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Bossing It: Mircea Pascu on a Series of ‘Firsts'


CEO of VMLY&R COMMERCE Romania and VMLY&R Romania on launching a Romanian fashion brand in France when he was 23 and his job of staring down tough decisions

Bossing It: Mircea Pascu on a Series of ‘Firsts'

As CEO of VMLY&R COMMERCE Romania and VMLY&R Romania, Mircea Pascu oversees all facets of the agencies advertising business in an integrated era. With over 20-years experience, Mircea has a proven executive management track record delivering integrated communications and excellence in operations and growth for both clients and agency.  

For more than 10 years as CEO he oversaw the operations of Geometry Romania, formerly known as G2 Romania, now VMLY&R COMMERCE – part of WPP, the world’s largest advertising and marketing services company worldwide. He transformed the agency into a multi-awarded, first-class communications entity, capable of delivering exceptional communication solutions across all platforms. Under his influence, the agency introduced PR critical thinking into both local and regional clients’ agendas. From 2018 to 2021 he extended his responsibilities within the Geometry network as Eastern Europe regional director, coordinating offices across Hungary and the Czech Republic. 

Under Geometry Romania, he oversaw the agency’s first Romanian Gold in PR at Cannes Lions with a campaign that had won Gold in Media the previous year at Eurobest – proving that fantastic ideas can be relevant across multiple disciplines. With over 150 award wins across multiple international festivals, Mircea turned Geometry Romania into a major contributor to the network's global reputation.   

Understanding the importance of blockchain technology early on, he graduated from the MIT Sloan School of Management Executive Program on Blockchain Technologies: Business Innovation and Application in 2018, along with completing the Blockchain Strategy Program at the University of Oxford. Both offer him a deep and practical understanding of blockchain technology, the cost of networking, and how blockchain technology can bootstrap and facilitate a marketplace without traditional intermediaries.  

LBB> What was your first experience of leadership?

Mircea> It’s been a series of 'firsts' for me... From leading a basketball team as a point guard back when I was seven; to becoming the 'man of the house' when I was 14; to launching a Romanian fashion brand in France when I was 23 (where I was basically on my own for the first 12 months); to leading marketing departments of corporations to now leading advertising agencies. As you can see it’s kind of hard to define that first experience. I’d rather look at it as a journey than a single moment in time. Leadership is something that I had to learn on the job, as there is no more efficient leadership training than actually doing it.  That “on the job” part teaches you by slamming you by testing your abilities every single day. The fun part of leadership is that you can have a 'first experience' literally every single week.

LBB> How did you figure out what kind of leader you wanted to be – or what kind of leader you didn’t want to be?

Mircea> I’m going to go back to basketball for this one, and all team sports for that matter. An effective team is a well-oiled machine with very clearly defined roles and a tone of respect for each individual and each role. I tell my team that my goal is to be useless, which really translates into creating a high functioning team that can withstand storms with or without me. I’m a very democratic type of leader with a “to each his own responsibility” philosophy, but if I was to choose just one word to define my leadership style, it would be flexible. I learned ages ago that people are different and not all personalities mesh. Part of maturing professionally is doing things you may not like and working with people you don’t agree with and vice versa. If, to that human aspect, you add the frantic evolutionary decades and the fact that advertising not only has a front seat to that show but is actually part of driving it, well then you could argue leaders should be flexible first.  

LBB> What experience or moment gave you your biggest lesson in leadership?

Mircea> Every kid is a clear witness to a wide range of leadership lessons from the biggest leaders of them all: parents. Behaviour-wise those moments define much of the leadership style that someone ultimately has. From a professional standpoint, the lesson of being in a constant learning mode was the greatest lesson I ever had. While I was in the baby nutrition division of Danone, my boss was always pushing us to learn new things and keep updated. Basically, you need to update your brain on a regular basis, pretty much just like updating your phone’s operating system.

LBB> Did you know you always wanted to take on a leadership role? If so how did you work towards it and if not, when did you start realising that you had it in you?

Mircea> Sometimes I wonder if it was ever a choice. My father passed away when I was just 13, so maturing overnight wasn’t necessarily a choice, but one I fully embraced. I was raised by two women – my mother and sister – in a family of teachers.  My parents and all four grandparents were teachers, so I always had a clear set of values and a great framework, but I always made my own decisions when the time asked for it. I guess that going from that to a professional leadership role was just a matter of time. So, it was more of a 'life happens' thing rather than a big realisation moment.

I can say that once I started to coordinate teams, I knew that not only was I good at it, but I also liked it very much. I love putting together efficient teams, along with the energy that a leadership role gives me. The dynamic part of leadership was really the first thing that attracted me. 

LBB> When it comes to 'leadership' as a skill, how much do you think is a natural part of personality, how much can be taught and learned?

Mircea> This is a question that would have had such a different answer pre-pandemic. The fact of the matter is that skill-wise most things can be learned, but people skills and emotional intelligence are harder to learn and very much linked to the natural part of one’s personality. I believe the big resignation is basically about people leaving leaders rather than companies, about leaving lack of trust rather than salaries, and finally about leaving too many rules rather than flexibility.

