TEAM LEWIS is all about driving diversity, inclusion, care, and equality in its workforce — and retiring the resume is one such way it is doing so. In this interview, Jen Wu, VP, People, APAC & EMEA and Fairil Yeo, SVP, APAC, tell Priya Sunil:
- How the agency is challenging traditional recruitment norms.
- Why it is shifting towards a concept of ‘borderless teams’ across its markets.
- How curiosity played a part in their own journeys as career changer (Jen Wu) and a non-degree holder (Fairil Yeo).
- Why leaders today should embrace the fact that we will never be able to know it all.
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A few months ago, global marketing agency TEAM LEWIS announced that it is saying goodbye to the resume — an initiative inviting career changers and non-degree holders to choose a career based on what they want to be and how they want to change the world, rather than fitting into a certain role.
This change falls into the agency’s wider ER campaign – where all job applicants will have to do is visit the agency’s page and in one word describe who they want to be (a designER? a thinkER? a writER?), while providing a link to their LinkedIn page to apply.
In this exclusive, Jen Wu, VP, People, APAC & EMEA, TEAM LEWIS and Fairil Yeo, SVP, APAC, TEAM LEWIS, tell Priya Sunil how this move wasn’t an HR-led initiative, but one that was driven and launched by the creative and client servicing teams; how they hope to inspire fellow leaders through their own journeys as a career changer (Jen Wu) and a non-degree holder (Fairil Yeo), and more. All as part of TEAM LEWIS’s drive for diversity, inclusion, care, and equality.
Q TEAM LEWIS is retiring the resume – what a progressive move! Tell us all about it and the wider ER campaign – what it entails for potential hires, the business need behind this move, and what you hope it achieves on the employee front.
Jen Wu (JW): Even prior to this change, we have always believed in culture and attitude first. So, the ERs campaign and retiring the resume is really formalising what we have already been doing. However, going to market and announcing this is cementing our commitment to the talent that is within the organisation and those interested in joining.
For potential new joiners, it means breaking down any barriers and helping pave the way for them; for the business, it means not limiting ourselves or missing out on amazing talent and for our teams, showing them our commitment that as long as they bring the attitude, we will help them develop the skills.
Some of our most successful individuals within the organisation have been career switchers and non-degree holders. Diversity of thinking, approach, and way of working is what ultimately makes us stronger and become the best we can be.
Fairil Yeo (FY): The COVID era has been tough, and it has demanded change across all companies. In our response to further evolve, we were also looking for opportunities to lend support. Talent inclusivity, across all walks of life, was one of the key areas that would have the most impact and hence, something we chose to pursue.
Getting rid of traditional and rigid processes associated with job applications was the first step. In doing so, our business gains a competitive edge in recruitment, we enable diversity across the spectrum, and will be able to add fresh perspectives.
Our ERs initiative is so much more than a campaign – we’re also showing our employees that we are not afraid to challenge traditional business norms and embrace new current standards required to operate in today’s world.
Q How closely were you involved in this launch, and what are some of your most cherished moments from this process?
JW: This was such an amazing process to work through. One thing new joiners often tell me, is that there are many international organisations in the market, but TEAM LEWIS is one of the few that truly operate in an international capacity. This campaign is one of the many examples we have.
A global collaboration, we collectively worked across APAC, UK, EMEA, and the US to get this off the ground.
The exciting thing is that this was not an HR-led initiative, rather a campaign driven and launched by our creative and client servicing teams. We came together to identify some of the key challenges we saw in the market and using diverse perspectives came up with the ERs campaign and subsequently retiring the resume.
Big kudos to our global Executive Creative Director, Simon Billington who brought this all together, and our amazing global marketing team who came up with creative and engaging content to showcase in more than words!
FY: The outcome of the campaign is what was inspiring to me – it was well-received by both potential candidates and employees alike. Many have shared that they felt it was a great change and we’ve also started to see an increase in employee advocacy.
