All posts by anoukpappers

Meeting John Erdos at Dempsey Hill in Singapore

“Hi, I’m John. Welcome to my home!” he says with a big smile as we enter the John Erdos Showroom at Dempsey Hill. As he takes us through the showroom, he talks enthusiastically about the different pieces of furniture on display – you can see that he’s in his element here, full of energy and passion for the place. 

Formerly the site of a British army barracks, Dempsey Hill is an up-and-coming part of Singapore, with trendy bars and restaurants, art galleries, antique stores and farmers markets. The area, which is very green, is dotted with refurbished colonial buildings, which give it an extra cool edge.

John Erdos already settled here 20 years ago. He had gone to Singapore as a twenty-something-year-old New Yorker, looking for a change of scenery. Back home he’d been working for an agency, but when an opportunity presented itself in Singapore, he took it, thinking it would be fun for a few years.

But now we’re in 2014 and he’s still here. “So what happened?” I ask John.

“Well, when I got here I wanted to decorate my home, but I didn’t really find what I was looking for. After some research, I ended up in Indonesia,” he tells us as we sit down on a set of sofas. “There I found everything I was looking for and more, so I bought a whole container’s worth of goods and had it shipped to Singapore. It turned out to be more than I needed, so I started hosting parties in my home where I sold the things I didn’t need. I served the wine, sold stuff at the same time and had a great time doing it! So I decided to go back to Indonesia and buy another container load, and another after that. One thing led to the next: first I only bought stuff, but I soon started finding that I wanted other things too, which I couldn’t find. So I started designing things myself and having them made in Indonesia, which soon led to the creation of a dedicated design atelier and workshop. And before I knew it, John Erdos had been created!”

John Erdos and Maarten Schäfer - by CBNWS
John and Maarten

“Ok,” I say, “so what’s the idea behind your designs though?”

“It’s pretty simple,” says John. “I design what I like, things I would want in my own home, and sell it.”   

“And who is your main target audience?”

“Well, initially I sold mainly to friends and friends of friends,” says John. “Now we have this showroom here in Dempsey Hill, but it still feels like home really. I’m here every day, among my own stuff. I love it!”  

“It really does feel very cosy, not at all like a store,” I say. “But what makes your brand different?”

“That’s a hard question,” says John. “I think it’s my approach to furniture… You know, I’m not a designer, I didn’t go to art school – my background lies in marketing and finance. So I approach furniture in a very personal way and there’s no formal training that gets in the way. I also make my designs on tracing paper, not on AutoCAD – that’s pretty rare these days.”

“And what about your materials? Where do you source them?” I ask. “We hear a lot about fair trade and sustainability as well as the use of natural materials and the importance of decent working conditions, also increasingly in the luxury brand sector. How do you deal with this?”

“I’ve been producing in Indonesia right from the beginning: we have an atelier and a workshop. We only use reclaimed teak wood for our designs. We don’t chop down any trees; instead we buy up used wood from demolished buildings. Most of our employees have been with us for a long time. We take good care of them: we give them an education, proper salaries… To me this is a given: I think it’s normal and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“That sounds like my kind of brand,” says Anouk. “Considering the triple bottom line of People Planet Profit, producing very cool furniture and creating this showroom, where the brand can be fully experienced.”

“Thanks!” says John, “good to hear you like it!”

“But hang on,” I say, “I want to understand the brand better: so you’re an American, you came to Singapore for a few years, stuck around, built a successful brand… but is John Erdos a Singaporean brand or a US brand?”

“Well of course I can’t deny that I’m of American origin, but to be honest I feel more like a citizen of the world, then wanting to belong to any specific nationality. But the John Erdos brand is definitely Singaporean, born and bred! If I hadn’t moved here, the brand probably wouldn’t exist, so I’m very grateful to Singapore for this experience.”

Tags: meeting John Erdos, John Erdos, meeting John Erdos in Singapore, John Erdos at Dempsey Hill, Dempsey Hill, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, #ATW80B, #CBNWS, CoolBrands, Storytelling, Around the World in 80 Brands, Ark Haus, John, Erdos, #ATW80B, #CBNWS, CBNWS, ATW80B

Meeting ‘Aggie’ – Agnello Dias in Mumbai

We’re having coffee at the ITC Hotel in the south Mumbai neighbourhood of Parel, waiting for our meeting with Agnello – known to everyone as Aggie – Dias.

“So tell us a bit about Aggie,” says Maarten to our curator. “I read that he’s one of India’s advertising icons with numerous Indian and global creative awards and nominations to his name.”

“That’s right,” she says. “The list of awards is endless, he’s extremely creative. In 2007, he even won India’s very first Grand Prix and Titanium/Integrated Lion at Cannes, which catapulted JWT India to the No.1 spot in the WPP network.”

“Impressive,” I say. “So what is he working on now?”

“Well after he left JWT India, he co-founded an independent agency, TapRoot India, which he recently sold. Now he’s working on a number of interesting ideas, but I’m sure he can tell you more himself,” she says as she waves across the lobby where Aggie has just come in.

“Nice to meet you,” says Aggie as he sits down. As we tell him about our trip and our project, Aggie nods quietly.