LBB> What are the aspects of leadership that you find most personally challenging? And how do you work through them?

Mircea> Leadership is full of tough decisions. Some even gut-wrenching. It’s my job to stare down those tough decisions. That can be hard. But even harder can be the idea of living with the decisions you never made. There will be consequences for that. Physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction - and tough decisions aren’t much different. 

Transforming the agency’s business while maintaining strong performance is another challenge I’ve faced these past couple of years. Change is a constant, but never before has change been as dramatic and unexpected as in the last few years. To remain competitive, especially in the advertising field, we needed to have a permanent state of change.  Research shows that a company’s ability to continually disrupt and reinvent itself is the key to unlocking extraordinary growth. I think we must be ready to flex between performing and transforming, both now and in the future. These imperatives must be approached in tandem, not in sequence, and without sacrificing one for the other.

LBB> Have you ever felt like you've failed whilst in charge? How did you address the issue and what did you learn from it?

Mircea> I have failed so many times that I’ve lost track. If I’m not making the same mistakes three times, then I’m fine … I’m not keeping score, but I am keeping track of the learnings to make sure I don’t repeat that same mistake again.

LBB> In terms of leadership and openness, what’s your approach there? Do you think it’s important to be transparent as possible in the service of being authentic? Or is there a value in being careful and considered?

Mircea> I only believe in transparency. The more traditional forms of leadership based on static hierarchies and professional distance between leaders and followers are growing increasingly outdated and ineffective. Nowadays, openness has become a trait for a good leader. When talking about openness what I mean is having the ability to articulate a vision for my team and then offer support to them in order to increase their creativity across aspects of the business.

LBB> As you developed your leadership skills did you have a mentor, if so who were/are they and what have you learned? And on the flip side, do you mentor any aspiring leaders and how do you approach that relationship?

Mircea> I had many mentors throughout my career – both people who have taught me what to do and some that showed me what not to do. It’s a combination of people and experiences though, rather than having one person as a mentor like you see in movies. When it comes to being a mentor myself, I’m trying to pass on what I consider are my strengths and to help out exactly when there is a need. I don’t believe in organised mentoring programs per se, but I do trust in being there at the right moment with the right advice.

LBB> It's been a really challenging year - and that's an understatement. How do you cope with the responsibility of leading a team through such difficult waters?

Mircea> Truth of the matter is that I had no idea at the beginning and the only reasonable thing to do seemed to be protecting the people in our team. My main objectives were to ensure the business stayed in a place that ensured we wouldn’t have to fire people and to also not cut their salaries. Then I thought I should share with the team the process I was going through just as a human being, so I started sending “Life in the time of Covid” emails.  They were really just about what was going on in my life – anything and everything except the business side. I talked about the movies I watched, series I binge watched, what I cooked that week (I’m into cooking!), the funny things my dog had done, Covid music playlists and so on. Funny enough, the overwhelming majority of the people from the team said those emails were one of the most important things they received as support during the pandemic.  That put a pretty big smile on my face.

LBB> This year has seen the industry confronted with its lack of action/progress on diversity and inclusion. As a leader how have you dealt with this?

Mircea> For our VMLY&R network, inclusion and diversity are vitally important. It helps us understand the cultural movements that affect both people and brands. The network agency has made great strides in developing its DE&I programs over the past few years.

Last year, VMLY&R launched an Inclusion Experience Practice – a consultancy offering that helps brands and organisations become more culturally sensitive, diverse, equitable and inclusive. The practice is already working with more than 20 clients across various areas, including workplace inclusivity and belonging; employee engagement design and activation; organisational design and process enhancement; and culturally adept content, strategy and execution. By launching the inclusion-focused consultancy, we are showing another way forward as agencies and brands continue to step up Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts in the ad industry.

It's all about equality of opportunity and prioritising expertise.

LBB> How important is your company culture to the success of your business? And how have you managed to keep it alive with staff working remotely in 2020?

Mircea> I consider company culture the collection of beliefs and behaviours and not just perks and benefits. Culture goes beyond the physical walls of the agency. It’s like spider web of threads between each team member. For both 2020 and 2021, we worked remotely, doing hundreds of Teams/Zoom calls.  What kept us connected though, even remotely, was the typical Romanian feistiness and need to thrive. We are a team of 120 people united by values like generosity, curiosity, purpose and inventiveness. The success of the network resides mainly in its culture.

LBB> What are the most useful resources you’ve found to help you along your leadership journey?

Mircea> In terms of learning and understanding where the industry is going, I’m always “in school” and reading as much as I can. Right now, I’m working on my Masters Degree in Artificial Intelligence, after having received degrees from MIT and Oxford in Blockchain and Technology and Business Application. From a reading standpoint, I’m in a physics and astronomy phase, as well as a “first explorers of the world” phase. I guess it’s a bit of a Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon featuring Indiana Jones moment. 

But in all honesty when it comes to running the business on a day-to-day basis, what I find to be the most important things overall are the lunches and dinners with our teams, along with the individual one-on-ones with them. Talking to people and really understanding issues is the most valuable resource of all for me in this leadership journey I’m still on.

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VMLY&R COMMERCE Romania, Mon, 01 Aug 2022 05:32:57 GMT