‘I have learnt more in the last 16 months than I did in the last five years’ – How I got here…Google’s Matthew Wigham

Google's head of agency business partnerships for Asia-Pacific Matthew Wigham on how the lessons learnt as a sportsman, advice from a wise uncle and good mentors have helped him negotiate shifts in geography and career path


I grew up in South London in a small town called Wallington and depending on who I am talking to, I either say I am from Surrey or Croydon, as people have heard of both for very different reasons. I was educated at a tiny school called Collingwood Boys and had the privilege of my mother being my form teacher.

This certainly toughens you up, and I was actually the only boy ever to be sent out of her class. Nevertheless, I progressed to Wallington Grammar School where I had a wonderful seven years, creating some formative friendships, and receiving a great balance of sport and education.

I realised at a young age that sport was the vehicle that would teach me some valuable life lessons. My father had encouraged me to play both team and individual sports, and I’m now passing that on to my own children, all four of them.

I’ve applied so much from sport into my business life: coaching, teamwork, winning, losing, empathy, support, gamesmanship and psychology, to name but a few. I’ve encountered a fair few bad sports through my working career, and have been well equipped to manage those situations.

I had done enough at school to gain a place at the University of Wales in Cardiff. This was my first experience of being away from home for a long period. It is where I really grew up and learned to work hard and play hard. I was lucky enough to make captain of the first team at football and represented the Welsh, English and British Universities over my three years at college.

I graduated with a BA Honours in history. People always look at me strangely when I mention the subject, but I have always been fascinated by what has gone before us – and the lessons we can learn. I realised during school that if I was to be a success at something, I had to enjoy it; more on this later.

After leaving college my last solid effort to put off starting a proper job, took me on a super adventure playing and coaching football for 18 months in the US, Australia and South Africa. The world opened up to me, I got to travel extensively and even toyed with the idea of coaching being a career path.

But I soon realised there were too many cooks in that kitchen back in the UK, to make a decent living out of it. Fate stepped in when a good mate talked me into interviewing for a role in media, and I haven’t looked back since.

My start

I was fortunate to start my career in media in the mid 1990’s at one of the ITV sales-houses in the UK called TSMS. All credit to the company: they invested an incredible amount of time into training and education, and I quickly realised this was the industry for me. I was also fortunate to meet my lovely wife here.

Working out pretty quickly that my strengths lay in haggling for the best TV slots for some of the world’s biggest brands, I made a natural transition agency-side. I had found my calling. I must have really enjoyed it, as I spent the next 20 years in media agencies on the investment and trading side of the business.

The best advice I received in those early days, from a person who is now among the most successful global leaders in our industry, was to build and maintain strong relationships both internally and externally. And to be considerate to everyone around you. I stand by it to this day. It has served me well and kept me on the right track, over the years.

It was a great learning experience leading large groups at OMG and GroupM to restructure the investment teams to more multimedia and client focused organisations. It helped hone my leadership capabilities. I also found a great sense of achievement from running training and education programs – the pleasure of coaching and developing people once again coming into play.

The next phase of my career was to up-sticks and move my family and career to Asia for a role in Singapore. Wow, when you have been in London for most of your working career, what a learning curve to come in to an Asia-Pacific role at MediaCom as chief investment officer, getting to grips with all of the diverse nuances and challenges across the region.

I progressed to a role at GroupM leading trading and partnership negotiations with responsibility for more than $2 billion of advertiser billings, and headed up the investment, content and sports businesses (Motion and ESP) for Asia-Pacific.

The key highlight over the last six years of my career has been growing my commercial expertise while learning about so many culturally and ethnically diverse countries, with extremely different ways of doing business that require flexibility of style, approach and collaboration. I have had to deal with significant leadership changes and challenges, along with business and personal crisis since my time here. All of this has made me a much stronger person, and leader.

