20 Questions with Nimesh Desai, CEO of Wunderman Thompson Singapore – Media Agency Interviews

Josiah Neo Media Agency Interviews

Name: Nimesh Desai
Role: CEO of Wunderman Thompson Singapore

In a span of 14 years, Nimesh Desai went from Regional Account Director to Chief Executive Office at the ad agency Wunderman Thompson. The avid Liverpool fan even had to pitch himself for the role of CEO during the transition period when Wunderman was merging with J. Walter Thompson back in 2019. With things settling down since, he has his sights set on nabbing a Lion (or two) at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Desai recently took time out of his busy schedule to share with us his favourite campaign, the person who inspires him the most, and what he looks for when hiring creatives.

1. What are some of your hobbies?

I don’t have a hobby personally anymore, but I share several with my two boys who love collecting Premier League and La Liga soccer cards.

2. What is your favourite quote?

You Will Never Walk Alone (YNWA)” – Liverpool FC’s slogan. Yes, I am a hardcore fan, as are my boys. It’s a phrase I use with my team as well.

nimesh desai and sons liverpool fans
Image credit: Nimesh Desai

3. What is your favourite TV show and why?

It has to be The Wire. The sheer intricacies of navigating a minefield of drugs, gangs and politics while trying hard to live up to the expectations of society and one’s job. 

4. Who are some people (in the industry or outside) that inspire you and why?

Most who know me would have heard this time and time again. Biren Desai, my elder brother, is the one person who inspires me the most. He put me through school and got me married despite all the burdens of having a family at a young age.  He is selfless with his time and devotion. And for a long time, he has led the Gujurati Society as a president, ensuring our traditions and culture remain alive and moving with the evolving times of the next generation.

Now he is a constant critic of the work we produce and is never short of sharing his thoughts and wisdom. I could go on writing about him. But I think you get the point.

5. What is your daily routine before and after work?

WFH has changed a lot of my usual routine. Now it generally involves waking up with the kids and dropping them to school before I sit with a cup of coffee to go through my emails. Almost every day, I spend an hour playing soccer with my boys. I live in a large household, so evenings are usually a glass of single Malt or red wine with all before we sit for dinner.

nimesh desai and family
Nimesh and his family.
Image credit: Nimesh Desai

6. Three words people use to describe you:

“Humble, calm, authentic.” – Rebecca Nadilo, Chief Strategy Officer at WT Singapore

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

Pragmatic, open, and understanding.

8. What food spot is your favourite in Singapore, and what is your go-to order there?

I was born in Singapore and grew up eating a lot of local food. There are too many to list, but Mee Rebus @ Kwan Inn Vegetarian – only on Tuesdays – is my fav. Yes, I am a vegetarian, much to the dismay of all my close friends.

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

Many don’t know this, but I had to pitch for the CEO role when Wunderman Thompson was formed. A nerve-wracking period as I had already been with Wunderman for 14 years. I had no clue what I would be doing if not this! Annette Male (previous APAC CEO) informed me of the decision. A memorable moment and a defining moment in my career to merge, lead and establish a formidable organization.

10. Which campaign done by Wunderman Thompson are you most proud of?

shut up sexism wunderman thompson singapore
Image credit: Wunderman Thompson

Shut Up Sexism. I would list all the work we have done but this one truly stands out as it helps drive a very important message.

11. Which campaign was done by others most inspired you?  (please include hyperlinks and images if relevant)

Fevicol ads are my favorite. Over the years they have managed to stick to their approach without losing a beat. This one has been etched in my head forever:

12. How can bosses help their employees during a merger between two companies?

Over-communicate. These are trying times for everyone. Be honest, don’t sugarcoat the messages. Make yourself more available to individuals who need your time.

wunderman thompson team singapore
The Wunderman Thompson team celebrating their first day after the merger.
Image credit: Wunderman Thompson Singapore

13. How can interns stand out and have a better shot at converting into a full-timer?

So many of our interns have gone on to be full-time employees. Interns need to use every opportunity to voice their views, be involved and build strong relationships. If they make a lasting impression, their ‘buddy’ and the team will ask for them to join the agency

14. What top three qualities do you look for when hiring? Any interview tips? 

Integrity, chemistry, and drive. Generally, I keep interviews informal and conversational. I ask them about their journey as opposed to specific stints or experiences. This helps me form a view of the 3 things I look for.

nimesh desai
Image credit: Nimesh Desai

15. What do you think is the difference between a boss and a leader?

There is a lot written and preached about this so it’s obvious. I believe in a humble leadership style. Know your own weaknesses, draw on the strength of the team, and build relationships, not transactions.

16. What do you think is the best way to retain employees? 

Don’t BS. Employees are not stupid; they can see through any crap. Clearly, that’s not enough. We have to continuously understand their changing needs and see how we can best provide them a platform to get there.

wunderman thompson singapore team
The Wunderman Thompson Singapore team.
Image credit: Wunderman Thompson Singapore

17. How do you help your team combat mental fatigue and creative blocks?

WPP has started initiatives like Making Space recently where all employees were given a 4-day long weekend. At a market level, we have a specialist come in to run meditation classes, and we provide an annual budget to every employee as part of our Wellness Program. A budget they can use for anything that helps – be it a vacation, treadmill, spa. They decide. 

At the same time, we remind everyone it is completely acceptable to say no when they have to.

18. What advice do you have for students starting a career in an agency?

Be open, and be involved in various types of projects. And don’t join an agency because of a specific account but because you believe in their work and leadership.

19. Any exciting agency developments (projects, new hires, expansion plans) you’d like to draw our attention to? 

I can’t mention the client’s name but we just started a 3-year digital transformation project for a public sector organization. As part of it, we have been bolstering our Data, CX and Martech hiring.

20. What do you hope to achieve at Wunderman Thompson in the next year?

A Cannes Lion! We are thrilled that we had 3 shortlists this year which itself is an achievement. But next year we want a LION!

Related links:

Nimesh Desai’s LinkedIn
Wunderman Thompson Singapore’s website

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].


Cover image adapted from: Nimesh Desai

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