“So tell us about your background,” I say. “How did you get into advertising?”

“To be honest,” says Aggie, “I only made it in the second half of my life. Before that I was just surviving. But I won’t bore you with that story.”

“So when did your chances turn around for the better?” I ask expectantly.

“Well, I got my first job as an advertising copy writer in 1989. By 1990 I had found a better job and then the best thing ever happened…my future wife tipped me for another job where I got more responsibilities and also earned a better salary. That was a big step for me. From then on things got better, I got the chance to show what I am really about, which is creating relevant content and campaigns.”

Aggie Dias and CoolBrands - by CBNWS
Aggie (r) – Swati (l) – Anouk (m) – by CBNWS

“We read that you recently sold your agency,” says Maarten. “What’s next then?”

Aggie takes a moment to consider and then says: “I’m not entirely sure yet, but I spend a lot of time thinking about the speed of change.”

“Ok,” says Maarten.

“Things are changing too fast and more often than not, it is change for the sake of change. We don’t stop to think whether it is really necessary. I am for progress, but I’m not sure that we constantly need innovation.”

“Can you give an example?”

“Well innovation often brings its own problems along with it. When we all rushed to get computers, there was a massive outbreak of Repetitive Strain Injury, for which we had to develop a dedicated healthcare sector…”

“And what is the solution?”

“I’m not sure it’s the solution, but I think it is a shift that we need to make: what I want to work on in the coming years is the tempering of innovation and the stimulation of progress.”

“Well, be sure to keep us posted!” I say. “I’m curious to see how you’re going to do this, it seems like a huge challenge but also a very much needed alternative perspective.”

“I agree, but that’s what interests me, it should not be easy,” says Aggie with a secretive smile. “And I’ll be interested to read about your experiences in India and beyond. Keep in touch!”

Tags: Meeting Agnello Dias, Meeting Agnello Dias in Mumbai, Agnello Dias, Agnello, Dias, Aggie, meeting Aggie, meeting Aggie Dias, Aggie Dias, TapRoot India, TapRoot, JWT India, first Grand Prix and Titanium/Integrated Lion at Cannes, ATW80B, CBNWS, #CBNWS, #ATW80B

Meeting Prasoon Joshi in Mumbai

Today we’re meeting Prasoon Joshi at the Yacht Club in Colaba near the Gateway of India, which is a little oasis of calm in the middle of the busy Mumbai bustle. We are stuck in traffic, again, but this gives our curator a chance to tell us a bit about him. 

“Ok guys, get ready to meet one of India’s most creative people,” she says. “Prasoon is the chairman of McCann India and the creative director for the Asia Pacific region. He’s created some of the most memorable advertising campaigns in India. But that’s only one aspect of what he does, because Prasoon is also an accomplished poet and lyricist, who recently even wrote a screenplay.”

“Wow, impressive!” I say. “A man of many talents!”

“Yes,” she says. “He effortlessly straddles the world of advertising and Bollywood film.”

“So what kind of things does he write?”

“Prasoon is a great observer of people and that’s part of what makes his writing so insightful. He has a way with words and he has used his prose and poetry writings to convey and capture people’s fear, anger and pain on occasions like the Mumbai bombings. His words galvanize people’s emotions and create a new kind of consciousness.”

“So in that sense you could say he’s using his talent with a purpose,” I say.

“Yes,” she says. “That’s a good way of putting it.” 

We find Prasoon waiting for us in the bar of the Yacht Club overlooking Bombay harbour. After ordering fresh juices, we pick a quiet corner and sit down with Prasoon. 

“So Prasoon, tell us your story,” I say.

“Where to begin?” Prasoon says with a smile. “I guess one of the main features of my work is that it aims to touch people’s hearts and make a change to people’s lives.”

“We hear you do many different things and that you excel at most of them,” I say. “So how does it all come together?”

“I actually don’t have the feeling that I do many different things,” he says, “because all the different forms of expression – writing, singing and performing – are in the end just tools to reach out to people and impact their way of thinking.”

Prasoon Joshi at the Jaipur Lit Fest
Prasoon Joshi at the Jaipur Lit Fest

“So how did you come up with this mission? How did it start?”

“It actually goes back to my childhood,” says Prasoon. “I grew up in a small hill station in the Himalayas, far from the big city. My parents encouraged me to write poetry from a young age and also insisted that I pursue a formal education, even though I wasn’t that keen. Education is very important in India; it counts more than talent. Luckily I stumbled upon advertising and discovered I could do all the things I loved and earn money at the same time! I’m very lucky, because in advertising, you get paid for ideas!”

“Interesting,” I say. “So you create content with meaning to encourage change.”

“Excactly,” says Prasoon. “Storytelling and communication is at the core of everything I do.”

“How do you apply this in advertisting?”

“I try to humanize brands, because increasingly, people don’t consume products, they consume brands, images, colours and ideas. Brands are like people and I create a world around the brand. Without a story, a brand is dead.”

“But at the same time you’re a poet and a song writer.”
“Poetry is an eye, it’s a filter through which you see the world. It reveals the deeper, less visible layers of life. I am blessed with that eye.”

