Today’s jobtalk is with Wempy Dyocta Koto, who is the founder and CEO of Wardour And Oxford, a business development agency that works with companies from around the world. Before starting his own agency, Koto held positions with leading communications companies such as Young & Rubicam, OgilvyOne WorldWide and Wunderman.
Born in Indonesia and raised in Australia, Koto figured out early on in his years that he wanted to collect experiences rather than things. His enthusiasm for life is infectious.
To read some of Wempy Dyocta Koto’s articles click here.
B. A. in Communications, University of Technology, Sydney,1998
M. International Studies, University of Sydney,1999
Career Stage: Advanced
When you were younger, you aspired to become a diplomat and then considered studying criminal law. Why didn’t you end up pursuing this career path?
I wanted to become a diplomat because several of my friends’ parents were ambassadors or worked at consulates. I liked the idea of doing important work and living around the world. I didn’t know what a diplomat actually did and to this very day, I still don’t know what a diplomat does.
Then, in my senior years of school, I considered becoming a criminal lawyer because I fancied the idea of doing court speeches, conducting cross-examinations, wearing designer suits and driving nice cars. I was definitely seduced by television commercials for L.A Law and watching Law & Order.
After I finished high school in Australia, I was holidaying at our family home in Jakarta, Indonesia. I was with my mom and brother when I was notified of my exam score. The seemingly endless nights and weekends of study and tutoring sessions came to a wonderful, teary, emotional and happy ending, as I fortunately gained sufficient marks for pursuing law at university.
For a few moments after receiving my results, my aspirations of becoming a lawyer suddenly became tangible and real. I envisioned myself in a courtroom.
However, in an important discussion with my mom and brother about pursuing a law degree, they asked if becoming a lawyer really was what I wanted to do, as I would only be permitted to practice in New South Wales, Australia, and would need to further specialize.
I carefully thought about their advice and how becoming a lawyer would box me in, rather than allow me to fulfill my creative potential and think beyond the box.
Finally, my mom said, “Wempy, being a lawyer is not the job for you.”
She looked at the university guidebook and said: “This is what you should do, a communications degree.”
I honestly didn’t know what a communications degree was. I thought communications meant linking up cables and working for a telco company.
I studied the guidebook further, allowed the idea to sink in and discovered that a communications degree would open doors into the world of advertising, marketing, public relations, journalism and media.
My mom’s instinct and my definitive love for experiencing the world guided my academic goals. It was the smartest academic decision I ever made.
I’m happy that I studied communications rather than law. I realized that defending or putting people in jail just isn’t attuned to my personality. In fact, psychometric tests prove that I have poor judgment skills. I am a blind judge of character. I am an eternal optimist and always see the better and brighter side of people and situations. I also dislike conflict, as it makes me feel uneasy.
If I were a lawyer defending a criminal who was sentenced to life in jail, I would definitely burst into tears inside a courtroom. This would not be a cool sight for a grown man. I would also live with enormous guilt for my entire life regardless of whether the convicted was actually innocent or guilty.
I do not have that ability to walk away from a situation and feel nothing. In fact, I was attacked and mugged by two men in the dark of night while walking from the gym to my friend Vincent Mourou’s home at Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I had gone to Whole Foods Market to stock up on food and drinks for Vincent’s fridge. As I was walking up the hill, two men crept up behind me, smashed me onto the concrete and the large bottles of San Pellegrino I had purchased cracked and spilled everywhere.
The thieves stole valuables from my pockets. I survived, but could have easily been killed. While the neighborhood residents were taken aback by the attack and the police sirens were sounding and report was being filed, my thoughts and emotions had escaped from shock into analytical and empathetic mode. I never felt victimized, nor did I feel anger. My mind was processing and asking bigger questions about justice, social equality, the socioeconomic divide of America and San Francisco, as well as the psychological motivations of crime.
I spent the whole night and subsequent days googling and educating myself on crime. The next morning, I knocked on the doors of homes in Vincent’s neighborhood and alerted them of the attack to prevent further local crime. I learnt that weeks prior to my attack, a neighbor’s brother had been shot and killed as he was stepping out of a taxi and that Brendan, a friend of Vincent’s and mine had also been near-fatally shot at San Francisco during a petty theft. The affluent versus poverty divide of San Francisco suddenly became real and forced me to again question the value of a human life.
