One Year at the Clock Tower

2017-09-28

Written by

Anjelica

Price-Rocha

Los Angeles, CA

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Q&A with Humphrey Ho on Hylink USA’s 1-Year Anniversary

We celebrate Hylink’s first anniversary of business in the U.S. this year. What thoughts and emotions come to mind when you think about that?

  • Hylink’s anniversary is actually 18 months in the making.  The office in Santa Monica opened September 29th, but Hylink opened nine months prior. We spent those beginning months in several different spaces – a townhome, a very chill office in Culver City as well as in the breakfast nook at my home – this was all because of permits and such.  

  • A year at this office makes you think back. Last September when we moved in, we’d won our first client, founding client, SFTA. Outside of that, we weren’t thinking about more than the number of screws needed for any given chair or how many high top tables were needed for the opening party. We moved on September 28th and were still setting up desks on the 29th when our CEO and our COO came to the office.  We had our opening party at six that night with 200 guests. We had Santa Monica’s mayor attend and several of our clients from all over the world join, including the Chinese Consulate General from LA. We were honored to have such distinguished and important guests celebrate with us.

  • A year in – we won BrandUSA, the agency responsible for US travel and tourism globally. China is, now more than ever, one of the most important markets in order to increase exchange of travel/tourism between our two countries. We have moved across different industries - from clientele in healthcare/probiotics and luxury/fashion, to sports leagues, and our business is only going to continue to expand. It’s also been an interesting year because many Chinese or Chinese-funded businesses have been a part of bad news because of the overseas direct investment order, (ODI) which prevents Chinese companies from extensively investing in companies.  We survived that and are very proud to have fiscally managed our way through, as well as grow the office to over 30 people. On top of these 30 jobs, we’ve created hundreds more across all of our vendors (print, media, partners, etc.). We’re happy to have grown in an environment that is kind of adverse to our specific industry. I am humbled that most of the staff who started with us last September and then those staff members that joined thereafter are still with us. This is important to us because the core foundation of any advertising agency - any media agency or business - is to find a core group of raggedy men and women - mostly women - who will do the work, take some punches and throw some back. That’s a tremendously humbling experience for me because it’s strange to ask that of anyone in their careers to do this. But our people do and they work hard.  If you’re American, non-Chinese speaking, you’re in a world of media platforms and languages that are foreign to you. If you’re Chinese American or Chinese, you’re in a country where clients behave differently and ask questions that are completely different. The experience of not only serving a client, but being their advisor, consultant, and trusted expert in the market is something that truly is a skillset no other media agency taught them – even throughout their career -  no matter if they first started their career in advertising, have had a few years in the industry, or are veterans. The people that can navigate this and stay are tremendously important to Hylink and I’m humbled to be able to work with them. I’m looking forward to 2017-18 as we expand our business.

Your title at Hylink U.S. is managing director. But what do you think your title should be after this year? Be creative.

Titles are irrelevant. State of mind is important.  My state of mind has always been to help Hylink internationalize its operations from China’s largest independent digital agency to a global advertising agency specializing in China. Helping Chinese clients come out and brand globally and also helping American, European, GCC, A&Z, SEA clients better position themselves in China. The biggest nut to crack has always been, and the biggest ad market in the world has always been and will always be the U.S. So I’m very happy, and my state of mind now is to internationalize the infrastructure, people, resources, and the clientele. I’m always looking forward to reapplying that and scaling the resources, infrastructure, and people globally.

As you look back on the past year, how have you met or even surpassed your initial visions for the company?

I have clearly delivered on my vision of failing harder. I’ve delivered on my vision of being profit-positive, remaining profitable and creating an environment where people want to stay and do the best work of their lives. Nothing else really matters. The vision of scaling the company is good because the first step to scalability isn’t infrastructure, it’s people, mindset, know-how, thinking, and then after, you just apply infrastructure and resources and then you can “10x” anything you apply it to - whether it’s an investment category, helping the existing client “10x”, as long as you get the people right, you can apply any infrastructure and resources to it.

What excited you most about taking on this opportunity to grow Hylink’s U.S. business? What worried you most?

I was worried that the ad agency world in the U.S. would shut us out and assume we were domestic competition. We’ve kept the same message and we’ve always followed true to not competing in the local market we are in as “guests”. We will compete, however, in China, so I’m very happy that our partner agencies - other digital, traditional, independent agencies have seen us as partners to help solve their China solution and we see them as helping us solve our America or North America solution.  I am tremendously honored and extremely excited that we’ve been able to craft what we have in the last year and am also most proud that our clients put an intense amount of trust in us. “Us” being based on the West Coast, “them” based in the East/West and trusting us to do something remotely halfway across the world.

What would you say were the year’s biggest accomplishments? What are you most proud of?

Hired 30 people. Didn’t lose 30 people. Consistently won clients on quality and merit of our work across multiple categories.  Built a solid network of contacts in the U.S. and Canada to help us with delivery of our work and gained the trust of our clients completely. Making sure that wine is served at least once every week at the office.  Launching close to a dozen employee programs in the last year for staff to take advantage of to perpetuate their careers.  

  • There is not one big accomplishment.  If we had one big accomplishment, we wouldn’t be here today. (All we did was work up to one thing and that’s it.) Every day is an accomplishment. Every week that we stay together and do better and learn is an accomplishment. I don’t really see it as having to win a Cannes award - that to us is not as important at this office as is figuring out what our client challenges are (that’s definitely an accomplishment but that’s a daily thing).

Do you have any regrets from the past year? Lessons learned?

I’ve learned how to merge cross-cultural differences and make people see that both cultures are relatively simple. One side moves really fast physically and one side moves really fast digitally and virtually (us in the U.S.). So, learning how to merge those two together has been a challenge. And no regrets. If anything, they were lessons that needed to be learned.

What is your favorite part about your job now? What excites you most each day?

The fact that I no longer know the details of where things are, sometimes.  That means that someone else is handling it, and they have their people handling it and that just feels good. What excites me every day is the sense of losing control. Being in control is good, but you can’t properly scale when all you end up doing is micromanaging or analyzing status reports and you can’t think ahead and you’re not executing ahead and not pushing forward. If you have people that can service “the now” and will walk with you into the future, that’s more important.

What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received that you feel has helped you to be successful throughout this year?

I’ve had a total of three bosses from three previous jobs. One said, “Humphrey, there’s a lot of average people in this world.” I would finish that sentence by saying, “I am so happy I don’t work with average people and my clients, vendors, partners aren’t average.” My second boss told me during my first month, “If you don’t predict, or anticipate failure, then you’re more likely to pick up after the failure, admit failure, fix it and then never do again.” The third piece of advice I received, “There’s nothing we can’t do - just do it.”

Fondest memory of the past year?

We managed to pull off something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  Chinese-English and English-Chinese karaoke on June 28th when we also celebrated Hylink’s Founders’ Day. I called it: “culture-swap karaoke”. It was semi-profound.

Where do you expect to go in the next year?  

We’re going to New York. We’re also going to grow in LA.  We’re going to hit three or four more client categories and verticals. Now that Hylink is a public company, we’re going to move beyond just advertising.  The advertising will continue; it’s, of course, what keeps the lights on and it’s what our clients always want us to do, but for me personally, and for the company and founder of the company, Mr. Su, we’re going to move into investments, particularly investing in the digital space, in culture, and in things that support the development of the Chinese digital landscape. We’re very excited about new teams/heads/thinking as well as pushing people that are here today to think bigger, dream bigger, and always think smartly (have smart thinking = our mantra).


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