“And what are your core beliefs?
“Integrity and good intentions are essential in my opinion. If your intentions are right, your actions will also be right. This is what I want to share with people. I truly believe that sharing can change the world.”

“In what way?” I ask.

“The world is divided, India is divided: one part has never seen electricity, the other part trying to cut down on electricity consumption. I am trying to build bridges between these two parts to create mutual understanding and in this way, I hope I can contribute to creating a better world.”

To be continued…

Tags: Meeting Prasoon Joshi in Mumbai, meeting Prasoon, meeting Prasoon Joshi, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling, Around the World in 80 Brands, CEO McCann India, Indian poet, Indian singer, #ATW80B, #CBNWS, CBNWS, ATW80B

Meeting Ashish Hemrajani in Juhu – Mumbai

This afternoon we’re meeting Ashish Hemrajani, the founder of, a website that offers ticketing for cinemas, plays, concerts and live events. He’s asked us to come and meet him in Juhu, the Mumbai neighbourhood where he was born and bred and still lives today.

It’s the first day of Diwali, the festival of lights and the streets are buzzing with activity, with food stalls, parties and music everywhere.

Ashish welcomes us into his office and takes us to a quiet room at the back of the building where we ask him about his story.

“You came up with the idea for back in 1999 and it’s been quite a struggle to get it off the ground. What gave you the conviction to keep on going?” I ask.

“It’s true that it hasn’t been an easy ride,” says Ashish. “When I first launched the company 14 years ago, India wasn’t ready: there was very low Internet penetration and no broadband. We were too early. When the dotcom bubble burst, we were wiped out. But then in the years after that I started noticing that people were buying things online so I focused on building the ecosystem around the company and by 2007 we were ready to relaunch.”

“And now you’ve just received India’s ET Award for Start-up of the Year! Talk about determination!” says Anouk.

Ashish laughs. “Well it wasn’t always easy. We went from 150 employees to six back then. I got calls from headhunters about jobs, but I was determined to stick to the project. That was one of my toughest decisions.”

“So how is it going now?” I ask. “The company seems to be growing steadily.”

“Today we have 350 people working for us in offices in offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. We sell four million tickets a month for concerts, sporting events, cinema and more. Ninety percent of the tickets bought online are sold through our site.”

“Impressive,” I say. “And clearly there is huge potential for growth.”

“The potential is huge!” says Ashish enthusiastically. “We have a very young population. There are 20 million people between the ages of 18 and 20 who will be getting their first credit card and their first paycheck in the coming two years. They’ll want to go out and enjoy themselves. And where are they going to book their tickets?”

“On your site of course!”

“That’s right!” says Ashish. “I want to be the first e-commerce experience these kids have.”



“So explain how it works. What about people who don’t have a smart phone, how can they use the site?”

“Ah!” says Ashish. “That’s a very important point. There are 1.4 billion Indians of who 700 million have a mobile that is not a smart phone. So it’s an important segment of the market. We’ve developed a new service for these users. They can book through their mobile and receive a text message with their unique booking code. They bring this to the cinema, where a specially designed device reads the code and delivers the tickets.”


Ashish smiles.

“Have you got plans to expand internationally?” asks Anouk.

“We have companies in New Zealand, Australia, Bangladesh and the UK,” says Ashish. “But my focus for the coming years will definitely remain on India. This is my country. There is still so much to be done and I want to contribute to that. I also feel that way about the company: I’m always trying to help people to improve themselves.”

“In what way? 

“I try to help staff by paying for further education, like learning English or contributing to their college fees. We have a flat structure in our company and everyone shares the same beliefs. In the end, it’s all about giving people an opportunity in life.”

“Nice philosophy,” I say. “I like it a lot!”

As we leave, Ashish strolls with us through the festive streets of Juhu. We pass the Diwali celebration, where he gives a small decorative lamp as a souvenir. “Happy Diwali!”

Tags: Meeting Ashish, meeting Ashish Hemrajani, meeting Ashish Hemrajani in Mumbai, meeting Ashish Hemrajani in Juhu, meeting Ashish Hemrajani from BookMyShow, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling, BookMyShow in Mumbai, Book My Show, Around the World in 80 Brands

Meeting Michael Roche, executive director of the Singapore Grand Prix

We’re walking on the Waterfront Promenade around Marina Bay in Singapore. “All of this is built on reclaimed land,” I tell Anouk. “They even built a barrage to turn it into a freshwater reservoir, creating an additional water supply for the city, as well as a new lifestyle attraction.”

We carry on along the waterfront until we reach the Fullerton Bay Hotel. “Here it is,” I say, “this is where we are meeting Michael Roche, the executive director of the Singapore Grand Prix, the promoter of the Formula One race.

We take the lift to the Lantern rooftop bar and head for the lounge area. Here we find Michael, leaning on the railing and looking out over the bay.

“Enjoying the view?” I say.

“Isn’t it amazing?” he says as he turns to us with a smile. “I’ve been living here for quite some time now, but I just can’t get enough of it. The Helix bridge to the left, the ArtScience Museum, the Esplanade, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel…

“It’s a great setting for the Grand Prix race, isn’t it?” I say. “It looks like it’s made for the race.”