I am an empathizer. I ponder upon bigger universal questions and I believe in the greater good, often to my own detriment. The word “justice” is subjective. What is fair? What is unfair? They stole a few hundred dollars of cash and valuables from me. However, did society, the government’s welfare policy, education and legal system or their parents fail or rob them of their childhoods and future? I don’t know. All I know is that these philosophical questions I constantly ask myself would never productively work within a complex and well-defined legal system.
I would be a terrible lawyer. Also, I have friends who are lawyers. I don’t think their work is as glamorous as Hollywood would have us believe.
When did you get your first job?
During my undergraduate studies, the university leadership awarded me with an international scholarship to study abroad. There was a selection of Ivy League and world-class universities that I was welcome to study at. However, I was keen on studying at New York University or The University of Miami at Coral Gables in Florida because of their reputations for having a highly social atmosphere. Yes, partying was high on my student agenda. However, I had a pivotal discussion with Dr. Penny O’Donnell, a lecturer whom I dearly respect.
She encouraged me to study at The University of Indonesia for all the right reasons. I followed her advice and after the Australian and Indonesian governments and university leaders finalized the memorandum of understanding, terms of my study, credit point transfers and academic obligations, I packed my bags and studied at The University of Indonesia.
When I returned to Sydney for the final year of my bachelor’s degree, I was offered a job at American Express. The company had just relocated its Asia Pacific operations to Australia and required an analyst for the Indonesian and Malaysian markets. I worked during my final semester. It was very difficult balancing a full-time degree with full-time employment.
Why did you do it?
It would have been unwise to turn down an offer from American Express because it was one of the world’s most respected brands. To have just returned from studying in Indonesia, still be in university, and receive an excellent offer to undertake regional work while earning a respectable salary made me accept the offer. However, it came at a price because I was working very full days and late nights and returning home to more work for my university courses.
After I finished my bachelor’s, American Express offered to subsidize a master’s so I could continue my studies. My father said to me, “Wempy, I want you to complete your master’s degree.” He knew me, and he knew that if I continued to work and break from my studies that I would not ever return for a master’s degree. So I worked while I did my master’s degree, which was even tougher than the last year of my undergraduate degree.
I chose to do international studies to round out my undergraduate work, and it really did. When I finished my master’s, I really wanted to have a career working for the United Nations or World Bank. However, I continued with American Express because I felt I should stay since they had funded my master’s. More importantly, I had just received an offer to internally transfer into American Express’ marketing team, working with the company’s leadership on brand advertising and communications.
I worked closely with my manager and mentor Mira Mikosic, the director of advertising and loyalty who later became American Express’ vice president of International Brand Advertising in New York. This was the role, the leadership, the environment and the inspiration that defined, affirmed and steered the course of my professional life.
Why did you start Wardour And Oxford?
In 2008, I was the Global Business Director at a media agency in London. The U.S.A., U.K., and Europe crashed into an economic crisis, which made a tough business development leadership role exponentially tougher. I was trying to acquire clients from the U.K. and around the world. Fortunately, in a crisis and recessionary period where redundancies and budget cuts were extraordinary, I successfully acquired Fortune 1000 clients from the U.S.A. My boss made the right business decision and sent me to live and work in San Francisco, a city that changed my life.
In San Francisco, we shared an office with an agency that worked with Google and Cisco. The said agency had collapsed because of the economic crisis and had dramatically reduced their staff from 50 to 4 employees. In effect, they sublet a lot of their office space, and one of the entrepreneurs working in the shared space said, “Wempy, how long have you been doing this for?” and I answered, “Probably about 12 years.” He asked the pivotal question: “Why haven’t you opened your own company?”
He told me that he was an aspiring screenwriter but a software programmer by day because that was how he made money. He enjoyed programming, but he really wanted to be a screenwriter and to have his words become a movie one day. He also told me personal stories about how he feared not being able to pay rent because he chose entrepreneurship above being employed full-time by a business.
His story really inspired me. I thought to myself, “I don’t have these problems. Why are aren’t I doing what I really want to do, build on my future and fulfill my aspirations and true potential?”
I had no valid excuses. I didn’t fear success; I didn’t fear failure. I feared giving away everything I had studied and worked for all those years and having to start from zero. I realized that I had allowed pride of position and pride of accomplishment to be greater than the power of now. My aspirations had evolved, and it was difficult for me to accept that climbing the corporate ladder no longer had a role in my future.
After an honest discussion with myself and my family, I flew back to London and told my boss that I wanted to start my own company. My boss was gracious and supportive and months later, I transitioned and established my company, Wardour And Oxford.
