20 Questions with John Ng, Managing Director of [email protected] – Media Agency Interviews

Jessica Lai Media Agency Interviews

Name: John Ng
Role: Managing Director, [email protected]
Age: 49

John Ng is an industry veteran who is currently the Managing Director of [email protected] He has a wealth of experience on both agency and client fronts, scoring many awards and serving as a judge in local and global panels. John is also a multi-hyphenate, being a start-up angel investor, a martial arts practitioner and a first time-author of the book “Lead The New Asia”. We get to know the man who will be helming the whole-of-government master media agency account a little better. 

1. What are your hobbies? 

I have a variety of interests that relate to travel, film, toys and design but I am a martial arts nerd. My father introduced me to Chinese kungfu when I was 10 and over the years I have also been exposed to fighting systems from Korea, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. 

In the recent 7 years, I have been learning Filipino Martial Arts at the Kali Majapahit academy and it has allowed me to better understand the weapons aspect of martial arts and integrate what I have previously learnt. 

GOV@PublicisWith my fellow martial artists from the Kali Majapahit academy.

More importantly, I have been given the opportunity to volunteer my time to work with kids so that they can develop life and leadership skills through core values such as focus, responsibility and perseverance. 

2. What is your favourite quote? 

William Gibson said “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed”. This quote resonates with me at work when I think about how we can bring people closer to brands with technology. In this context what is new, bright and shiny may not always be the best solution because people adopt technology at different paces. 

As a father of 2 teenage boys who spend most of their time gaming, creating videos and connecting with people all over the world on Discord, I am also cognisant of the fact the future for them is now while it will take me time to catch up.

3. What is your favourite movie / Netflix show and why?

I completed Season 3 of the Umbrella Academy on Netflix but my favourite show would have to be the animated anthology Love, Death and Robots. 

The show has great stories and amazing designs that continue to fascinate me. Having worked on some scripts and done animation work for a small studio back in the mid 90s, this series has everything I would like to do if I could turn back time and reboot my career. 

4. Tell us about the book you’ve written and why people should read it:

My book “Lead The New Asia” is a side project that materialised from the observation (maybe a bit of frustration) that there is still a lack of appreciation that our workforce in Asia is incredibly diverse. The notion that one leadership approach works for all of Asia is not something I subscribe to because of cultural, language and social diversity in this region. 

GOV@Publicis

To that view, I put together this book in the hope of helping a new generation of leaders understand what some of these nuances are so that they can succeed in this 21st century world.  

This is obviously a huge and complex subject and people should read my book because it gives them an introduction to what some of these differences and similarities are across ten countries from the perspectives of leaders of varying seniority and industries. 

5. People who inspire and influence you?

My children.

6. How do you think leadership styles differ across generations?

In my book I referenced the work of Joseph Rost and he pointed out that leadership is today an influence relationship and not a power one. While in the past one would expect decision making to come from the top, leadership in the future is where everyone participates. 

7. Favourite book not written by you and why:

Despite being a triple science student in school and my stint as an Electronics and Computer Engineering student, I have a huge library of books on mythology, history, philosophy and other esoteric subjects. 

Because of that, I would say my favourite literary work is The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. This critically acclaimed work is one of the first few graphic novels to ever be on The New York Times Best Seller list and made Entertainment Weekly’s 100 best reads from 1983 to 2008. You’ll soon be able to catch the adaptation of The Sandman on Netflix but I highly recommend getting your hands on the graphic novels.

8. Three words people use to describe you:

Approachable, decisive and opinionated.  

9. Three words you’d use to describe yourself:

Introverted, curious and independent.

10. What was the most memorable moment in your career?

There have been many moments where I celebrated great work, business wins and important personal milestones with colleagues and partners in the industry. But what I remember most are the lessons I took out during challenging periods such as during the first dotcom bubble burst, the 2008 recession and recent pandemic. 

During these difficult times, I always get to experience the best in people as they rally together to make sure no one gets left behind. The first dotcom bubble burst forced me to think of a career strategy that will future-proof myself so I try to remind my younger colleagues to not only focus on developing core skills but always challenge themselves in unfamiliar territories so that they can find longevity in their own careers.