At the start of 2018, I moved to Google, to become the head of agency business partnerships and look after the media holding companies for all Asia-Pacific markets. It’s an exciting time for the advertising and technology industries with huge growth opportunities across the region.

This role has been another huge pivot in my career that has required me to adapt to a whole new corporate infrastructure and culture, in a huge global business that has so many more layers than my previous employers. I can honestly say that I have learnt more in the last 16 months, than I had in the previous five years – and that is saying something considering my big move to Asia took place in that time. It has kept me on my toes, constantly learning, developing, adapting, and I have enjoyed every minute.


I received some great advice from my uncle at a young age. He told me to focus first on where you have talent and capability – see where you are good and make yourself great. Second, focus on the areas that you enjoy and have fun. Thirdly, if you can find a way to combine the two, you will be a happy man. A simple approach but one I followed, and have actively encouraged those working with me to do the same.

I have always been a connector and built strong and lasting relationships. My outlook is positive and forward moving and this has always been at the heart of my working style. I surround myself with exceptionally talented people and I always recruit for potential and skillsets that are missing, not for more of the same.  

My working energy is calm and focused. Our industry moves quickly: constantly prioritise to stay on track (recency bias is a problem in our industry). Tackle problems instantly and head on – if they fester, they grow, and will invariably come back and bite you.

Teams want vision and honesty from their leaders, but they also need to see consistency. I constantly set objectives and measure success against these. I focus on impact and revenue; these are winning combinations.


The characters I have met and bonds I have forged throughout my career are undoubtedly a highlight. The passion, motivation, energy and determination to succeed rubbed off on me from some amazing individuals. I will not namecheck, but my mentors know who they are; some of the most successful people in the industry. People who thoroughly deserve to be where they are today.

I have always worked on the commercial and partnerships side of the media business. Trading and negotiations is where I get the adrenaline rush, forging strong partnerships and securing large deals that drive significant value for all parties.

That magic moment when you get word that you have won a new piece of business, or retained a client is an unparalleled buzz. I have been lucky to work with some of the largest global brands, and got to know some of the smartest marketers and procurement professionals in the business.

Experiencing Asia has to be up there on the highs. I have learnt so much in my business, and my personal life. At age 45, myself and my wife have just had our fourth child in Singapore which has added yet another dimension to our growing family.

Lastly, winning quite a few cup finals in my average footballing career, has always stuck in my mind and also made for some memorable nights out.


I tend to take things in my stride, and try not to be too affected by the ups and downs of life and work. I am very rarely without a smile on my face.

Client losses were always a huge disappointment. Particularly when the relationship was strong and you had worked with them for a significant amount of time. Sometimes these decisions were not made or wanted by your key stakeholders, but agencies are used to dusting themselves off and recovering very quickly. Another client win was normally just round the corner.

Saying goodbye to family and friends in the UK and taking the children away from their grandparents to Singapore was a sad moment, but an opportunity we would not have missed. And the core family have always encouraged us to be adventurous. I recently lost my father, and this shakes everything up and throws a new perspective on things. I have also learned lessons from this; it definitely makes you stronger.


Show respect and care for everyone around you. This will come back to you in multiples.

Always give credit where it is due and celebrate success and failure in equal measure.

Look to constantly grow yourself and your network and build relationships that matter.

Ask lots of questions and write them down –  we are always looking for answers and we rarely ask the right questions .

Learn to say no politely, but always offer your advice and support.

Have the confidence to lead and not follow, and people will go with you to places you would not imagine


Let negative energy affect you. Steer clear of politics, backbiting and gossip

Believe everything you are told. Ask questions if you are unsure and don’t quit until you get the answers

Live your sporting life through your children when you get older; they do not like it..

Neglect your family. It is easy to get caught up in work or in your own thinking and you don’t want to look back and regret not spending time with loved ones.

Take yourself too seriously, as no-one else will either.

Matthew Wigham is head of agency business partnerships for Asia-Pacific at Google. He is based in Singapore. 


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