I began to realize and appreciate that I was not starting from zero. I had built a wealth of global experiences, an invaluable global network and what I could now achieve and become was far greater than any corporate job description a headhunter could ever sell to me.
San Francisco inspired me. I saw people who were struggling to make financial ends meet. They were determined to fulfill their aspirations even if in the meantime they couldn’t afford to dine out, holiday or socialize. They were focused on their bright futures rather than their challenging realities. This inspires me.
I’m a restless soul, and cannot walk through life sitting behind someone else’s desk following prescriptive instructions. I constantly have ambitions to fulfill, new dreams to dream and need those tough moments when my instincts must kick in that force me to work smarter, harder, and faster. After I pour my heart, time, and effort into building my clients’ businesses, my favorite moments are when I deliver good news about how my business-development actions have transformed their business and bank accounts. Failure is important, but success is addictive.
What does Wardour And Oxford do? In other words, what is a global business development agency?
We work with new and experienced entrepreneurs, startups and large companies to grow their revenue, locally and internationally. Whatever it takes to increase their income and bank accounts, we drive that for them. The reason why I established Wardour And Oxford was because when I worked at advertising agencies like Young & Rubicam, Wunderman, and OgilvyOne Worldwide, senior clients from Citigroup, American Express, Sony, SAP, Nokia, Microsoft and Samsung would say, “Wempy, we’ve got this particular problem,” but I could only reply, “Here is your TV campaign. Here is your print advertisement.” Or, if they wanted a digital solution it was, “Here is your (expensive) website and matching banner advertisements.”
I realized that I was only able to solve 5 percent of a company’s problem that way. The solutions could be a print or TV advertisement, a website, a PR campaign, but it may also include staging events, connecting with C-level and senior management at other companies. It may also include aligning a brand or product launch with a corporate social responsibility initiative or working with new strategic partners, distribution channels or celebrities.
If you own a company that has a technology, fashion, or digital product you’d like to launch in Brazil, we would conduct market research and provide strategic recommendations. We would then connect you to senior government and non-government authorities in the sector to commence the bureaucratic process, and then with key local industry influencers who will drive discussion about your product.
After that, we would lead negotiations with established distributor channels. We would leave no stone unturned until we get your products into the desired homes across the country. After that, we’d develop communications and programs to drive brand loyalty. These solutions have nothing to do with simply providing an expensive website.
We work across all industries, all sectors and all budget types and sizes. Our clients are from North America, South America, Asia, Europe, The Middle East, Africa and Australia. They are from all vertical sectors including technology, communications, digital and eCommerce, entertainment, food and beverage, fashion, arts, travel and tourism, hospitality and natural resources such as gas and oil.
Because my partners and I have lived around the world, we possess important cultural, business and legal insights, which are critical in my line of work. Different things work in different places. The way of conducting business in Moscow is different than it is in Shanghai, Los Angeles, Dubai, Cape Town and Jakarta. From government regulations, cultural sensitivities, consumer sentiments and competitive landscape, the strategies for accelerating and penetrating into a market vary.
Companies law, intellectual property, trademarks, patents, copyrights, product safety, advertising standards, privacy laws, policy lobbying and competition councils are all part of this work. We work across the entire spectrum to acquire, brand and market businesses and products to consumers, governments and companies around the world. We make business happen for our clients and the more ambitious they are, the more I love working with them.
What skills do you need to run this particular business?
Critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, collaboration and information literacy skills are essential. This job requires research, collaboration and innovation. Cross-cultural competence and ethical awareness of moral and legal obligations are key. I would never have been able to graduate from university and start Wardour And Oxford. I would not have had the right hard and soft skills to execute my work offering respectable guidance, consultancy, and business development actions for my clients.
Over a decade of international experience working with global brands and senior business leaders are my greatest teachers. The world is rapidly evolving, so I have to stay informed of boardroom decisions and leadership changes at Fortune 1000 companies, as well as meet young innovators who are set to change the world from their bedrooms and garages.
The rules of innovation have changed. An 18-year old genius coding in his bedroom has the power to change the world in a way that a 55-year old CEO and his army of thousands of global employees cannot. You don’t need a mega market capitalization of over $200 billion to change the world. You need a genius with self-belief and determination who is willing to sweat and has a disruptive game-changing idea.
My ongoing goal is to travel the world and immerse myself into districts of innovation, working with genius minds and ideas.