“It’s the other way round actually,” says Michael. “The race was brought to Singapore in 2007 to showcase the city to the world. It runs through the heart of the Marina Bay area, which means it takes in Singapore’s classic and colonial architecture but also modern skyscrapers and Marina Bay.”

Singapore - Marina Bay Sands
Singapore – Marina Bay Sands

“I see, so cityscapes play an important role in the event?” 

“Absolutely,” says Michael. “In fact, we see it as more than a race: it’s become a lifestyle event in which the city plays a lead role. It’s an important component of the Singapore brand.” 

“Interesting, so how do you cast your protagonist? How do you make her shine?”

“I like the metaphor!” Michael says with a smile. “Well, we have three main target groups: television viewers around the world, Singaporeans and visitors. There are important considerations for each group.

“First of all it’s important to know that we stage the race at night. This allows us to reach the largest viewing audience possible and that European viewers can also watch. And it’s a great way of showing off the city in all its splendour: we light up the circuit and the buildings and the effect on TV is spectacular. The night-time setting also means that we don’t have to disrupt traffic in this busy part of town during the day, so it’s a real winner in that sense. 

“Ok and what about the people here in Singapore, how do you cater to them?”

“Well basically, we strive to make the race an unforgettable experience,” says Michael. “The fact that it’s a street race gives it an edginess and by now it’s got a reputation for being much more than a race. It’s massive lifestyle event, with nine stages, 350 entertainers and performers, and 60 bars and clubs and restaurants brought into the circuit. Over the years, we have staged concerts by international superstars such as Rihanna, The Killers, the South Korean band Big Bang, Justin Bieber, Tom Jones, Bob Geldoff and Owl City.

“Wow, talk about massive!” I say. “It sounds amazing, but it must be an organisational nightmare!”

Michael laughs. “A nightmare, no. A challenge, yes definitely. Every single year. But it’s also a dynamic concept: we’re constantly looking to improve and innovate, and as soon as one edition finishes, we’re already brainstorming and preparing for next year’s race.” 

“It’s sounds like an exciting project to be working on,” I say. “Never a dull moment!”

Michael nods and smiles. “Actually, speaking of the next race: do you have any plans for the 21st of September 2014?”

Tags: Meeting Michael Roche, meeting Jonathan Hallett, meeting Jonathan Hallett in Singapore, meeting Michael Roche in Singapore, meeting Singapore Grand Prix, Singapore Grandprix, SIngapore F1, Singapore Formula 1, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling, Around the World in 80 Brands, CBNWS, ATW80B, CoolBrands Around the World in 80 Brands

Meeting Ronnie Screwvala in Mumbai

We’re driving through Mumbai on a Sunday morning, enjoying the comparatively calm and empty streets. We’re on our way to meet Ronnie Screwvala, who has invited us to his home in the upmarket south Mumbai area of Breach Candy.

“You realize we are on our way to meet a man who is listed in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world?” I tell Anouk. 

“I know,” she says, “his profile is impressive: he is the founder and CEO of the UTV Group, a company that works in broadcasting, gaming, film and other businesses. He started in 1981 with a small cable TV network that sold video services to residents in a particular part of Mumbai. At that time, this did not exist at all in India, so he created this need from scratch. This service grew out to become UTV, which actually was India’s first independent television and film production house.” 

“Ronnie seems to be one of these people with a clear vision of the future,” I say, “with a sense of innovation and the guts to go for what he believes in, before everyone else does. I think that is what makes him stand out from the crowd. And I heard he sold UTV a while ago and is currently managing director of Disney-UTV India.”

“But he’s just announced that he’s leaving Disney on 1 January 2014,” I say. “Which makes me very curious to hear what he’s planning to do next!”

“Let’s go and find out!” says Anouk as we pull up to his house. We take the lift up to the top floor where Ronnie lives in a stunning timber-clad penthouse with views across the city. Ronnie is waiting for us in the library and welcomes us warmly. After we tell him about our project and our journey until now, we ask him about his role in changing the Indian media landscape over the past decades. 

Ronnie Screwvala
Ronnie Screwvala in his home library

“I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur,” says Ronnie, “but it was more or less by chance that I ended up in the media sector. 

“And I guess you could say that I made an impact,” he adds. “You know back then, media didn’t really exist. There was entertainment. So we saw that what we needed to do was not just create a company, but an industry!” 

“Talk about picking a challenge!” says Anouk.

Ronnie smiles. “Yes, it was challenging, but also very interesting: we actually built the media industry from scratch. When we started, we were with around 8 to 10 people, a very small group of believers. And what we realized later, is that we had indeed created something big, something beyond ourselves; a whole new industry. And as you know, TV influences people’s minds, it creates impact, so what we accomplished, is that we broke the mold. At least, from a thought leadership point of view.”

“That’s a huge accomplishment indeed,” Anouk comments in the middle of a short silence.

“We heard that you have decided to leave Disney soon,” I say. “So a new phase is starting. What’s next for you?” 

