"Never set limits for yourself, or you will kill good ideas,” says Shenan Chuang, the Taiwan-born CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Greater China. The advertising mogul’s creativity knows no boundary, a fact that has helped her shape Ogilvy’s success on the mainland.
When Chuang was assigned to Beijing nearly 10 years ago, she found many people tended to see simple things as “impossible”. She says: “I asked a waiter to put a slice of lemon in my water but he told me it was impossible. I would understand if they didn’t have lemon. But it’s not impossible. All he has to do is to cut a lemon and give me one slice.”
Chuang is renowned for her passion for creative leadership and innovative management, having set up a “creative floor” to knock down intangible walls among different disciplines and encourage co-operation within the company.
Her brainchild, O Gallery, a special art space inside the Beijing office, is another effort to make the workplace a creative environment while sponsoring local artists.
Named one of the “Top 25 Business Women in China” in 2010 and 2011 by Fortune China magazine, Chuang also co-founded the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies of China (4A) and has been elected its chairman three times.
She has thrived under the challenges of doing business in China. “The working pace on the mainland is very fast, just like the 1980s in Taiwan, when its economy started to take off. Growing markets are often obsessed with speed,” she says. “But sometimes speed will sacrifice quality and how to strike a balance between the two is a question the markets have to face.”
She believes an economic slowdown in China would allow people to reflect on the quality of growth and not just the market-driven quantity. But for herself, it seems, there is no slowing down. Even after 28 years with Ogilvy & Mather, Chuang remains a self-described “workaholic”.
“I’m so good at over-using every second that my body is worn out by the intensity. Now I have to learn to relax and pass my time by keeping my mind blank,” she says. “My most undisturbed moment is on a plane when no one can call me.” Chuang, who is single, gets up around 5am every day and usually works through her weekends.
“I was married once, but I don’t necessarily fit into the modern marriage. I’m single and have no children. I live freely and live in my own world,” she says. “Time is the great equaliser. No matter how rich you are, you only have 24 hours per day. You reap whatever you sow in time.”