11. Tell us a fun fact that most of your employees don’t know about you

I used to train robots as an intern at a hard disk manufacturing company. It was such a lonely 3- months experience spending my time in a clean room that I eventually decided to pursue a business degree in Sydney instead of continuing my engineering studies in the UK.

12. Campaign done by others that most inspired you:

I am a massive dystopian sci-fi film fan and having read the novel by George Orwell about 20 years ago, I would have to say Apple’s classic 1984 superbowl ad that introduced the Apple Macintosh personal computer has to be my favourite. 

13. How does having experience from both agency and client sides assist you in your current role?

My experience from the creative agency side to client and now media has without doubt given me very valuable insights on how different aspects of businesses need to come together to drive success for clients. 

My unconventional journey has afforded me the privilege of working with and learning from highly respected leaders such as David Tang, Pearlyn Phau, Tim Issac, Freddie Covington and Ian Loon, so count yourselves lucky if you have had the chance of working with them!

14. What are 3 tips you would give to fresh grads entering the industry?  

I always tell people that I hire for a candidate’s potential so I do not necessarily focus on their academic qualifications or past work experience. With that in mind, I some tips I would share are: 

  1. Be hungry and make sure your potential employer knows how much you want to join the industry because the diploma, degree or MBA does not guarantee you a job.
  2. Do not get distracted by titles or salaries but find out what you can learn because what you know will prepare you for the next job.
  3. Make sure that you have a positive attitude because you can learn skills but if you do not have the right attitude, you will not make meaningful progress in your career.

What matters more than whether one joins an agency or the client business is how they can apply their knowledge across different domains and industries.

15. What do you think will be your greatest challenge as MD of [email protected] within the next few years?

What keeps me awake at night is how I can constantly create opportunities that allow my team to enhance their existing skills, learn new things and take on leadership roles. 

GOV@PublicisTeam [email protected]

It is easy to get people to do the same thing repeatedly but it is a lot harder to help them find meaning in being able to do better and therefore expand into new areas that complement their existing strengths, and eventually take complete ownership of what they do with confidence and pride.

16. How do you think agencies and start-ups can keep themselves innovative? 

I define innovation as either doing things differently or doing new things. Agencies and startups need to constantly engage people and partners to get diverse views and understand what are the real opportunities. 

And to succeed, companies need people who are brave enough to challenge groupthink and perhaps resist jumping onto the bandwagon to chase the latest trends for the sake of being perceived as being “innovative”. 

We often hear that one needs to go with the flow or not rock the boat to succeed but having “yes” people around can be the perfect recipe to disaster. Polythink is however equally bad as it paralyses organisations so for teams to achieve meaningful innovation, they should always appoint and support a dissenter to keep themselves honest.

17. What is your definition of a 21st-century agency?

With the successes we have seen in remote working from the last couple of years, a 21st century agency will be one that is able to operate with data and AI as amplifiers of seamless contributions from talents all over the world at any time or day. 

Whilst data is currency and automation through AI is meant to reduce the dependencies on the human workforce, people will remain as the real fuel for the 21st-century agency. 

18. What are the top 3 digital trends you think will make an impact in marketing and advertising?

I do not like to focus on trends because they come and go. As an advocate for brilliant basics and doing things differently to innovate, areas that I would focus on are:

  1. Expanding partnerships across different ecosystems, e.g. creators networks & media partners that can provide offline to online connectivity
  2. Dialling down on intrusiveness through over-personalisation and reclaiming strategic superiority with thoughtful creativity on the appropriate platforms
  3. Building trust from direct relationships with audiences who will in turn give permission to engage them
19. Any other shout-outs you want to give or interesting projects you’re working on?

I want to acknowledge every single member of my team for their commitment and contribution because they are doing meaningful work that can help save lives and create positive change in society. Everything they do affects somebody so I am extremely proud to have the opportunity to work alongside them.

20. If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

I am sure everyone is familiar with the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” by now, so frankly I think all working moms must have some kind of superpower. My wife, for example, holds a full- time job but yet she is able to juggle managing our kids, dogs and her day job across the region. That would be a superpower I wish I had. 

agencyJohn hiking in Iceland

John Ng’s Linkedin


This post is part of our Media Industry Leaders series. If you’d like to be featured, or have a nominee in mind, please drop us a note at [email protected]

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