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Starcom boss Jeffrey Seah on his career rise: I was weird in the eyes of my foreign bosses

Jeff Seah profile image in The Peak magazine

Jeff Seah cover image from The Peak magazine

In a recent interview with Singapore Press Holdings-owned high-flyer magazine The Peak, Starcom Southeast Asia boss Jeffrey Seah said that he received pay raises during the early stages of his career partly because he was “weird in the eyes of his foreign bosses.”

In an eight-page cover story on the 44 year-old Starcom executive, in which the former Mindshare Singapore CEO is described as a maven, marksman, trailblazer and “spunky”, Seah said that he was regarded as different from other Singaporeans whom are “boring, one-dimensional and staid” in the eyes of some.

“I think I got them [three pay increases in a year] because I was weird in the eyes of my foreign bosses,” he said in the interview with The Peak about his earlier career at Ogilvy as a media planner.

“Singaporeans are supposed to be boring, one-dimensional and staid. I think the industry likes to make an example of me,” he said.

Being Singaporean has worked to his advantage, Seah said in the interview. “To them [his bosses], I was taking big risks. To me, it was like an adventure every day,” he was quoted as saying in the piece that highlights Seah’s early preoccupation with digital.

The pay raises during his first job at Ogilvy helped him pay off an $80,000 debt “from dabbling in the stock market”, according to the article.

Seah landed his first job at Ogilvy “10 minutes into the interview”, because he was the only candidate who partook in extracurricular activities, “apart from the prerequisite good grades,” according to the SPH magazine, which listed scouts, Chinese drama and computer programming among Seah’s leisure pursuits.

Seah was one of the few media executives in Singapore who backed the internet at the time of its emergence in the late 1990s, the piece suggests.

A “well-known” local marketer had told him during his earlier career days that Google was not a sensible place to invest media dollars.

“We don’t work with fly-by-night companies,” the marketer reportedly told him. Another “respected” marketer told him: “The Internet is a fad, young man. It’ll go away.”

At the beginning of the interview, Seah gave his interviewer an idea to go it alone. “Buy a drone. It’s less than $1,000 and you can have your own news TV station and won’t have to succumb to pressures from your bosses,” he said.

The piece mentions Seah’s role in persuading scriptwriters of local TV sitcom Under One Roof to write his client, air-conditioner brand Carrier, into an episode in 1995, him being among the first Asians to win a Media Lion at Cannes while at Leo Burnett, and being the first Singaporean to be a regional CEO of a foreign ad firm.

The article also draws attention to Seah’s trademark greeting. “If success-backed confidence can be expressed by the strength of a handshake, Seah’s is a bone crusher,” the story goes.

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