is nothing if not for its people. The pandemic has really thrown a spotlight on that for me, over all else.

What is your one piece of advice to aspiring creatives?

Really get to know your clients. Spend as much time as possible with them and get to know their dreams and ambitions. That way, you’ll be able to get more ideas made that make a difference, for both your client and yourself.

How do you recharge away from the office?

My greatest recharge is to spend time in art galleries. Something that’s a little restricted just now but that only makes it all the more exciting: The upside in the current situation being that, when you do get there, there are fewer people crowding the space.


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

Naming one big dream for the future of the industry is a big ask. I’d say, today more than ever, I’d love to see the industry get back some of its edge by going back-to-the-future, back to the days of recruiting people from all walks of life over the cookie-cutter graduate recruitment that’s come to dominate the industry. That way, we’ll get way more interesting thinking, faster, and work that has more cultural impact too.


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