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Leo Burnett Company, Limited
175 Bloor Street East, North Tower
Toronto, Ontario M4W 3R9
+416 925 5997

Margaret Arnold

SVP, Director, Human Resources

EVP David Kennedy


Lisa Morch

VP, Director of Knowledge Mgmt

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Knowing Leo’s, Knowing You: Donald Chan

Welcome to Knowing Leo's, Knowing You, a brand new series of informal interviews with the top bods of our fellow Leo Burnett offices from around the world. We’ve got 84 countries to get through, but there is no better place to start than with our friends in China.

The Chinese market has over 1 billion consumers and Leo Burnett has offices setup in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Although adland is a fairly fledgling industry in China, rapid economic growth and rising wealth has led to a boom in the Chinese advertising sector. At the helm for Leo Burnett in the Middle Kingdom is Donald Chan (CEO of Leo Burnett China) and he is our first interviewee.

Key stats about LB China:

Number of offices: 3

Number of employees: 271

Biggest clients: P&G, BMW, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s

Recent awards: Gold Lion at Cannes for A.O. Smith

Firstly, where did you grow up, and what was your life before you entered the world of work?

I grew up in Hong Kong, educated in Canada with a degree of Electrical Engineering. But I realized I had this overwhelming passion for marketing as soon as I finished school so I went to look for jobs in sales and marketing in technical companies. I landed my first job as a sales engineer at Hutchison Telecommunications in Hong Kong.

Why did you join the advertising industry, and what has been your career journey to CEO of Leo Burnett China?

During my time in marketing, I had the fortunate opportunity to work with some agencies in Hong Kong and I was fascinated by how their work touches so many different categories and consumers, and was deeply moved by the energy and creative spirits they had.

I decided to send my CV to all the agencies, willing to start as an account trainee with a paid cut. Like most cases, I heard no response. But then a friend of mine who worked in an agency received a poaching call from another agency. He was not interested, but recommended me to go to the interview instead. My first job in advertising began in 1992 with Euro RSCG, Ball Partnership.

I then joined Leo Burnett Hong Kong in 1995, spent the next 12 years with the agency. Within this period, I was offered the opportunity to move to Shanghai back in 2002 and that’s the start of my journey in the Mainland market. Credit to the entire team, we had a superior run and Leo Burnett Shanghai was one of the rising stars within our network as well as the market.

In 2007 I left the agency to explore a new venture, leading a digital start-up company with a listed NASDAQ company as our investor. A time in my career which opened my eyes to the digital world, but also the capital world. I then re-joined Leo's in 2012 as CEO of China.

How would you describe Chinese consumers? In what way are they different from their Western counterparts?

Comparatively speaking, Chinese consumers are less critical and more willing to engage with brands. This is a country where most people are still thriving on a strong sense of optimism and believing in a better tomorrow. They are more eager to seek out those purposeful brands as they continue to improve their lives.

This campaign for A.O. Smith was awarded a Gold Lion in the Design category:

For you, what makes the work from LB China stand out from the crowd and succeed in the rapidly growing Chinese market?

Our proven ability in building enduring and iconic brands – Rejoice, Minute Maid, Li Ning, are just some examples of the iconic brands we have helped to build since day one.

Leo Burnett Shanghai created this award-winning ambient piece to raise awareness of the loneliness of parents in China with autistic children:

What has been the biggest challenge for Leo Burnett since arriving in the Middle Kingdom? Talent. Talent. Talent.

Which piece of creative from Leo Burnett China are you most proud of?

'Sharing the First Coke of the Year' – CNY Coca Cola 2008:

What is the key thing you look for in people seeking to join Leo Burnett China?


What are your hopes and vision for Leo Burnett China in the next 5-10 years?

Continue to be a leading agency in this new age. Trashed any association with 'Traditional.' To not be afraid of the ever-changing technology, but to embrace it as fuel for creativity.

Back to you to personally, when were you last inspired?

Participated in a board-of-directors meeting of a NASDAQ listed company, finally feeling the real business world.

And how do you inspire others?

Be objective and genuine in what you say.

If you could work in any of the other LB network offices which one would it be, and why?

I cannot name one and no disrespect to the other offices, but I just love China.

What do you think you would have been doing if you were not working in the ad industry?

Sports marketing probably, in particular golf.

And finally, Apples or Pencils?

Apples. I simply hate cynical critics and love to prove them wrong.

January 15, 2013