dentsu APAC Team

This article was originally published on Campaign Asia.

Chun Yin Mak is spearheading a four-year business transformation amid the network's One Dentsu global rollout.

Chun Yin Mak recently succeeded Deric Wong as Dentsu China CEO. Born in Hong Kong and having started his career over 25 years ago at Anderson Consulting (now Accenture) in Canada, Mak moved back to Hong Kong in 2005. Shortly thereafter, he joined IBM, working across Greater China markets for almost 17 years. Amid China’s rapid economic expansion, he rose through the ranks to become the head of IBM Consulting Greater China and led business transformation services for the APAC region.

In 2022, he decided to take a personal break, travel, and spend more time with family. Then, Mak took another career leap and decided to step into the marketing industry.

When asked why he decided to transition to adland via Dentsu, he said that the network was adept in bringing together the “convergence of marketing, technology and consulting”. Having experience in two of these three areas, he dipped his toes in the agency business and, “is still learning about marketing”.

Formulating enduring strategies

In the eight months since Mak assumed the role of CEO, he has doubled down on his four-year regional plan to embody One Dentsu, the network’s new global structure to simplify its creative, CXM, and media structures. He says that 2024 will be a year of transition and transformation while the One Dentsu foundation is laid. 2025 will be a year of acceleration, while plans will begin to scale in 2026 and 2027.

“We're moving those historical silos and barriers of collaboration in what used to be called service lines,” says Mak. “So all of those are gone now and [we are building] a culture that is oriented around trying new things but doing things that actually matter, that matter to our clients, matter to our people, matter to society, and matter to our business as well.”

But the economic logic of reform is inescapable and even painful. Mak acknowledges the restructuring of Dentsu in China but emphasised that the agency is hiring more talent in a new way. He pointed out that this recalibration was not specifically in response to any kind of economic pressure or financial result, but rather, it’s a part of Dentsu’s talent strategy.

From changes in the management team, like the addition of Derek Huang, who came on board late last year to head Merkle in China, to the development of a new generation’s team, Dentsu Z, Mak is attempting to shape the Dentsu China team with a focus on business transformation.

Dentsu Z, a team of Gen Z marketing and creative professionals, was initially established under Dentsu Creative China in 2021. By 2023, two years later, they won a Gold prize for Greater China Talent Development Programme of the Year at Campaign’s Agency of the Year and a Bronze Lion at Cannes in the creative commerce category for the work of KFC Re:Store.  

Now, under Mak’s new plan, Dentsu China plans to expand this Gen Z team beyond Dentsu Creative to customer experience transformation, client management and media capabilities. The agency launched the Dentsu Z Star programme in late March to recruit more young talents.

Mak has plans to expand Dentsu Z into a multi-year investment that will be a “talent backbone of vitality, energy and flexibility”. In the past, only 15 Dentsu Z programme associates are hired each year, but moving forward, this will increase to as many as 100 across creative, customer experience transformation, and media.

When questioned about market trends, Mak says that the fun part about working in China is the constantly changing market. Instead of focussing on the purchasing power of Gen Z, he says brands should look towards the ageing population who will accelerate consumption because “the best purchasing power will come from Gen X and Y”. He predicts that luxury will probably experience a cooling-off period compared with last year.

Meanwhile, he says that “the traditional agency model will be stress-tested this year and next year”, highlighting the timeliness of One Dentsu.

In addition, he holds a positive outlook towards business transformation, having observed that “many clients think about enacting and pursuing transformation in bad times”.

Driving synergies across markets

Upon Mak’s appointment, Robert Gilby, Dentsu’s APAC CEO, had high expectations for collaboration between him and Simone Tam, Dentsu’s Hong Kong CEO, to build a strong presence across the Greater Bay Area. By last November, three months into Mak’s tenure, Tam took charge of the integrated business unit for the Greater Bay Area and Hong Kong. Mak thinks of it as a “fast and nimble” section for Dentsu which is “really accelerating into what almost feels like a start-up unit actually within the whole”, operating under one single P&L.

A crucial aspect of integrating the Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau for agency operations in China is brand expansion beyond the geographical boundaries, venturing into more overseas opportunities. Apart from that, Mak’s team is collaborating with Dentsu Thailand on cross-border projects for a tourism client based in China, paving the way for the resurgence of the Chinese tourism market in a post-pandemic era.

He adds that international outbound opportunities for Chinese brands will be “one of the big exam questions for us to answer in the next 12 to 18 months.”