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Secrets of my success: Nigel Vaz, global chief executive of Publicis Sapient

What do you do?

I’m global chief executive of Publicis Sapient – a digital consultancy – and spend my time working on our strategy and our clients’, trying to peek round the corner of what’s coming next. We help clients use technology to change their businesses. I discuss things we and they want to do, many businesses morph beyond their original purpose to keep up. I travel a lot. I go from meeting to meeting but they’re all very different. I’m also on the executive committee of our owners [French advertising group] Publicis, which has 80,000 people.

What do you enjoy about it?

Working with people, we have 20,000 around the world. Also having an impact beyond just the company I work for, helping other businesses survive and thrive. You can make changes that you go home to your family and say ‘I did that’. I remember when we introduced the service which allowed fliers to pick their seat on a plane with American Airlines – that was a first and changed the industry. In the UK, we worked with Lloyds on [data access initiative] Open Banking and they were the only bank to hit the deadline.

What don’t you enjoy?

I like the travel but it can be hectic and a challenge. Also sometimes you know you can make a difference if you get the opportunity but you miss out. I hate losing and if you lose a pitch for work and think you could do a better job and make a difference that’s frustrating.

What was your biggest break?

Probably not getting a job early on that I felt fit my abilities. It forced me to set up a company [in telecoms and consulting] on my own. Then later I met Sapient’s founders Stuart Moore and Jerry Greenberg – they are such sophisticated thinkers on the impact a culture can have on a company and taught me business is about more than making money. We came through the dotcom bubble and Sapient is now used as an example of good business at Harvard and Yale.

And biggest setback?

There was one not long after we launched in the UK. We were small and a telecoms client was happy with our work. Then they grew and said it was too risky using us alone because they were getting big and complex. They asked us to work alongside a bigger company. I knew it was the wrong solution and the other company had a completely different outlook on how to change the clients’ culture. The thing started to go horribly wrong. We decided to walk away, which wasn’t an easy decision as we almost had to cut jobs. A year later a tender came out for the same job and our contact had been fired.

How’s your work-life balance?

I feel strongly it’s an outdated concept, left over from the industrial revolution. It’s about priorities. My wife also travels, as the chief business officer for Uber EMEA and we have a son so we agree that one of us will always stay home. Sometimes I’ll prioritise work – taking calls or the odd meeting at the weekend, but I’ll never miss a school event of his. All the time I spend not working is with my family, I don’t go playing golf or to the football at the weekend.

Any tips?

Use your experience as a consumer – a shopper, a traveller, that’s useful. Also you have to be continually learning, otherwise when you change jobs it’s unbelievably hard.