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Agency Leadership Decoded: VMLY&R ANZ’s Thomas Thearle on building success from the inside out

The mission of VMLY&R ANZ is to help create connected brands and its CEO Thomas Thearle says that this will only be possible if they themselves are a ‘connected’ team. 

For Thomas, to bring everyone together isn’t always a walk in the park where being appointed to leadership made him inherit “a really interesting” situation. It was in 2018 when parent company WPP announced the merger of VML and Y&R, birthing the agency that Thomas now helms for the ANZ team. 

“Mergers are complicated enough but when you also add in that there are five locations all at different levels of capability maturity and throw in two additional businesses at the same time, while coming in and out of lockdowns, it takes on a life of its own,” shares Thomas of the challenge of leading an agency that continues to evolve from its combined capabilities. 

This then becomes the heart of their team engagement strategies – creating a seamless and harmonious working dynamic to move as one. 

Creating a well-connected agency

First of all, in order to develop a team that manoeuvres as a single unit, right leadership must be in place. 

“The initiatives we put in place to keep our team engaged and motivated through this process were firstly to get the right leadership team in place,” said Thomas. 

Thomas said this needed to be a small passionate group of people that lived and breathed VMLY&R’s values and is as determined to see the organisation progress to an aligned mission and vision.

The former Y&R business had traditionally been a network of boutique agencies, which the agency began connecting at every level whilst investing heavily in developing its CX, technology and commerce capabilities to be able to truly deliver on its global mission to create connected brands.

“This process gives us all belief in what we’re doing,” said Thomas.

Developing a future-oriented working environment 

Aside from prioritising the promotion of unity and connection, VMLY&R ANZ also doesn’t ignore the fact that the tangible aspects of working together are as important. In line with this, the agency is looking to evolve and improve its approach to flexible working that would answer to the demands of the present working landscape. 

Thomas said that they are trying to redefine their perspective on factors such as when the team is in the office and why they are in it, be it for collaboration, ceremony, or celebration. In addition, they are also considering the length of the working week and even the locations of their offices. 

“There may be more desirable locations than metropolitan cities for example. There are lots we’re working on for what’s next that I’m really excited about,” he said. 

In the end, for VMLY&R, each step taken is always on the road to creating more shared opportunity, capability, capacity, and knowledge base for its team, and in turn, its clients.

Success from the inside out

VMLY&R views the success of their business performance through four lenses: their team engagement through ‘Office Vibe’; their work through industry recognition; their client satisfaction through Vantage; and their commercial health. 

This goes back to their core principle that if the team is doing great and is delivering great work, this in turn, will help them attract great client partners and be commercially healthy. 

“I’m pleased to say that all of these KPIs are trending positively,” shared Thomas. 

This of course is not possible without great leadership, and for Thomas, the best leadership is having the desire and pushing on one’s capability to “unlock the potential of others”.

“As leaders, we have to know what it is that we want to unlock the potential of others to do,” he said. 

He added, “[Ask yourself] what is it you want to change and is the answer to that question meaningful enough for your team to get behind it.”