Mediabrands Malaysia's CEO

Talent leaders today need to be highly specialised, having not only HR knowledge, but also being savvy with business needs, Bala Pomaleh, CEO, Mediabrands Malaysia, believes.

Bala Pomaleh (pictured above) was 19 when he first forayed into the industry as a junior media research assistant. Fast forward the years, and he has now been in the industry for 31 years and counting — "that’s more than 60% of my life!" He points out. Today, he is the Chief Executive Officer of Mediabrands Malaysia, the media and marketing solutions division of Interpublic Group (IPG).

Reflecting on his journey and the lessons learnt, he shares: "One meaningful lesson is that it’s very important to provide opportunities when you have the capacity to do so. I had excellent bosses who acted as mentors and enabled me to learn, guided my rapid progress, and encouraged me to dream big.

"That’s why I continually try to cultivate this within the agency – be it spotting talent, incubating new ideas, or promoting from within – it is important for our people to thrive in their spaces and know they have the support of the organisation behind them. Another is that you really need to internalise the culture and get to know the team well."

Only when you do this can you fully understand their capabilities, limitations, and potential to help bring out the best in them, he adds.

In this interview, Bala shares a peek into his leadership style, the top talent priorities and how they've evolved, skills he believes future-forward CHROs should possess to address them, and more. 

Q How would you describe your leadership style, and how has it changed over the years?

Naturally, leadership styles change over time based on your role and the people you work with, the situations you deal with, and your own personal growth and maturity. I believe my leadership style has evolved to become more unassuming and collaborative over time. This is mainly because I work with very senior people in my team, and I strongly believe in empowering them to make decisions.

We have a healthy relationship of being able to discuss matters openly and transparently so that we can collectively agree to disagree on matters. Eventually, of course, we align on a way forward – though if, or when, I need to get into a 'drive' position because difficult decisions need to be made, I will do it.

Q How closely do you work with your Chief Talent Officer (CTO), and on what matters/issues?

The CTO is a very important person in my leadership team as we are a business that is highly reliant on the quality of our talents. My CTO needs to clearly know my objectives for the company so that she can help me and our business teams resource ourselves with the best possible talents. This also requires her to have good knowledge of the specialists’ skill sets required by our agencies.

DEI and L&D are highly prioritised within our agency, so she plays a key role in the implementation of our objectives, to ensure we remain relevant, future-ready, and are looked upon as an employer of choice.

Q What, in your view, are the top three talent challenges in your industry at the moment?

We often speak about talent shortage, but specifically, there is a shortage of good talent to come into the industry. Especially so for us, as we are continually advancing and investing into new spaces, we are finding there is a major shortage of specialist talents to fill these roles. In recent times this has been made even more tricky due to the challenges of international hires. Alongside this comes the other challenge which is poaching from competitors and clients.

As there is often insufficient training across the industry, this fight for talent within a small pool is significant. And that leads us to the final challenge of talent burnout and mental health conditions that cause talents to move out of the industry. These three areas all have a domino effect on one another.

Q How have talent priorities today evolved from what they were five years ago?

There are significantly more priorities on talent today than five years ago due to the increasing complexity of our business. We are far more involved with data and analytics, and we have a plethora of insights and new platforms with which to engage consumers. As such, our talent requirements have become simultaneously more specialised and diverse, with new layers of complexities as we evolve.

Talent leaders today need to be highly specialised, possessing not only an understanding of HR, but also being savvy with business needs so they can become a strong talent business partner.

Q What skills should future-forward CHROs possess to address these?

Beyond the basic HR knowledge, CHROs should be highly familiar with data and digital platforms, and well-versed in both soft and craft skill training so they can assess and hire the right candidates, and ensure the best growth plans for our existing talent. At the same time, they need to be highly analytical to help us see how our talent needs impact business as the industry shifts rapidly.

At Mediabrands Malaysia, we are pursuing our DEI initiatives very deeply, and have been welcoming people with disabilities. CHROs today need to have strong DEI knowledge to support the implementation of programmes such as these.

Sustainability is another area of concern for brands and agencies and CHROs will need to be able to work closely with the executive leadership team on future blueprints.


Photo / Mediabrands Malaysia [Pictured: Bala Pomaleh, Chief Executive Officer, Mediabrands Malaysia]

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