“I have so many ideas,” says Ronnie, “but I still haven’t quite decided what it’s going to be. In any case I want to work on different things and divide my time between non-profit and business. I’m keen to pass on my experience to the next generation.”

“I read you have already founded several non-profit organizations. Are you going to develop those?” 

“Partly, but I also want to work on new projects, like the idea I have for a TV show to stimulate entrepreneurship in India. I want to give entrepreneurship a better image.”

“In what way? Is it not well looked upon in India?” asks Anouk.

“People see it as second best,” says Ronnie. “If you can’t get a job, then you become an entrepreneur. I want to change that. Because India needs entrepreneurs: they are the fuel of the economy and they are the ones who can really advance the country.”

“You also founded an NGO that works in rural areas, right?” I ask.

“That’s right: Swades, which works in rural areas of Maharashtra,” says Ronnie. “I am passionate about it and we have achieved a lot already. The main concept is that we want to empower communities and give them the capacity to transform their lives.”

“And how do you do that?”

“You need a 360-degree approach: you have to address different aspects simultaneously in order to really advance: you can’t just focus on education if a village has no water supply or sanitation. All aspects need to be addressed.

“And you have to make people accountable, make sure they take the work forward and then you have to leave and let them take the work forward themselves. This is the only way to build self-respect and really have a lasting impact.”

“It sounds amazing,” says Anouk. “We’d love to keep hearing about your new activities, not just with Swades, but also all the other projects.”

“That’s great, so why don’t we agree to meet next year again. I’ll tell you the latest news of my different projects!”


Tags: Meeting Ronnie, meeting Ronnie Screwvala, meeting Ronnie Screwvala in Mumbai, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling, meeting Ronnie Screwvala in Bombay,  Around the World in 80 Brands, Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people, founder and CEO of the UTV Group, UTV Group, managing director of Disney-UTV India, Swades

Meeting Namit Malhotra in Mumbai

“Who are we meeting again?” I ask Swati, our India curator. “I’ve kind of lost track. We’ve had meetings with movie stars and captains of industry. So what’s next?” 

We’re weaving our way through the traffic on Marine Drive, Mumbai’s up-market seafront boulevard, heading towards the western suburbs, the home of Bollywood film.

“I’ll give you a hint,” says Swati. “The man we’re about to meet, or rather, his company, has received several Academy Award nominations in the visual effects category in recent years. Films like X-Men, Transformers, Tree of Life…”

“Wow, a big shot in other words!” I say.

“A big shot yes, but still not very well known among the general public,” says Swati. “His name is Namit Malhotra. We’re lucky he’s in town, because he lives in LA now. The reason he’s in Mumbai is that his company, Prime Focus, has opened a state-of-the-art 7,500 square-metre post-production facility here. That’s where we’re meeting him.”

“And Namit is the company CEO?” I ask.

“CEO and founder,” Swati replies. “Two decades ago, he founded Prime Focus as a one-room editing studio; today it’s the global leader in special effects, with clients ranging from James Cameron to George Lucas. It’s one of the largest global entertainment services company. They do everything from advertising to television post-production and from visual effects to entertainment business across the world.” 

“The company must be huge!” says Anouk. “How many people work there?” 

Globally, the company employs more than 4,500 people, with a flagship studio in Los Angeles.”

The taxi drops us in front of the Prime Focus building and a few minutes later, Namit welcomes us. “Nice to meet you. Let me show you around!” he says.

“I always dreamt of becoming a filmmaker,” he says as he leads us past the reception area. “My father was a film producer and my grandfather was a cinematographer. So I’m the third generation in the entertainment business.“

“Prime Focus started as a small editing studio in a garage next to my apartment in Mumbai.”

“Like Microsoft and HP! And we all know how their story unfolded!” I say with a smile. “But tell us more about Prime Focus, what is it exactly?”

“I’ll show you right now,” he says as he takes us into a large open-plan office. The place is buzzing with activity: small groups of people are gathered at the different work stations absorbed in conversation, while others are rushing past and disappear into the different editing suites that are hidden away behind heavy doors.

“Swati told us that your flagship studio is in LA,” I say. “Can you tell us how you broke into Hollywood?”

“In 2007 we bought Frantic Films and Post Logic in Los Angeles,” says Namit. “Both of these companies had good credentials in Hollywood. We had gotten involved in Journey 3D and we’d also done a considerable amount of work on Avatar. Following our success with Avatar and other work we started to gain traction among the studios and that prompted Warner Bros to reach out to us. We did a very good job for them.”

Avatar - the movie

“Can you tell us what innovation you brought to Hollywood?”

“We were the first in the world to convert an entire movie into 3D: Clash of the Titans,” says Namit. “It took seven weeks. There was a lot of skepticism around the fact that the conversion had been done so quickly, but the studio was very happy with the job. George Lucas asked us to convert the last three Star Wars episodes into 3D. That was also a huge win for us.”

“So what is the secret of your success?” I ask. “Are you a creative person, a technical person or are you more business minded?”