Q Given that different markets bring different talent needs and potential hire profiles, how is this campaign tailored to address these individual market needs?
JW: TEAM LEWIS always takes both a top-down and bottom-up approach. What I mean by this is that any global programme always considers local market nuances. Across the APAC region, we recognised many years ago, the need to offer talent continuous opportunities to grow. We have built a business based on driving integrated skills in marketing and working with a diverse portfolio of clients.
This allows us greater freedom on the types of talent we hire. We recognise that in some markets, they may have stronger talent in a particular industry or skill. So, our business follows the talent vs trying to force talent into an already defined role. As an independent agency, we have the freedom to build teams that fit with the market’s needs.
As an example, we are seeing some amazing creativity coming out of Malaysia, so we launched our regional creative hub out of that market. Singapore is showing a huge amount of innovation in the research and analytics space so as a result, our growth and innovation hub for the region is based in Singapore. Our team in Australia is a tech powerhouse, so we are building our tech proposition within the market there.
FY: It’s known that Asia Pacific is both a highly nuanced region and one that offers limitless talent potential. We apply this knowledge in practice through un-siloed and borderless teams. We have taken great strides to consistently work as a single core team that is integrated with specialists across a broad range of services. At TEAM LEWIS, you won’t find teams split into any functional department.
By doing this, we are able to bring to life best-in-class teams to respond to client requirements. We are no longer shackled by the limitations of in-country-only teams. To support their business and changing requirements, our clients can now enjoy working with top talent and experts from multiple countries.
Q The agency recently launched RISE Academy – congratulations! What is the main focus and aim behind this academy? What makes it stand out from other similar academies out there?
JW: Our RISE Academy is a global earn-and-learn programme that we launched this year. The main objective is to provide a robust combination of both structured learning but also on-the-job experience.
Too often, we see individuals complete theoretical studies without understanding how to apply them. This allows for both. Our RISE delegates undergo structured learning, equip themselves with external certifications, are part of our client servicing teams, and also get to work with peers on group project tasks.
Our RISE delegates in APAC are also our pioneering team implementing the concept of borderless teams. As we continue to collaborate on opportunities across different countries, we are taking integration to the next level giving teams members exposure to working on clients in other markets. As an example, we have 12 RISE delegates across APAC and rather than individual offices benefitting from only the two or three RISE delegates from their market, they have the opportunity to work with all 12 RISE delegates.
Q Overall, how do these initiatives tie in with the agency’s larger programme to drive diversity, inclusion, care, and equality (DICE)?
JW: TEAM LEWIS’ DICE programme facilitates and celebrates diversity, inclusion, care and equality. I think it goes without saying that our ERs programme and getting rid of resumes touches on all these principles.
These programmes give us the opportunity to bring in talent from all walks of life. By ensuring we put a comprehensive training programme in place, we are taking ownership of these talent by ensuring these individuals are treated with care and given tools they need in order to succeed. Anyone can break into the marketing industry and develop successful careers.
An important factor is to always maintain clear and consistent communication. Regularly updating our teams on why these programmes are important and why DICE generally is critical to the evolution of individuals, the business and clients we work with helps ensure everyone buys in and therefore contributes actively to maintaining a positive DICE environment.
Q Jen, you joined TEAM LEWIS and took on an HR role with no background in the function. And now, you’re leading the function across two regions. What was the journey like for you, and how did you motivate yourself to work to where you are now?
JW: My career started in financial services in a banking environment before transitioning into a start-up culture. I’ve had the opportunity to experience an international working culture relocating from Sydney to Singapore. Making the move from Sydney to Singapore gave me pause to rethink my career aspirations. It did not take me long at all to realise my passion was for people and not stock exchanges!
