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Dragon Lady Of Advertising

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  • Dragon Lady Of Advertising


    AsiaOne Just%2BWoman/News/Women%2BIn%2BThe%2BNews/Story/A1 Story20081118-101524.html
    Nov 19 2008

    Linda Locke, arguably the most famous woman in the Singapore
    advertising industry, sweeps into the Giorgio Armani boutique at the
    Hilton Gallery, dressed in all black.

    As her three-quarter-length coat swishes dramatically about her
    imposing 1.75m frame, her John Woo-like entrance - sans doves and
    guns - makes this reporter think how apt it is that her company is
    named Godmother Consulting.

    'I'm not inclined to leave horses' heads in people's beds,' she
    responds dryly, referring to the famous scene in the movie The
    Godfather, when a Mafia don leaves the head of a prized horse in a
    Hollywood producer's bed after he refuses to do the don a favour.

    In truth, she named her company Godmother because she has eight
    godchildren. But if people do indeed call her The Godmother, with its
    negative connotations of being controlling and ambitious, it would
    not be news to Locke.

    Within the advertising industry, she has been called some bad
    names. And she knows it.

    'Dragon Lady and worse, probably,' she says with a laugh. 'B****'
    is another epithet she has had to brush off as she goes about doing
    what she is paid to do.

    Shying away from difficult situations is not her style. Particularly
    when the advertising business, she says, is a 'highly competitive,
    high-octane environment with very tough time and cost pressures from
    demanding clients with their own pressures'.

    Surely you do not expect her to reach the apex of such a profession
    by trying to please everyone. In her 30-year career, she has headed
    two of the biggest advertising agencies in Singapore, helmed some
    groundbreaking advertising campaigns and collected numerous awards,
    including Singapore's first Cannes Gold Lion, the Academy Awards of
    advertising, in the early 1990s.

    'The people who are good at what they do are not afraid of the
    truth. These are not the ones who call me 'Dragon Lady'. They say
    I'm tough but fair,' she says. 'The less competent ones use insults
    to make themselves feel better.'

    Has she ever shouted at her staff? Her response: She doubts there is
    a manager on the planet who has not had to raise his voice at some
    point or other.

    Wouldn't you do it, she asks, if you saw a subordinate steaming open
    an envelope to check a colleague's salary?

    Last month, Locke, 55, was given the Lifetime Achievement Award
    by the Institute of Advertising Singapore, a professional body for
    advertising and communications practitioners.

    She is the first woman to receive the award since the institute
    introduced it 10 years ago. Past recipients include Ian Batey, the
    man behind Singapore Airlines' Singapore Girl, and Jim Aitchison,
    author of the Sarong Party Girl books.

    Locke, who quit as chairman and regional creative director of Leo
    Burnett last year after 10 years to start Godmother Consulting,
    is refreshingly frank about the award.

    Considered one of the women pioneers in the male-dominated industry,
    she says: 'I was surprised that it took this long. I don't normally
    say this but I do feel this was late in coming. I just have a feeling
    that I would have received it earlier if I had been a man.

    'I have rarely encountered sexism in my career. This is about the
    only time it's crossed my mind.'

    A young Linda Locke strikes a pose that is similar to something she
    might do in adulthood.

    Bold moves

    Locke was born in Singapore to a British father and a
    Portuguese-Armenian mother, whose family has deep roots here.

    D'Almeida Street in the Central Business District is named after her
    mother's family and the national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid,
    after her great-great-grandaunt.

    When she was eight, her father was posted to Malaysia as regional
    marketing director of Cold Storage supermarket and the family relocated
    along with him. At 11, she left for a boarding school in England and
    her siblings, a younger sister and brother, followed suit a year later.

    In 1983, the art and design graduate from Middlesex Polytechnic in
    England joined the local Saatchi & Saatchi office as creative director
    after a few years working at other agencies here as art director.

    Within a year, she was promoted to chief executive officer to rescue
    the ailing Saatchi.

    Naturally, she was 'absolutely terrified' - she was a creative person
    by inclination and training with zero business experience. And she
    had been in the industry for only six years.

    'I inherited a business that had business pouring out the door,' Locke
    recalls. 'We had to fight to bring in business. I made sure that they
    brought the regional finance director to be based in Singapore so I
    would have somebody to mentor me in finance. The situation was, in
    a way, forced on me. I took a chance, thinking, 'If I fail, I fail.' '

    She did much better than fail. Playing a dual role as executive
    creative director and CEO, she grew the company from a $6-million
    agency to a $100-million firm during her 14-year tenure.

    At that time, she was the first and only Singaporean woman to run an
    international advertising agency here.

    What she lacked in formal business education, she made up for in
    other qualities. She is bold, for one thing.

