A view from the top
A view from Amir Kassaei

A view from the top

"The top" is only the top when a leader performs his or her role from a specific perspective. Leaders need to live every day in a way that has a positive impact on the whole company.

When I was appointed as the chief creative officer at DDB Worldwide, I made a commitment to visit every office in the network on a regular basis. I made this decision because it is essential to be entrenched in the culture of each office, to be able to decide where and how to take the creative engendered by each agency to the next level. At first, I experienced a lot of jet lag during my travels, but now jet lag feels normal. It’s like being on drugs without taking drugs. There is no normal week. There is no normal office day.

I have three actual "offices" at DDB: one in the agency’s headquarters on Madison Avenue in New York, one in Shanghai and one in Berlin. I spend more than 280 days a year on aeroplanes and at airports.

And, let’s be clear, this isn’t the lifestyle portrayed in Mad Men with Champagne or private jets. No bling. Because, no matter where and in which time zone I am, the day starts at 5am. This means I sleep for four hours only. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I don’t believe that you can elevate the quality of the creative product in Seoul by sitting in Manhattan and sending e-mails. You cannot develop and prepare one of the biggest communication networks for the next ten years by having the right work-life balance. You cannot reinvent the product by sitting in the back of a limousine. You have to be there – where the work happens, where the clients need you, where the talent is. To do that, you have to experience the life of your people. I enjoy taking public transport in each location because I believe that a global creative leader needs to understand the people in each culture. When I immerse myself in the culture of each city, I can help to enhance the creative product, help to create amazing work.

The work comes down to creating relevance for our clients’ products and services and adding value to their businesses. I read a lot – about four or five books at the same time. I enjoy music, art, architecture and design. Technology and fashion are passions of mine. I have four kids and they live across the globe. I bring them together once a month to spend time with them.

"The top" means to care the most. To live what you preach. There are no standing ovations and, sometimes, no "thank yous". It’s a lot like playing chess. It’s about looking at the whole board and having a very clear vision and strategy of where you want to go, while looking at every move and every situation and making sure that the ideas are the right ones. Leaders need to be on track and aware of what is going on in every single situation. I love chess, specifically blitz chess that takes three minutes for a whole game. The online aspect of the game allows me to clear my mind, as a player has to rely more on intuition than on rational thinking.

Being at the top is not about the title on a business card. It’s not about the size of an office and the number of people reporting to you. It’s a mindset, an attitude. It’s tough. It’s exhausting, physically and mentally. But there is nothing that I love more. Actually, it feels no different to how I felt as a young copywriter. As long as you love it, it does not feel like a job.

Amir Kassaei is the chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide

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