Transitioning from the finance to talent industry allowed me to bring transferrable skills across including commercial awareness, sales, marketing, and relationship management. In fact, a fresh perspective facilitated my non-traditional journey at TEAM LEWIS. Coming from a different background really helped me to evolve my role to what it is today – anywhere from recruiting candidates, rolling out a wellness programme, and reviewing P&L statements, to coming up with marketing campaigns! TEAM LEWIS is easily the organisation which I have worked at the longest. The amazing thing about working here is that the role can be as big as you want it to be.
What motivates me? Curiosity. I never stop asking questions. The more I ask, the more I realise I don’t know! Constantly moving forward and challenging the status quo keeps bringing new opportunities, maintains excitement in my work, and (hopefully!) takes the teams on the same journey.
Q Likewise, Fairil, you joined the agency life with no formal education in marketing, and you’ve played a huge part in transforming TEAM LEWIS in APAC. Do tell us about your journey too, as well as how you kept yourself going throughout.
FY: My venture into the world of marketing began by accident – with a dollop of curiosity. I had decided that I didn’t want to further my education in tourism and hospitality and instead try to make a career out of producing videos.
I co-founded a company that took on commercial projects to fund the creation of documentaries. During my time with the company, we worked on corporate videos, commercials and advertising production. Then Facebook (now known as Meta) came along and everyone embraced it. We then started to produce digital campaigns for some of the earliest smartphone brands.
When I moved on, I sought to learn from some of the best in the digital industry and joined Qais Consulting (today known as VMLY&R). In my time there, I focused on developing my skill set, learned how to effectively manage teams as well as strategies for brands to break into the digital realm. Finally, I left VML and joined TEAM LEWIS to help the team grow and evolve its digital services. Over the past years, we’ve not only piloted new services but we layered new-to-agency offerings like sonic branding, commerce-related services as well as sustainability communications and marketing.
I experienced a lot of lessons over the years. One of the key lessons I’ve learnt is how we have to adapt and live in beta. Acknowledging change is one thing – it’s also about focusing on how we can push forward progressive thinking in spite of constant change.
Q Generally, in many parts of Asia, even Singapore, there is still a stigma around hiring for certain roles without a degree or without experience. Why is this so, and how can HR/employers set an example by shifting away from this mindset?
FY: The fear of hiring candidates without a degree or without experience comes from the feeling of needing to be 100% certain. Many employers and HR practitioners are too often stuck on a box-ticking exercise because they feel that it is the most certain way to hire.
I don’t think that we have to throw the hiring guidebook out of the window, instead employers should apply an open-minded approach to understanding a candidate’s potential impact in a role or organisation.
Candidates today no longer look for ‘jobs’. Instead, they are looking to expand their portfolio. Likewise, employers should also look at a candidate’s portfolio of skills, experiences, and/or perspective, then ask how this can benefit their organisation.
Q Thus, how do you both hope to inspire leaders out there, through your own journeys?
JW: The world we live in continues to rapidly change. Good enough today, is not good enough tomorrow. I genuinely believe that our role as leaders is to serve the many. What this means to me is that having been blessed in my own career to meet leaders who understood ‘more than meets the eye’, it is now my turn to recognise amazing talent (in any form) and help clear the path for them to do even greater things. My role is not to come up with great ideas myself, rather it’s to help those around me unlock their potential and confidence.
Helping many do this will be infinitely more valuable to the organisation than what I could achieve individually. For myself, listening and learning from those around me, especially those with less experience or ‘relevant’ backgrounds, has also meant being able to maintain a forward-looking approach.
Leaders today should embrace the fact that we will never be able to know it all despite all the lessons learnt, experiences gained, or failures faced. We must place trust in the people that we work alongside and understand that our core beliefs need to come with a degree of flex.
Finally, we also should feel at ease with the pace of change and uncertainty that our businesses face. The best thing we can do is learn to optimally operate in an ever-changing business environment where progress and change are constant, and help our teams to change along with it.
Photos / Provided [From L-R: Jen Wu, VP, People, APAC & EMEA, TEAM LEWIS and Fairil Yeo, SVP, APAC, TEAM LEWIS]