“It’s a combination, I think. I’m both a right brainer and a left brainer,” he says. “I can talk to creative people and understand their way of thinking. And add my own creativity. But at the same time, I know the technical requirements to achieve the creative result. Last but not least: I’m good with figures and can oversee financial implications.”

“Your work is fascinating,” I say. “We’d like to learn more about it, so I have a proposition: we’re on a trip around the world, meeting ‘people with a vision’ and ‘brands with a purpose’. From here we go to Singapore, China, South Korea, Japan… and somewhere in January we’ll touch down in LA. How about meeting again in your flagship studio over there?”

“Sounds good,” says Namit. “I can show you the work we did on Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. With Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I think you’ll like it.”


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Meeting Jose Miguel Sokoloff in London

“Here’s something interesting,” I say pointing at my tablet.

We’re in London for our Storytelling Expedition Around the World. After our meeting, Maarten and I made a stop in Nero for a café latte and to check our email.

“I’ve just received a LinkedIn message,” I continue, “from Jeani Rodgers, global communications director at Lowe. I’ll read it out to you…”

“Dear Anouk, I see from your LinkedIn status that you are in town. We follow your global storytelling expedition and have become fans of your work. I have someone here who I think you would like to meet…Our global creative director from Colombia has a story worth sharing. But he’s only in town for a few days…”

“Sounds intriguing,” Maarten says. “We don’t know that many people in Colombia. Why don’t you give her a call?”

“Hi! Is that Jeani? Anouk here…Yes, that’s right, we’re here in London for a couple more days… … Wednesday? Sounds great. So tell me more, who are we talking about?… … Okay –Tomorrow ten o’clock is great. See you then!”

“So? What was that all about?” Maarten asks, as I put away my phone.

“Okay, listen,” I say. “Jeani is sending us more details, but it boils down to the following. Jose Miguel Sokoloff, the guy we are going to meet, is partner of Lowe-SSP3 in Bogota, and their global CCO. His agency has been awarded all sorts of awards for their creative work. But here’s the really interesting angle. They are trying to solve the conflict with FARC, the Colombian guerilla army… with a communication campaign!?!”

”That does sound interesting. I would love to hear how a creative guy help solve a political conflict,” says Maarten. “What’s been planned? Where do we meet?”

Lowe-SSP3 Campaign to demobilise FARC


We are talking to Jose Miguel Sokoloff, global CCO for Lowe and partner of Lowe-SSP3 Bogota. Jose has been using creativity to try and help solve the guerilla war that has been raging in his home country Colombia for decades.

“Before I share my story, let me ask you a question,” Jose starts. “Have you ever been to Colombia? I see you spend a lot of time in Brazil. If you think Brazil is booming, wait until you see Colombia.”

“To be honest, we would like to go, but the stories we hear are not overly joyful,” Maarten says.

Jose replies, with a smile. “Yeah, I’ve heard a thing or two about Amsterdam too! But it seemed kind of okay when I visited last time. It’s true though, of course. Everyone knows some of the issues Colombia has been facing for as long as I can remember,” he says wryly. I am now 50, and have never known peace in my own country. I live in the city, and most of the war takes place in the jungle. But still, it affects everyone. There is one third of my country that I just can’t visit if I am to stay safe, however much I would love to. If I go to other countries, like Ecuador “next door”, I see people living in freedom.”

“That must be really frustrating,” I say.

“It is,” Jose continues. “It’s frustrating and makes me a little sad. Peace is what I want, for myself and for my four children. I have been wanting to change things forever… So that’s where we are at now. I am trying to change things. I used to work for a large international agency where we worked for multinationals, selling detergents and cars. Don’t get me wrong, I love that work, but I wanted to give something back to society as well. So that is why I started my own agency, as a way of increasing our ability to influence the things around us. By having local clients as well, alongside the global accounts we have at Lowe, we can influence the way they communicate, help them give back to society and in doing so change things. Of course, it is not just me. We have a whole team of professional and passionate people whom I work with to get things done and to make the difference.”

© 2013 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands

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Meeting Benjamin Cano in Rio de Janeiro

We are on our way to Cantagalo, one of the many favelas in the heart of Rio, to meet Benjamin Cano, a Carioca with French roots who founded a boutique hotel on the edge of Cantagalo called Casa Mosquito.

“Isn’t this a bit of a weird place for a boutique hotel?” Maarten asks me as we head up a small hill.

“That’s the whole point,” I tell him. “It’s a boutique hotel with an ideological twist.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, the way I understood the story from Benjamin is that he bought the house together with his partner, Louis in 2010 with the plan of creating Casa Mosquito. But they had to renovate the whole thing from top to bottom and that’s when they had the idea to integrate the favela and its inhabitants into the project: they hired all the workmen and sourced all the construction material from the favela. And today all the hotel staff and the food are from the favela too. It’s a kind of social entrepreneurship.”

“So it’s like a kind of charity project?” Maarten asks.

“No no,” I say with a smile as we reach Casa Mosquito. “You’ll see for yourself.”

Inside, the hotel is a mixture of vintage chic and modern furnishings, with a series of airy terraces and courtyards linking the different rooms and suites to the dining and lounge area.

