How I got here… Valerie Madon of Havas

In our new feature exploring career trajectories, Valerie Madon, the chief creative officer for Havas South East Asia, details her journey to the top via creative agencies, a stint at Facebook and then ending up with her recent return to advertising


I started painting at the early age of five and would credit my grandmother for taking me to several art competitions. I enrolled myself in a Chinese painting course before I was 10 years old, but like every kid in Singapore I still led a typically academic life – getting through junior college and eventually the National University of Singapore.

Maths, science and economics came naturally to me. But back then, no university in Singapore had courses related to my one true love – the arts. So I decided to drop out and enrol in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, graduating with distinction in ‘visual communications’.

Finishing school more than 20 years ago when all we knew about the internet was having an email account, my digital skills and knowledge were completely self-taught.

My start

My first job was as a graphic assistant to a photographer. He employed me largely for my Photoshop skills, video editing and animation capabilities. Again, these were completely self-taught. Most of my time was spent travelling to shoots and setting up lights for sets. During my free time, my boss asked if I would try to create our company’s website by reading the manuals in the Dreamweaver 1.0 box.

Within a month or so, I launched our website and accidentally became one of the few designers in Singapore who could code. I was subsequently recruited by more credible digital agencies like Earth9.com, Amoeba and eventually XM Asia, where I helped design Singapore Airlines first online booking website.

After more than 10 years in pure-play digital agencies, I had the opportunity to integrate my digital skills with ‘traditional’ advertising during my time at Leo Burnett. Across six years under the wings of mentors like Linda Locke (then-regional ECD of Leo Burnett), I learned how to build brands. Today, this is what excites me the most and is why I love what I do.


Being a digital-native, my brain naturally starts from the question: ‘What is the objective?’ I am driven by results because of my formative years in pure-play digital agencies. And in order to drive results, one has to understand the audience and their motivations.

Recent times, especially at Facebook, made me realise creatives have to be more aware of reality. The statistics I was exposed to were an eye-opener and I realised we were making generalisations about people across countries, gender and age groups. Data is not a new toy. It has been around for some time. It is what planners and creatives use to generate insights. The only difference today is we are exposed to more of it, more readily and with more depth. Therefore, there are more reasons why we should leverage it.

My time at Facebook, where I was head of the advertising and creative shop, also highlighted the importance of media and how people consume content. As creatives, we must have a better understanding of how to design for today’s ‘mainstream’ media and of course our mobile phones. We must never assume we understand the new generation and how they connect with brands. When we make the effort to dig deeper, it always fascinates me how mind-boggling and diverse their behaviour can be.

Only when we understand our audience enough can we create a relevant hook and deliver it through the right channel at the right time – to build a brand that people will love.

Highs and Lows

Highs: Meeting my other half Farrokh Madon and having someone who shares a common circle of friends and a love for creativity. He really understands what I go through every day.

I always feel we are the fortunate few who get to do what we love and get paid really well for it. I get most satisfaction from applying my creativity to help our government, which has done so much for the nation. My last project to help revamp our Central Provident Fund (CPF) statement is a highlight in my career.

Lows: Working an average of 16 or more hours every day during the early stage of my career and therefore missing out a lot on bringing up my son, who is now 15 years old. I was lucky to have my mum stepping in to support me during those years.

Another low is seeing very smart individuals wasting their intelligence away with office politics instead of creating better work. It still makes me wonder if I should hire for talent or character because I’ve been burnt many times when I chose the former.

Dos and don’ts

Do get enough sleep and start your day with a clear mind. Creativity works best when your mind is free to stretch. I used to put in the hours until past midnight, but I now realise it’s better for me to head home, spend time with my kids in the evening, have enough rest and to wake up extra early (sometimes 4am) to continue my work. It has proven to be more productive then over-stretching a tired mind.

Be observant and never settle for less until you feel you’ve exhausted all possibilities. What we do to a large degree is still art. The more you massage it, the better it gets. And like art, there’s no such thing as perfection. You can only aim for it.

Train, share and pass-it-on. The real joy at work comes from constant learning. With so much knowledge floating through the internet, no one can be a master of everything but the more we share, the more aware we will be.


Never rip, steal or copy someone’s work. If you do, you don’t care about creativity. It is sad to see the increasing number of cases of plagiarism in recent times. If you suffer from a mental-block then read, run and expose your mind to other forms of inspiration.

Don’t let your ego get in the way of what’s right. Keep an open mind. This is one of the toughest to do because we tend to get emotionally attached to our ideas. Ultimately though, success is what’s best for the brief or the task at hand and it is close to impossible for one person to always produce the best ideas.

Don’t forget your family. They are your real support and happiness in life, even for the most career-driven individuals. Set aside time every day to spend quality time with them, without having any thoughts about work. The ability to compartmentalise your time will make you more effective and less stressed.

Lastly, never stop learning. Never assume you know everything.


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