Time Out with… Anita Patil-Sayed
Time Out with… is the interview series for inspiring leaders throughout Dentsu Aegis Network. In this edition, we caught up with Anita Patil-Sayed, SVP, Head of Insights, M1 Dentsu Aegis Media who gave us a glimpse inside life in India, her biggest challenges and her jam-packed weekends with her family.
Give us the reader’s digest version of your background. Where are you from/how did you get here?
I was born in Nottingham in the UK but moved to India when I was little and grew up in Mumbai. Both my parents worked in advertising/marketing which is how I inadvertently landed in this career. As a young teen, I was always intrigued by psychology and understanding people’s motivations and used to moderate focus groups as a way to make some pocket money. I would also do various door to door in-depth interviews, as well as 1:1 interviews in different markets. I later graduated in Economics and was offered an internship at the United Nations in the Economics and Social Council. I took this opportunity to pursue a career at the UN and that’s how I moved to the United States 18 years ago. However, it was not long until I continued to miss marketing and landed up back in advertising and marketing research.
So how did that transition into advertising happen?
As I mentioned, since my parents worked in the same industry I was always intrigued by advertising. My father worked in a creative agency (Saatchi & Saatchi) while my mom owned her own market research agency that serviced creative agencies. In fact, if anything, I used to write and act out my own version of ads with creative and witty punchlines since the age of thirteen. Believe it or not, I thought I would land on the creative side vs the media side of the business, but that passion and interest in the advertising space somehow brought me to where I am today.
What is one career defining moment from your life? What makes it stand out?
When I took on the Global Insights role at MediaCom. Coming from the supplier side, this role not only gave me the opportunity to work very closely with clients such as P&G but most importantly, expanded my perspective because of the global nature of the role. I got to work with clients from different markets (large and small) and in turn witness the creativity despite the challenges.
Can you share an example of challenges you’ve had at work and how you dealt with them?
The biggest challenge I have been facing at work is getting colleagues aligned on the rapidly changing media landscape and getting them to acknowledge the importance of data, tech and analytics. Old habits are hard to break. There is often an expectation of the perfect solution and the truth is that it does not exist. The way I have dealt with it is using my influence as best as possible to get them to see the possibilities differently.
What do you think makes a good leader?
There are many factors that make a good leader and I have been very fortunate to have worked for many great leaders during my career. In my opinion, it’s very simple: A good leader is one who has a clear vision for the future and leads teams to greatness by empowering them and bringing out nothing but the best in their abilities. I have always looked at leadership in a similar light as parenting. As a parent, I want to make sure I am doing my best to make sure my kids are growing up with not only strong character but that I am also giving them all the tools necessary to succeed. Being a leader is no different. It’s all about building confidence in your team and ensuring you push them to achieve great heights.
How do you continue to stay engaged at work?
Learn, learn, learn. “Learning to learn is the new skillset.” I am a people person and love to meet new people from different backgrounds and perspectives, learning about what people do and how their work impacts the overall business at large. Outside of that, I also like to participate in programs that help other junior talent grow — e.g. Working closely with the Learning and Development team or working closely with the Diversity and Mobility Council etc. within DAN in helping them create the right types of programs to develop talent and help them get the right opportunities.
Do you have any regrets or things you would do-over in your career?
I have no regrets as I believe this was the path I was meant to be on. Every single struggle I have faced to date has only made me stronger. I’ve used every challenge to renew my mind in a positive way and help shape my identity.
What’s one thing your co-workers would be surprised to learn about you?
That I was chased by a cop on a bike in India for a good ten minutes when I broke a traffic light and drove the wrong way down a one-way street. I was a teen then, simply trying get some ice cream before my final term exams. And No! I was not arrested, but the cop was shocked to learn that he was dodged by a young girl I profusely apologized to him and he let me go.
How do you keep the creative spark alive?
I love traveling and experiencing new cultures. I believe it opens up one’s mind and imagination to new possibilities. I also enjoy reading and watching documentaries.
How are you preparing for Advertising Week?
I have not had the time to do much prep but certainly plan to.
What can we expect from your session?
It should be an exciting panel as we have some great speakers. We are hoping to debunk a lot of the misconceptions and misrepresentations about people-based marketing and simplify it.
What does a weekend look like for you?
My weekends are pretty packed with all activities surrounding my wonderful husband and our two children. Honestly, if it wasn’t for his added loving support I wouldn’t be the career woman, wife and mother I am today. Our day begins with making breakfast with them, to taking them to soccer practice, to driving them for birthday parties or play dates and then ending the day with board games or a movie night. I have started to get them to watch Bollywood movies which they seem to enjoy quite a lot, especially the dancing. Fred and I also love taking long drives with our kids to farms, orchards or parks simply to relax with them and build fond memories as a family.
How would you rate your work-life balance?
To be honest, there is no balance of the two in the literal sense. I am quite a workaholic but as long as I enjoy what I do, I don’t see it as an issue. The important thing, in my opinion is to make sure you make time for the things that matter the most: my family. For instance, volunteering at my kids’ school or making sure I am off to be with my kids after having been out for a long time during presentations for various client pitches. Letting my family know that I love them and am there for them is critical to me. I know that I could probably do a better job in other areas of my life but will get there soon.
What keeps you up at night?
The future…and where things will be 10 years from now.
Do you have any superstitions or good luck charms for when something major is coming up?
My mom’s blessings. She is one of the most positive role models in my life and her faith and belief in my abilities is ‘my lucky charm.’
What’s your biggest piece of advice from both a work and life perspective for young women coming up in their careers?
Stay true to yourself, work twice as hard, never give up and most importantly be patient — you will get there.