My Interview with Tom Doctoroff, CEO of JWT China

Edit: Since the article has already been uploaded on to my webzine, I’m allowed to let this post open to the public once more. Enjoy!

I had such a great time today, chatting with the JWT CEO of Greater China, Tom Doctoroff (pix below) at the Le Meridien Hotel. JWT (J. Walter Thompson) is one of the region’s most respected advertising agencies, representing clients in China ranging from international such as Pepsi, Unilever, Ford and many others to domestic enterprises such as China Mobile and Lenovo computers.

Currently into his 12th year of service in China, Tom (he insists on me calling him Tom, reminding me that when I get to forty, i would know how it feels like being called ‘mister’ all the time.) has gained a reputation as one of the leading experts in branding and marketing strategies in China. If you want to sell something in China and gain a market share, Tom’s JWT is ad agency to go for to ensure that your brand wins stays in the consciousness of the Chinese people’s mind.

Indeed, his knack for understanding the needs, the cultural attitudes and traditions and the behaviour of the average Chinese consumer makes him one of the key people who contributed much to Shanghai’s economic development. This was recognised in 2004, when he was awarded the prestigious Magnolia Government Award by the local municipal government. With such an established track record, it was only time before Tom comes out with a book that will serve as a manual/guide/handbook for businesses looking to make inroads into China but are unsure of what to expect.

Last year, Tom published Billions: Selling to the New Chinese Consumer, with the aim of informing everyone about the great potential in China, the world’s most populous nation with more than 1 billion people. In the book, he gives an overall view on what makes the average Chinese consumers tick, drawing from his wealth of experiences in selling a brand to the Chinese.

Reading his book, one could feel that Tom might just make the cut of being passed off as a naturalised Chinese in a gweilo body. His knowledge about the Chinese is really sharp and thoughtful and he makes the effort of learning and knowing about the Chinese people. He is not afraid of making mistakes and willing to learn from the Chinese. The key here is that when you’re in China, one must learn to be accepting of each other, be respectful of one another, and most importantly – be willing to understand the culture and its people. You cannot start a business in an unfamiliar country using Western ideals and strategies that you already have. This is what most people failed to understand and thus, are always wary of exploring new markets.

But in this time and age, you gotta have ambition and one thing that Tom noted among the Chinese, not just those in China but everywhere else, is that the Chinese are very ambitious people, and I do agree with him on this, being Chinese myself. Despite a lot of people commenting that I don’t look very Chinese, Tom was one that commented in the beginning of the interview that I look very, very Chinese. And I do have lofty ambitions as I don’t like to be looked down upon – to preserve my honour and uphold the family name and pride. We Chinese are very much like that, and it is this quality that sets us apart from other communities.

Through my meeting with Tom, even in that short one hour, have taught me to be proud of being Chinese. He even gave me the encouragement to learn Mandarin, something which he is not afraid of speaking and sound foolish at it. If he can do it in a space of six months, me being Chinese ought to be able to do the same and I should make the effort to do so and not afraid of making a fool out of myself. At least, I am willing to learn and master the language. It is also one way to connect with the locals if you plan to do business in their turf.

Tom also dispels a lot of myths and notions about China, that one should not worried about China being a communist government because Communist China has a completely different ideals compared to Communist Russia. Tom does not believe China is a threat to democracy and he certainly does not believe that China would ever drag themselves into a crisis or war situation. The Chinese Communist ensures and guarantees stability and normality – pushing for democratic reforms might just bring down the system and cause chaos, confusion and disruption. Tom argues that people should rid themselves of fear and suspicions about China and really get to understand and know about the Chinese. What he said was honest and true to the point.

All I can say is that we certainly need more people like Tom who sees China from a different perspective and willing to understand about them. He is certainly brave enough to challenge the misconceptions that most people in the West have of China and was not afraid of setting the record straight. He really does know about China and the expert you want to pay heed to. I am sure that if there are more people who see, think and act the way Tom does, the world will have one less country to worry about conflicts.

Besides, when America finally abandons their ill-conceptions of China, just think about what an immense economic force the integration of America and China will be! Now that’s something to chew on!

Me with the dashing Tom Doctoroff at the end of the interview session at Le Meridien Hotel


  1. Emily

    I would like to contact with Mr. Tom Doctoroff and invite him to be a speaker on our conference. Pls kindly let me know his email address.


  2. Andy Wong

    For a wider audience and their benefit, Mr. Doctoroff will be speaking at Shanghai CEIBS on 15May08 7pm

    More details at

  3. I am currently studying international business, in which I would like to find more ways to learn about doing business in China, or perhaps joining a business in China. I learned to speak and read Chinese (Mandarin) and type it(writing it is difficult). Perhaps, I can contact Tom Doctoroff, through email or some other means, in which he could give me some steps in the right direction. I am also okay with him, checking out my website, as provided, and contacting me. I am hoping to learn all I can, and hope to possibly work for someone such as Tom. Thank you.

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