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Leader

John Sintras buys stake in Yango, says holding groups more about profit than leadership

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

4 August 2019 5min read

John Sintras

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

4 August 2019 5min read

After 30 years at Starcom, John Sintras left to join Henry Tajer’s US IPG Mediabrands revolution in August 2015 to oversee global business and product development. Two years later, the revolution had been quashed and Sintras was out.  “There was a change in strategy,” he suggests. “That’s all I can really say.” Returning to Australia Sintras landed at SBS, but found it wasn’t a good fit. Now he’s bought into indy digital shop Yango – and thinks there is a major growth opportunity to unlock.

"I enjoyed the top end probably until 2011, 2012, 2013. After that, the role of a CEO in the big companies became less and less about leadership and more and more about just delivering the profit and doing what you’re told."

- John Sintras, Yango

“Growth catalyst”

Sintras describes himself as a “growth catalyst”, which is one of the reasons he decided against returning to holding groups.

Holding group strictures are such that even local CEOs are able to make few decisions without the nod from head office, says Sintras, with the focus on margin and cost cutting rather than top line growth.

So, after SBS, Sintras took time to consider his next move. After “talking to a lot of people” he discovered “pain” is the one commonality.

 

Turn pain to gain

“Most people you talk to are under pressure and really struggling to figure out what’s important and what they should focus on,” suggests Sintras. “Everybody’s struggling with technology, martech and data.”

Many marketers, he says, “are struggling just to get the day job done”, let alone innovate. Meanwhile, agencies are all fighting to get upstream in the face of incursions from big tech and big consultancies.

While the holding groups have spent years trying to figure out ‘the new agency model’, Sintras says he is determined to help enable a new way of working.

He thinks agility is key – and says Yango will blend the best available resource and strategically execute free of conventional structures.

“Everybody wants to grow … So, we’re simply about helping clients grow beyond the status quo - and those words are quite deliberate.”

 

“There are many really senior people out there working freelance that are happy to be part of these projects. Not to mention the 40-pluses left by the wayside because they’re [perceived as] not young enough to work in agency land anymore.”

- John Sintras, Yango

Agility = value

The ‘status quo’ issue is that there are “tonnes of people just not adding value,” in part because “diversity has gone out of the window”, Sintras suggests.

“[Agencies] don’t have diverse skill sets collectively, collaboratively sitting around the table to solve not the agency’s problem but the client’s problem.”

Yango aims to address that issue by bringing in savvy freelancers from around the world to solve specific client challenges.

Sintras suggests a “more nimble, flexible talent model … is going to be the way of contemporary business” and will bring a more diverse skillset to clients.

“You’re going to have a core group of people that manage everything in high-level strategy, in core services.  But increasingly, we’ll have partners, consultants and specialists brought in more dynamically, working on a central platform.  They bring different skill sets to the table at different times,” says Sintras.

He says that is one of the ways Yango will scale – and believes there is a huge talent pool to exploit – with experience and diversity to bring to the table.

“There are many really senior people out there working freelance that are happy to be part of these projects. Not to mention the 40-pluses left by the wayside because they’re [perceived as] not young enough to work in agency land anymore.”

 

Digital optimisation

The plan is to also build out permanent resource, “very quickly” doubling current headcount, says Sintras, with the opportunity “largely around digital transformation, martech, data and customer experience”.

Sintras believes there is also an opportunity to create a standalone business, with its own brand within Yango, to solve problems around dynamic optimisation of creative and media across platforms. In that regard, he thinks there are very few existing products in market that work end-to-end, with “lots of people still using Excel spreadsheets to manage those campaigns”.

“So you’ve got people getting burnt out doing boring drudge work and not focusing on optimising, getting better results and adding value,” says Sintras. “One of the technologies that we’ve created solves that problem. That’s being tested in our business at the moment and we’re looking to roll that out as a standalone business.  Separate but within [Yango], because that’s a huge market need, the holy grail of where we’re all going.”

 

Anti holding company model

That agility, control of destiny and freedom to try different things is why Sintras likes the idea of steering a small ship. It’s the opposite of the holding company model, where he says there can be “too many agendas, a lack of aligned leadership” across the group, and where the bottom line is always top priority.

“It’s the only thing that matters at the end of the day. What is the stock price?  Do we have organic and whatever growth?  What’s the percent profit?  Everything else is subservient to that.”

Over time, he says business units have become “squeezed and squeezed and squeezed … until [you find] I can’t recruit the talent. I can’t get senior people in the organisation. Layers have been taken out left, right and center. Clients are left with relatively junior teams that can’t provide leadership and in many cases, don’t even provide the [function] they are being employed for in the first place.”

 

"To me, it’s about trying to make a more meaningful difference, maybe with a smaller group of clients, maybe with a smaller group of people but actually delivering bigger value and bigger thinking and hopefully still leading - just from a different place."

- John Sintras, Yango

Powerless chiefs

In some holding companies, over the last five or six years, says Sintras, the CEO has been left with very little power.

“I enjoyed the top end probably until 2011, 2012, 2013.  After that, the role of a CEO in the big companies became less and less about leadership and became more and more about just delivering the profit and doing what you’re told,” he says. “Everybody brought in back end resources companies to consolidate everything. In the end, you had so few levers you could pull. I couldn’t even approve my EA’s salary increase. That’s crazy. You just become less and less able to grow the top line because you have less resources available to do the things that you need to do.”

 

Small but mighty?

An independent has neither legacy structure, nor “legacy thinking”, and Sintras aims to leverage that agility to challenge the status quo.

“What I’m looking to do here is do meaningful work quickly, to be able to make decisions quickly, to be able to say no to behaviour that’s unacceptable, that’s not earning value both on the client side and within your own culture,” he says.

That means “being able to be brave and do the right thing because you can - and you’re not always worried about what are they going to say or what’s the headline going to be and to know that your bottom line is not being broadcast in the trade press every five minutes so that you can make long-term decisions that are right thing for the client and the business,” says Sintras. “Not this crazy short-termism that’s crawled into every decision everybody makes in our sector and business more broadly. That’s the problem.”

Small, he says, can deliver big change.

“To me, it doesn’t feel small. To me, it’s about trying to make a more meaningful difference, maybe with a smaller group of clients, maybe with a smaller group of people but actually deliver bigger value and bigger thinking and hopefully still leading - just from a different place. I still want to lead. That’s always driven me.  I’m just doing it from a different platform - which I’m hoping will be more fun and actually make more difference.”

Let’s go. What do you think?

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

4 August 2019 5min read

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