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Bossing It: Lessons in Leadership with ADK's Rie Otsuka


As CEO of ADK Singapore and CGO for ADK Global, Rie Otsuka has become a leader in the global marketplace, specialising in managing people and culture

Bossing It: Lessons in Leadership with ADK's Rie Otsuka

Rie Otsuka is an experienced leader with over 30 years of experience in CRM, digital, and global marketing. As Chief Growth Officer at ADK Global and CEO for Singapore and emerging countries, she will be instrumental in charting the growth path for the network as it undertakes to navigate an increasingly hybrid business environment. Otsuka was previously the lead for the digital and CRM practices at McCann Worldgroup. She played an instrumental role in leading its global team for clients such as Mitsubishi Electric, Hitachi, and Panasonic. Notably, she led the Mitsubishi team to an Echo Award in 2019 for their work in the B2B space in the United States. She also served as the co-chair for McCann’s Women’s Leadership Network from 2019 to 2022, where she led the charge to correct the imbalance in gender representation in leadership positions. LBB> What was your first experience of leadership? Rie> My first leadership experience dates back to elementary school when I captained a marching band. It was a fruitful experience trying to juggle the needs of different band segments, maintaining discipline and motivating my band members to strive for the better. In fact, I see the same parallel in agency management. It is, after all, a people business. LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be? Rie> When I was 12, I was motivated to be a well-loved leader. I wanted to do everything right in service to my band members. Though 30 years later, some adjustments must be made to that ideal. But the esoteric essence remains to do the right thing for my team members. LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Rie> There was no specific occasion that gave me an “ah-ha” moment. It is more a case of mylived experience. Most of my lessons in leadership stem from observing and learning from my leaders when they handle issues and crises. When it became my turn to lead, I simply stood on their shoulders and applied what I learnt. It is important to note that lessons on leadership lessons evolve daily, so it is a good practice to listen effectively and review internally. LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Rie> The desire to be a leader is not a particularly burning one. I did not yearn for it. Yet throughout my career (and life), I have been placed in positions where leadership was mandatory. You could say I grew into it organically. LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Rie> For me, “leadership” is less of a skill and more of a conscious will. If you are willing to take on the mantle and its associated responsibilities, you are also willing to master what it takes to be an effective and efficacious leader. LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Rie> As a leader, managing my emotional investment in my team members requires conscious effort. While an empathic connection is vital, there are times when objective decision-making takes priority over personal attachment. My rule of thumb is to ensure my actions align with the organisation’s goals. The needs of the many over the few essentially. LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Rie> There was a time when I let my emotions get the better of me. And it clouded my judgement when making firm decisions for a team I was emotionally attached to. LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Rie> I believe the role of an authentic leader lies beyond the confessional. A mastery of care and considered communication is healthy for an organisation. While transparency is an end-goal, a timeline should be placed on it. A period to deliberate with key stakeholders before releasing the decision to a larger audience. It is akin to the difference between representative and deliberate democracy. The former ensures efficiency, while the latter, not so much. LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Rie> I do have a mentor. We are childhood friends. He knows me very well, and one of the best leadership advice he gave me was to put myself aside and focus on the “we” in my organisation. It also helped a lot that he is from the legal industry, so exchanging our views is novel on many levels. LBB> In continually changing market circumstances, how do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through difficult waters?

Rie> Leading from the trenches is a code I live by. I think the samurai spirit is an apt descriptor for this. There is no armchair generalship here. If something goes wrong, I will take the first step forward. As a team, we fight and reap the rewards together. LBB> As a leader, what are some of the ways in which you’ve prioritised diversity and inclusion within your workforce?

Rie> I am fortunate ADK already embrace diversity and inclusion as its values. My mantle is to maintain and refine it. LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with increases in remote and hybrid working patterns?

Rie> Our asset is our people and they are the ones who make the culture. A good culture naturally attracts good people. My goal for doing so is simple. We define the right “attitude” and “actions” based on our cultural statements. My fellow leaders and I champion it by example, and accordingly we give recognition to our team-mates who embrace it. LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Rie> The frank exchange of views via two channels: My friends and my books. Each is a lesson to be discovered, and as I mentioned earlier, lessons in leadership are evolutionary. It is a good practice to listen effectively and review internally.

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ADK Singapore, Thu, 27 Apr 2023 10:39:00 GMT