Meeting Benjamin Cano in Casa Mosquito

As we settle on the terrace and admire the view of the lights on Cantagalo in the early evening and Pão d’Açucar in the distance, Benjamin appears.

“Boa tarde! Bemvindos na Casa Mosquito! Voulez-vous boire quelque chose?”

As we sit down with our cafezinhos, Benjamin starts telling us enthusiastically about his ‘road to Rio’: how he instantly fell in love with it when he first came here and soon after sold everything he had in Paris to relocate.

“So what is it about Rio? Why is it so different?” I ask.

Benjamin ponders for a moment and then turns to me.

“It’s about human relationships. I haven’t experienced such warmth and sincerity anywhere else. I am conscious of it every day.”

“Anouk was telling me a bit about the Casa Mosquito concept, but I’m still intrigued to know why you chose this location in Rio for a boutique hotel,” says Maarten.

Meeting Benjamin Cano in Casa Mosquito

“We wanted to integrate the ‘real’ Rio, which also includes the favelas, into the atmosphere of our hotel,” says Benjamin. “The favelas embody the Carioca spirit, they are the guardians of Rio’s authenticity. I really believe that if the favelas ever disappeared, it would mean the true identity of Rio would be lost.”

“That’s a cool concept,” says Maarten, “showing and living a different side of Rio!”

“That’s right!” says Benjamin. “The favelas are the home of samba – there is so much joy there – people in the favelas still smile! Living so close to the favelas and having so many contacts there makes our life so much more fulfilling.”

“Wow,” says Maarten. “So you’re really here to stay!”

“Oh yeah,” says Benjamin with a big smile. “I wake up every day and think how lucky I am live and work in the most beautiful and inspiring place on earth!” He pauses and adds with a smile: “I’m not going anywhere… though we do have a plan to open up another boutique hotel in Bogota some day…”

© 2013 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands

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Meeting Rodrigo Aquim in Rio de Janeiro

We are in Ipanema again, the neighbourhood where many of Brazil’s boutique brands like Lenny Niemeyer, Osklen, Reserva and Bazzar have set up shop. Today we are meeting Rodrigo Aquim, who together with his sister Samantha and his mother established the luxury chocolate brand Q as part of the larger Aquim catering business. He has asked us to meet him in the Q boutique, a sleekly designed space in beige, brown and cream tones.

“Wow,” says Anouk as we walk in, “this looks more like a jeweller’s than a chocolate shop.”

“I think you’ll find that that’s quite accurate,” I tell her after the shop assistant has gone to fetch Rodrigo from his office. “This is chocolate taken to a whole new level, using only the best cacao beans to make high-quality dark chocolate. No additives, no other ingredients…”

“I heard that Q is the only chocolatier in the world that only produces dark chocolate,” says Anouk as Rodrigo comes walking in.

“You heard right!” says Rodrigo as we shake hands. “Only the very best ingredients to produce the very best chocolate!”

We follow him into the storeroom where he shows us a selection of the hand-crafted chocolates.

“You’ve turned chocolate making into an art form,” I say as we inspect the exquisite looking chocolates. “What’s the secret?”

Rodrigo laughs but then turns serious. “You know, people don’t really know the taste of real chocolate,” he says. “Q is about discovering chocolate. We use no additives – no sugar, no milk, no artificial sweeteners… People think that by using only the cacao beans, chocolate will be too bitter. But this isn’t true, it’s about selecting the best beans and using only the cacao near the kernel of the bean – that’s the taste of real chocolate!”

“Selective is certainly the right word to describe your production process,” says Anouk. “So I assume you’re not aiming to expand the business to produce for the mass market?”

Rodrigo Aquim
Rodrigo Aquim

“Actually we can’t,” says Rodrigo. “Triple AAA cacao bean makes up about 2 percent of total global cacao production, so Q chocolate is never going to be a product for the masses. We target a small group of connoisseurs around the world – people who are looking to taste the sublime in chocolate.”

“It sounds almost like poetry when you describe it like that,” I say. “But what motivates you from a business point of view?”

“I’m not in it for the money, my quest is to make the perfect chocolate and share that taste with people who can appreciate it – like vintage wine or exclusive caviar,” says Rodrigo. “Of course, in the end I’m a businessman, but I have my principles. For example, recently a company approached us with a request for a monthly order of several thousand chocolates, but they also wanted milk chocolate… We had to cancel the deal, because it is unthinkable for us to start producing milk chocolate – it’s so far from our principles…”

It’s clear that Rodrigo is passionate about Q and the values it stands for. “This is more than a business to me: it’s my name, my life and my family,” he tells us. “In fact, my quest for pure ingredients goes beyond chocolate.”

“You mean you also look for it in other food?” I ask.

“Yes, I want to taste real food – that’s also why I bake my own bread, with four ingredients, no extras,” says Rodrigo. “It simply tastes better, and that’s my main motivation, pure tastes. I’m not trying to convince people to eat only real food. I just want to share my passion with people who are looking for this pure experience. I actually think that there is a growing group of consumers looking for real food.”

“It also fits into the trend towards more sustainable lifestyles and healthier living,” says Anouk.

