‘Leadership and conflict go hand in hand’ – How I got here…Impact’s Antoine Gross
I was born in Nancy, a city in the East of France but soon moved to Vesoul, a small city of around 20,000 people which is where I grew up. Its claim to fame in France is the famous Jacques Brel song in which the singer mocks the city; an early lesson in resilience for me.
(I also met three people from Vesoul almost immediately after arriving in Singapore, so perhaps it is a place that many have left.)
After high school, I studied economics and business at Aix-Marseille University and then IAE Paris – Sorbonne Business School. However, my sabbatical in London after I graduated was also an important part of my education.
It was in London that I learnt to be independent, made friends with people from all over the world, and where I discovered something that would shape the rest of my life.
I would always have my French identity but I wanted to travel and live overseas and would never be afraid to pack my bags and start something new.
Less life-changing, but equally as useful, London also taught me how to be a bartender and waiter and helped me understand the joys of spending the best part of a weekend in a British pub (particularly if there is a premier league match on).
The pubs and clubs of London also fuelled my constant passion in life; music. Growing up listening to my mum playing piano or my dad’s jazz records, my goal was to become a beatboxer (I wish I still had all my homemade tapes to listen to).
Fortunately, my teenage flirtation with the air guitar and headbanging (back when I had hair) came before smartphone cameras, so there is no surviving footage of me in the front row at numerous concerts. I’m now more of an electro and hip-hop guy and spend an average of three hours a day on Spotify.
Having caught the travel bug from a young age, and being a lover of events, cinema and culture, I jumped at the opportunity to move to Canada to join the exceptional marketing team of a Montreal film festival.
In my first week on the job, I discovered two key things. Firstly, Montreal was a wonderful place to live. It’s a unique blend of European lifestyle and North American business mindset with an amazing vibe. Secondly, I learned marketing wasn’t for me so I moved into the sales team.
Sadly, I soon had to quit everything suddenly and return to France for family reasons. It was a challenging time, exacerbated by the fact I’d embraced Montreal life to such a great extent, I returned home with zero money in the bank.
Fortunately, and thanks to a recommendation from a friend, I found a job with a local NGO, who asked me to support their digital transformation project – splitting one office into eight – and scope out all the digital solutions (CRM, ERP, IP system) and hardware needed.
It took a year to complete the project, but it was huge fun and incredibly valuable from a career perspective.
It taught me that I had to learn fast and, when it came to technology, it was best to take the time to truly understand the business challenges first. I also learnt that when it came to technical adoption, you’ve got to seek out and create evangelists within a business.
If you can get the most influential people (and dare I say it the most vocal) on board then you’re halfway there. Critically, it also taught me that bridging cultural differences is important. At the time I was (at least it seems to me now) incredibly young in my late 20’s, whilst most of the people in the organisation were in their mid-40s to 50s.
Initially, there was a lot of push back against this young kid who was trying to drive change. But the old adage that ‘people buy from people’ also applies to internal projects. Things got much easier once I invested some time in connecting and building up relationships and rapport.
Via a stint in media sales, I then joined TNS Media Intelligence (now Kantar Media) to manage large accounts including Orange (fourth largest telco in Europe), BNP Paribas (second largest bank in Europe) and EDF. It was around the time the impact of social media was being felt and TNS were defining and building social media crisis capabilities.
When you’re part of a large organisation it gives you an invaluable network. I was there for five years and still keep in contact with colleagues from that time, often bumping into them in the most unexpected of places.
It also gives you the opportunity to learn an awful lot – the good, the bad and the ugly. Like it or loathe it, you have to acquire diplomatic skills and the art of office politics – I discovered that this is not an area in which I excel.
Some large companies also tend to move in a slow, consensual way without taking risks, which is why I decided to join Synthesio as employee number 12. This was a real start up and became one of the most interesting and rewarding periods in my professional life. I spent seven years there and met so many intelligent minds. Being part of that alumni is a great asset.
Then, just over a year ago I was offered the amazing opportunity to join Impact and build their operations in South East Asia from scratch. Once again, I was entering a new part of the industry and leaped at the chance to be part of this company’s growth and expansion across Asia.
The Singapore office has now been up and running for a year and I’m grateful for all the support we received from our colleagues in Australia, Shanghai and the rest of the globe. I love working with our clients across the region and helping them grow their businesses through partnerships.
When I first started my career, I was scared of potential conflicts, afraid that people wouldn’t like me or just reject me. Then I finally realised that leadership and conflict sometimes go hand-in-hand. Leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot or will not address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion, you should not be in a leadership role. From my perspective, the issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up by adhering to the following ethos: “Don’t fear conflict; embrace it – it’s your job”.
I also try and abide by MAxim Gorky’s words: “When work is a pleasure, life is a joy. When work is a duty, life is slavery”. While you’re never going to love 100% of every moment of your working life, to be truly successful in your job you need to be able to have fun.
Tweak your time to spend more hours doing the things you like and fewer hours doing the things you don’t.
I’m aware that this isn’t a privilege open to all, but most of us in the media and marketing industry are fortunate to have an element of choice, so it’s important to choose wisely and find a role that enriches more than just your wallet.
Highs and lows
I’m hyper critical of myself, so I always tend to think that I could do better, be better and achieve more. But reflecting for this article, and looking retrospectively into my life has made me realise how lucky I have been (so far) and appreciative of how far I have come.
I’ve travelled, worked and lived in so many different cities and have been fortunate enough to have met many intelligent, funny and talented people.
I’m also incredibly fortunate (even though it may sound a little sentimental) to be surrounded by people who care. My wife has supported me every step of the way for the last 15 years whilst also having a successful career.
I’ve got my two wonderful daughters and several very long-lasting friendships. So, really the last twenty years have been (at least on a macro level) a tremendous high.
That said, and remember the part where I said I was hyper critical? Nnaturally there have been difficult and challenging periods. But everyone has problems or bad times in their life, we keep falling (sometimes a little too hard) but the main thing that matters is to take care of yourself and finally bounce back.
Dos and Don’ts
Do what you love – and not what you’re told to love.
Do be curious (always).
Do help your boss do their job well (a rising tide lifts all boats).
Do develop good habits and don’t mistake activity for productivity.
Don’t bad-mouth or back-stab team members or colleagues. Aside from all the other reasons that this is a bad idea, the industry we work in is small and so you’re bound to cross paths in the future.
Don’t be afraid to say ‘NO’. I confess that it took me a while to really get there.
Don’t overthink. Nothing will be perfect, but by overthinking you procrastinate.
And importantly, don’t give up. Back yourself.
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