When you first started Wardour And Oxford, what was your strategy for getting clients?
I was fortunate that I had built a global network of influential senior contacts and secured new clients at the onset of starting my business. We have never advertised or marketed our company’s services, perhaps to our own fault. Our business has been driven 100 percent by referrals from one satisfied client to another. Our clients are our biggest champions. I can shutdown my laptop everyday and say that I love my work, all my clients and partners. Many would say this is a luxury. I believe this is the only way it should be. Our time on earth is not negotiable.
Being that Wardour And Oxford is international, what drives your decision for where you need to locate yourself?
My clients guide where I will locate myself. Business happens around the world, everyday – even Sundays are a workday in the Middle East. My clients and I will negotiate the amount of time I will be based in a particular country. Or, we will connect via conference or they will fly to where I am. I can work from anywhere in the world, as long as I have an Internet connection.
Who might want to think about studying communications?
I suggest that creative souls and inquisitive minds seeking an academic environment to validate and challenge their creativity try a communications major. Communications is an excellent major for anyone who wants to work in advertising, journalism, public relations, strategic communications, marketing, and media.
You make it clear that doing a graduate degree in international studies was important to you to round out your knowledge. Is a graduate degree essential for someone who has hopes of owning a business development company that operates internationally?
In the competitive times we live in and for Wardour And Oxford’s global consultancy business, academic qualifications and work experience are essential. Most applications I receive are from graduates with master’s degrees. Combine this with experience and you become a demanded, credible resource.
You can be credible and demanded without a degree or qualifications also. However, with the strong global talent pool, management consultancies such as McKinsey, The Boston Consulting Group and Bain are not taking chances with new hires, so they have firm barriers and criteria walled for employment entry.
I am an advocate for education. The daily intellectual struggles of acquiring knowledge to complete assignments, essays and dissertations should humble you. The more we learn, the less we know. As we get older, our level of inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge declines because we focus on our perceived hardships of life. When the thirst for knowledge dries up, that spells the inner death of us. When we no longer learn, challenge or educate ourselves, we live vacuous lives of little meaning and valueless consumption.
I’ve read some of your articles online, and you’re a wonderful writer. Is being a good writer something that’s important in your profession?
Thank you. Writing is one of the most important life skills. People who articulate themselves well in written form are more able to sell propositions and recommendations orderly and thoughtfully. This is central to business development.
Can you share one mistake that you made in your career and what you’ve learned from it?
My biggest career mistake was not going with my gut. I received a call from a headhunter who advised me that there was a particular company interested in hiring me. I was actually very happy with my job at the time, but decided to go for the meeting. I walked into the office and wasn’t really enthusiastic about it, but kept going for more discussions. I ended up taking the job – I felt pressured – but it was the wrong decision because I didn’t go with my gut.
When you make career decisions, you kind of know if it’s for the right reasons or the wrong reasons. If something is telling you no, it means something is wrong. If you have a little bit of doubt, take a step back; don’t allow the pressure, calls or urgency expressed by others to sway you. But, you’re going to have to go through that. Had I not gone through that period in my career, I would not be here today to reflect more positively about it in hindsight.
Who would you say shouldn’t do your job?
I actually have the answer. An operations person should not even touch my job. A person who is by the book, somebody who must refer to what the next thing they need to do is and cross it off of a list. My job is extremely creative, and creativity is not linear; you have to allow the creative process to flow.
I know that you love surfing. Where is one of your favorite places to surf?
I lived for about 6 months at Bali and had the time of my life. I would wake up in the morning and work then surf. I love losing all sense of self and time while getting smashed and pummelled by the waves. I am not a professional surfer but I aspire to become a qualified surf lifesaver. Indonesia has some of the world’s most famous surf spots. Try Padang-Padang Beach at Bali if you’re a serious professional who can handle dangerous 12-foot waves, or Sorake Bay at Pulau Nias off the coast of Western Sumatra if you enjoy being on the edge of nature’s beauty and wrath. The waves at Indonesia are powerful and majestic. They can and will kill.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
Give yourself permission to shine and permission for your career to evolve and change. The only rule I teach for living a respectable professional life is to honor your talents and aspirations. In life, you will discover new talents you never knew existed, new passions that you’ve never felt and new aspirations that are closer to reality than you could’ve ever imagined. Start with an honest conversation with yourself, dive into inspiring situations, quell your fears and respond to the true power of the word “now.”