Catch up with Jane Lin-Baden, CEO Isobar Asia-Pacific

We recently had the pleasure of chatting with Jane Lin-Baden, CEO of Isobar Asia-Pacific. Jane is a strong advocate of diversity, women in leadership, and a multi-talented creative leader who also runs her own cosmetics lab at home. So, we decided to ask her a few questions to find out more!

Jane, please tell us more about your early life.

I grew up in Taipei, Taiwan, with very open-minded parents. For starters, I am a left-hander in a conservative society back in the 80s, which was seen as a rarity. However, my parents were very liberal especially towards children’s education and didn’t correct my left-handedness, except for Chinese writing for the sake of keeping the writing neat. My parents taught me to recognise my individuality and respect everyone as a unique being. In other words, I was raised to think that I can be different, which was rather unusual back then. Although I have loving parents and family, I was also taught to be independent and be responsible for my own life, learning how to live with the consequences of my actions and decisions.

My father was an economist who was a key driver of the Taiwan tax reform in the 1980s and later on became a governor. My mother worked in a school, teaching blind kids and was subsequently appointed as Chief Financial Officer in a large German international group. Till this day, I believe that my acumen for numbers was inherited from her as much as my dad thinks otherwise!

How did you get to where you are today?

I have always been a very adventurous person, full of creative ideas and love to explore new things. With passion in design, sculpture and arts, it was always my dream to start my own gallery. For that reason I studied contemporary art at university.

Then, I started my own agency in 2000 before I joined Isobar in 2007. I would say my desire to create something and being an entrepreneur has always been in my blood.

You are a strong advocator for diversity and are involved in One @ Dentsu Aegis, the Network’s diversity initiative. What are your views on diversity and how can Dentsu Aegis encourage more women to embark on leadership roles?

Diversity is not a corporate but social topic; and the core is not about gender, but respect of difference. Diversity today is a more transparent topic than in the past. In the past, when a woman or a minority spoke up, it would have come across as a cry for more authority or attention. But today people can look at it in a more neutral perspective — how we can use diversity to create and grow innovation as a result of embracing different points of view. That’s progression to me and in order to get it moving along in the corporate world, we should encourage voices from different genders, background, beliefs and interests. I believe that there will be diversity when we are mindful to create space for people unlike us.

My mum was a fine example of how a woman can put her talent in the best place and pursue a career. She was definitely a minority in her company at that time but she never looked down on herself. She knew she wanted to produce high quality work and she knew she wanted to be treated equally, as a result she was appointed as CFO in a German MNC. Growing up and even till now, her drive and ability to achieve the unthinkable serves as a great encouragement to me in that we should never shy away from speaking up and taking on leadership roles when the opportunity arises.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like peace and quiet. Perhaps due to my hectic work schedule during the work week, I tend to appreciate some time off on weekends such as gardening and doing handicrafts with my daughter. We like to get our hands dirty and we have many cats playing in the garden while we work on the soil. The funny thing is that I am actually allergic to cats but because my daughter is an absolute cat lover, we have ended up with 13!

I also run a cosmetics lab at home, where I produce my own label of organic face, hair and body products such as serum, essence, lotion cream, shampoo and lipstick. Some might not see this as a “resting” pastime but I find it highly therapeutic. My husband was in the chemical industry and along the way I picked up on things like the role of various active ingredients from major skin care brands. I started buying the raw materials and have been experimenting with different combinations since! That’s really one of my favourite past times — especially when I’m under pressure, I will lock myself in my small lab and come up with a couple of new products.

I also love travelling and one of my favourite destinations in the world is Austria. The way our family travels, we always pick out a place and go back three years in a row. We feel that only this way can you really learn and understand their culture, tradition and way of life. There’s a small remote village which we love and go every summer because there’s hardly anyone there, only sheep!

Selection of Jane’s homemade cosmetics

What do you enjoy most about your work, and what are top challenges?

I had my own agency for seven years and joined Isobar at the end of 2007 together with my team. I have been with Isobar and the network since and I love being able to contribute to creating the freedom and space for everyone, including myself, to express creativity. I think creativity is the best gift we can give to each other and the public. That is something very energising, because I enjoy building something and thinking of plans and decisions to make it happen. I see Isobar as my “garden” where people and ideas have a platform to grow — that really excites me a lot. I also think about how to create culture and space to tolerate and appreciate diversity. These are topics that are very important to me and something that I am working on to see that become stronger.

That said, we only have 24 hours in one day, so one of my challenges is how do I use my limited time to make a bigger impact. It’s all about time management. I wake up at 4am every day to meditate and have some quiet time before taking on the challenges of the day. I find that extremely useful.

What is your motto in life?

“Be salt and light”. To me, salt and light are two important factors to building a successful life and career.

Salt plays a crucial role in our everyday life. Taking the analogy of food, salt is the magic ingredient that brings out the original flavour of the food. No food can taste well without salt, even dessert, but too much of it can also completely destroy a dish. Applying that to leadership skills, we need to find the best balance to bring the best flavour out of the people we work with while keeping in mind to never be too harsh as that can also destroy morale and confidence.

Light, on the other hand, guides and makes everything a bit better and brighter. Sometimes at work, one can get lost because of the complexity and the pressure. Light is to brighten up the environment, so one can see direction. I’d like to be the light, even if it’s just a small five watts, I hope to be able to help that person revisit their environment and surroundings so that they can find renewed purpose and inspiration to press on.

What are some trends in digital that you are fond of and would like to see more of?

Digital is not just a way of communication. Digital now is a way of doing business — be it in sales, training people or organising corporate structure. It goes beyond communication but many agencies are still looking at digital from a communication perspective. To me, with challenges also lie opportunities. How to make the shift in our mindsets to see it from a business perspective?

Jane speaking at Spikes Asia about diversity

To co-create digital centric products and services is an amazing opportunity from Isobar’s perspective. It is what a digital business partner should be doing. Agency models will need to evolve from an asymmetric distribution model into creation in order to keep up, and I have already seen the evolution of our operating model which supports this trend. If agencies are not involved in creating new things, their value will gradually be undermined and made obsolete.

If given a choice, would you have picked a different career path and why?

Jane appointed as CEO of Isobar Asia-Pacific

I would still choose to be in Isobar and Dentsu Aegis Network, because I love it and it is the place for entrepreneurship. My alternative would be to have a profit-generating social enterprise. Because I do believe that there is a lot of waste of resources and that we can align and regroup these resources and help minority and underprivileged people while making a decent business. Or perhaps sometime in the future, a project that I can drive in my role within the network!

My husband and I actually took a sabbatical year in 2010 to volunteer in several kids ministries. We also took our daughter out of her school (she was four years old at that time) so we could get involved as a family and help people. In one year, we travelled to many places and reached out to organisations where we felt we could contribute. The sabbatical year was the best choice I’ve ever made for myself and my family.

Tell us one thing that no one else knows about you.

I have no patience for fiction books. I am impatient towards reading because I have training on speed-reading. So I read very quickly and read several books at the same time. I am used to jumping chapters and referencing them from different books. But for fiction books, you can’t. You have to read from the very beginning otherwise you will lose track of the plot!