    In 1986, she won a major Government advertising contract to market
    Singapore, which was in the throes of a recession.

    'At that time, there was wholesale panic that all the multinational
    companies would pull out of Singapore,' she recalls. The Government
    wanted to place an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal to
    reassure investors.

    'I showed our dummied-up ad to Philip Yeo, then the chairman of the
    Economic Development Board. Our headline was: 'Who would be mad enough
    to invest in Singapore in a recession?' And underneath that were all
    these signatures of global heads of multinationals that were invested
    in Singapore, saying, 'We are. We are, too. So are we.'

    'He flipped out when he saw it and said, 'My minister would never
    buy this'. And I said, 'If your minister is the man I think he is,
    he will buy it because he will know we need to be this bold'.

    'Later that afternoon, he rang me and said, 'The minister says do it."

    The advertisement was a success.

    'They told me that when Mr Lee Hsien Loong went to the United States
    and walked into the auditorium, there was a standing ovation and the
    people were all waving copies of the Wall Street Journal.

    'I wish I had been there; it would have been the high point of my
    career. I really feel, in my own little way, I made a significant
    difference to Singapore.'

    Her ex-colleague, Mr Tay Guan Hin, regional executive creative director
    of advertising agency JWT in South-east Asia, says: 'She always tries
    to provide a solution that tackles the situation head-on. She worked
    hard and always tried to find the best in the worst.'

    Her good friend, copywriter Rita Haque, adds: 'Linda has a consuming
    passion for work - she never knew when to stop. She also has a
    never-say-die attitude and is extremely meticulous.'

    Locke with husband Phillips Connor and their son Jackson, who was
    six years old in this photograph. The boy is now 12.

    Mellowed by motherhood

    You do not need to have worked with Locke to know that last mentioned
    quality of hers. Just observe her for a couple of hours. Coming
    into this interview, she did her homework on this reporter and read
    his stories.

    She chose to be photographed at the Giorgio Armani shop for two
    reasons: One, she is currently the marketing consultant for Club 21
    which brings in the designer brand; and two, she thought it would
    create a neat background story since she used to wear only Armani in
    her high-powered businesswoman heyday.

    It seems that this former creative director cannot help herself
    in wanting to art direct this story. 'I'm very detail-oriented,'
    she admits. 'I try to pre-empt possible scenarios and plan for them
    ahead of time.'

    But she denies that she is a control freak. She knows this amorphous,
    unpredictable thing called life cannot be art directed. She also
    knows logic and reason are not everything.

    'I'm a very highly intuitive person,' she says.

    And how. In 1983, after only seven days of courtship 'spread out over
    a three- week period', she married Neil French, the famous advertising
    man known for his provocative campaigns and comments.

    The people closest to her thought she was 'barking mad' but she did
    not care. 'It just felt right intuitively that I was meant to marry
    this man.'

    They divorced in 1992. She wanted children, he did not. She says:
    'It would have gone on if I had accepted not having children. That
    was why I left him. It was not a nasty leaving.'

    She adds: 'Ironically, he called me last year to apologise to me. He
    has adopted a child and he's happier than he's ever been in his
    life. He said I was right about what having a child would do to him.'

    Does she regret the marriage? No, it all worked out for the best. 'I
    told Neil, 'It's fine. I wouldn't have the child that I have now if
    I were married to you."

    After five in-vitro fertilisation treatments at the National University
    Hospital, she conceived her son Jackson with current husband Phillips
    Connor, a 50-year- old interior designer from the United States,
    whom she married in 1993.

    Today, Jackson is 12 years old. They live in a conservation shophouse
    on the edge of Chinatown.

    'Motherhood did mellow me,' says Locke. 'You can have the worst day
    in the office, then when you go home and a little body flies into
    your arms, all of that is forgotten. You can't help but be softened
    by that. I have learnt to not hurt those who are not so competent.'

    She has always loved children. 'When I was struggling to have a baby,
    my friends and family kept making me godmother to their children
    because they knew how badly I wanted to have a child.'

    After Jackson was born, she wanted another baby and underwent IVF
    another seven times, all to no avail. But no matter. She is 'madly in
    love' with Jackson. 'I don't think you discover your humanity until
    you have a child,' she says.

    She is winding down professionally to spend more time with her
    family. Godmother Consulting is not meant to challenge the big
    boys in the industry. It is a one-person operation for Locke in
    semi-retirement mode.

    'I used to work seven days a week,' she says. Now it is just four.

    'If I were still the CEO of an agency and we're going into the current
    economic downturn, I'd be looking at books and worrying about the
    staff we might have to cut. It's a terrible pressure to have to carry
    that type of load,' she says.

    'Right now, to have to be responsible only to myself and my family
    is an extremely pleasurable experience.'

    This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 17, 2008.

    From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress