As the marketing power of social media grows, so will the budget that companies allocate to their online media strategy. Companies providing these services have expanded, and some very successfully. An example would be Facebook, which has grown from an idea in 2004 to a company that is worth nearly US$245 billion today.
Below, Dan Neary, VP Asia Pacific at Facebook, shares his experience working in a high-growth business and the challenges that go with this role.
Dan, please tell us a little bit about your role at Facebook.
My main responsibility is to work closely with businesses in the Asia Pacific region on how to use Facebook to successfully build their business—helping them get the most value and largest returns on Facebook. I am able to focus on these priorities, with a team of outstanding talents across the region. It is hugely rewarding for me to be part of the team working in this region (the fastest-growing region for Facebook).
What are the key growth challenges you face leading such a high-growth business?
There are a few key considerations for us. When you think about this region, Asia Pacific, it is really a vast region with countries at varying levels of economic and social development.
I would categorise them in these few buckets. Indonesia and India are the two most populous countries in APAC (outside China), with India being the second largest country for us, and Indonesia, fourth. In countries like India and Indonesia, you will find that mobile phone penetration is high. For many people, their first online experience is through mobile, not a desktop. Very recently, when I was in India, I toured the Sanjay Colony, an impoverished area outside of Delhi. I saw for myself how many of these people in India had mobile phones in their hands. Over 70% of the households didn't have a toilet, but all of them had a mobile phone. If you've grown up in America or Singapore, it's sometimes hard to understand or see some of these challenges until you see it for yourself in the country. And this is something I advocate strongly to my teams in the region. To manage the business well, we need to understand the environment we operate in. We need to know and understand the challenges presented to us. I always ask our country heads to think about a few things: to be vocal and to be the voice of insight for their countries. If people in Indonesia are largely accessing information on a 2G network, then we need to think about how to make their experience on videos seamless and smooth. While I wouldn't claim credit for this, voicing our local insights helped our product teams think about the offerings we roll out in some of these countries. Today, our emerging markets team has made videos on a 2G network easier and seamless for both our advertisers and also consumers who view them.
For other countries like Korea and Japan, they have advanced technology infrastructure, so the set of challenges and focus are different there. In these countries, we want to be able to work with the local small and big businesses to help them grow their business, not just locally, but leverage Facebook as a platform to expand internationally. Do our product features land well there? And if they do not, how do we work on getting our product teams understand that better?
Culture is also an important part of Facebook. We can only grow if we have a strong team who feels passionate about our company and our mission and wants to be on this journey with us. For our leaders in APAC, a strong focus for them, as we grow our teams in existing offices and open new offices in this region, is that they instill a strong sense of teamwork, and that we have a team who embraces our global mission, and yet is able to provide local insights, so that we can become a better partner for businesses and consumers who use Facebook.
What is the most important experience in your own career that has helped you learn how to scale leadership?
I've worked across many regions and lived in many countries. What I have learnt is that you need to empower people to do their jobs. You hire talents to do their jobs, and you do yours. At some point, they should be able to scale to do your job, under the right mentorship and your leadership.
Always encourage them to focus on impact and results, and not sweat the small stuff. Always hire people who are better and smarter than you.
And after more than 25 years of experience, I have also learnt that it is important to know how to integrate or balance work and life. There is no point spending all your time at work and not being able to balance your life with non-work activities. You need to know how to strike the right balance.
A lot of my insight didn't come overnight. Life taught me many lessons over the last 25 years. There is a common theme among the companies that I have worked for in that all of them were at the stage where they were trying to figure out Asia. I consider myself really fortunate to have lived in many of the countries across Asia and have found that the best way to grow and learn is to immerse myself in the culture and language. Also I learnt what it took to grow or nurture local talents. Hiring good, or the best talents, made my job so much easier. What I lacked in local insights, I got from my local leaders.
What is the biggest challenge to scaling leaders so they can keep up with the growth in your company?
Always hire people who are passionate and those who believe in the company mission or value. Nothing is better than hiring someone who believes in the work that they do. If you hire talents because they look right on paper, but don't behave or look like they believe in the values or mission of the company, they will face a challenge in the long term in terms of growing into the role.
At Facebook, we embrace the value of being open. This means that in everything we do, we provide direct feedback so that people can improve and work at getting better every day. Hiring the best talents for the job, and hiring those who believe in the values the company believes in, puts us in a good place in growing these leaders to bigger and better roles.
We need to continually remind ourselves and our teams that our role is never the same. Especially at Facebook. If you don't grow with the business or with the role, then you're making yourself obsolete really fast.
How have you worked with your team to get them to grow their team faster?
Leadership, mentorship, and opportunities to grow and showcase their leadership skills.
Opportunities to grow and learn are what people look to gain in any job the they are in. For the best talents, if you provide them with leadership opportunities, under the right mentorship, and also give them the opportunity to showcase their leadership skills, they will thrive. I have an example to share. This one employee worked at our company headquarters in his first few years at the company, and for various reasons, which included regular changes in manager and undefined/unclear scope of work, he was deemed unsuitable for the role. He then returned to his home country here in APAC, worked hard, and rose through the ranks. Today, he is one of my most outstanding country heads in APAC. This was a combination of his passion for the company, his determination, and also the opportunities the company provided him with while he is here, that allowed him to showcase his leadership skills.
How do you ensure people aren't burning out too fast in a high-growth company?
At Facebook, we have an initiative called "fuel". It acknowledges that trying to clearly separate work life from home life is really difficult, if not impossible. So we focus on work-life-integration and giving employees the leeway and empowerment to strike the right balance. Many times I will leave work during the day to participate in my son's school events because that is what I need to do to be successful both at home and work. Each year, our employees are tasked with the goal of making sure that they have both work and personal goals, and are reminded to check in on their goals regularly.
What advice do you give to other leaders who need to scale their leaders for fast growth?
Nothing is better than empowering these talents, ensuring that they can lead and grow in their roles, and also being able to do that without getting burnt out.
You have worked in different regions. How is leading high-growth in different parts of the world?
Exciting. And I'm very proud to be able to play a role in contributing to the company mission of connecting people with what we do.
Hiring the right people is the most crucial step to ensuring that a business is successful. They need to understand your culture or it will be a challenge for them to keep pace with the company's growth. It is also crucial to give them opportunities and empower them so they can grow into the role to support the fast growing business.