“Sustainability is a fad now, every brand claims to be the most sustainable, and so does Q – it doesn’t mean much though,” says Rodrigo.

“What is more important to me, to my family – and by extension my company and the Q brand – is purity and real food. It makes us healthier but is also better for our environment, our ecosystem and our society.”

© 2013 CoolBrands Influencers

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Meeting Jim Seuss in London

We’re meeting Jim Seuss, who has just started as the new CEO of Hunter Boot. He’s asked us to come to the Hunter Boot offices, which looks more like a design workshop: the air is heavy with a smell of rubber and everywhere we look, there are boots in various stages of design, but also bags and other accessories.

“Oh,” says Anouk as she inspects some of the accessories, “I didn’t know Hunter also did bags and… wow, look at those cool rubber sneakers. I like those!”

“Come on,” I say as I drag her along to Jim’s office. “Stop shopping! Let’s go and find out what they’re doing with the brand!”

“Building it, as I understood,” says Anouk as she stops off to look at some of the other designs. “You know Hunter has a long history. It was founded in 1856 in Scotland and it basically started making the rubber version of the Wellington boot, which was originally a calfskin boot. Nowadays you always think of welly boots as being made of rubber, but that was something Hunter Boot introduced.”

“Really?” I say, as I start looking at the boot collection. “I thought it was a new brand.”

“Well, I guess you could say that while the company and the product have a long history and are known for authenticity and quality, the brand itself is relatively new. That’s what makes it exciting.”

“So let’s go and see how they’re doing it then. Come on!”


As we settle into Jim’s office, Anouk says: “We’ve been looking into Hunter boots and we realized that everybody knows them, everybody has them and everybody wants more.”

Jim laughs. “That’s a nice way of putting it. We’re very lucky that there is such huge brand awareness. I think in a way you could say we are a beloved brand.”

“If you look at our customer groups, they range from the British royal family – who buy 1,000 pairs a year for all their outdoor activities – to celebrities like Ronnie Wood and Kate Moss who have made the brand their own. Kate has turned it into a fashion statement by combining the boots with shorts which has inspired others… Then at the other end of the spectrum, we have teenage girls who wear them as fashion accessories to music festivals, and then there’s everything you can imagine in between – like people who wear Hunter boots for rain protection, which is of course one of our main purposes. Today, Hunter is sold in 50 countries around the world, so we’re not exactly a start-up.”

“And why did they hire you?” I ask. “You’re a builder, a changer…”

Jim was asked for the job about six months ago, because of his strong track record.

“Exactly,” says Jim. “That’s what we need.”

Jim Seuss from Hunter Boot and Anouk Pappers - CBNWS

“I’ve accepted the challenge of transforming the product into a brand. We want to take Hunter to the next level. Take the heritage and build a brand. Hunter is a very traditional and authentic product and the new owners think the time is ripe to transform it into a brand. It used to be very utilitarian and now it has become a fashion item. So they hired me to build the brand.”

“And what’s your first challenge?” I ask.

“We have to develop a brand strategy: where do we want to go, how do we want to position ourselves? We have to make choices, on all levels.”

“That’s a pretty massive task,” I say. “How are you going to go about it?” I ask.

“Actually, I can’t tell you much. We’re launching our new strategy in a month. Then I’ll be able to tell you all!”

“Are you working on brand extensions?” asks Anouk. “We saw some non-boot products when we entered the office.”

“Maybe,” says Jim with a mysterious smile. “All I’ll say is that if a mum buys boots for her kids, she might also want to buy them a rain coat.”

“I see where you’re going with this,” says Anouk with a smile.

“And what about communication?” I ask. “Will you target music lovers who go to festivals or will mums be the main target?”

“I’m sure you noticed that we’re a very social brand. Every consumer has their own Hunter Boot story. So social media is definitely going to play a big role.”

“Smart,” I say. “You’re not just turning Hunter Boot into brand, but immediately making it a social brand that is owned by its customers, 100% tuned into 2013! We’ll be interested to see how it goes!”

“Absolutely!” says Jim. “I’ll make sure you receive two pairs of the rubber sneakers we are releasing this season – a red and a blue pair – for your trip around the world. And I’d love you to read our new strategy as soon as it’s released. Maybe you can write a cool story about it!”

“Sure,” says Anouk. “We’re curious to hear more – keep us posted!”

Tags: Jim Seuss, James Seuss, Hunter, Hunter Boots, Hunter Boot, Wellington Boots, Meeting Jim Seuss, Meeting James Seuss, Meeting Jim Seuss in London, Meeting Jim Seuss at Hunter Boot, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, Storytelling, CoolBrands, CoolBrands Storytelling, Jim Seuss in London, James Seuss in London

Meeting Mark Chalmers and Daniele Fiandaca in London

The Creative Social Network

“Remember I told you I met Mark Chalmers last month in Amsterdam?” I ask Maarten. 

“Sure, the guy who’s the creative director at Tribal DDB and runs an art gallery in his garage,” Maarten says.

“Exactly,” I reply. “Well, he’s invited us to attend a very special network meeting in Finland.”

“Finland?” says Maarten. “But we just arrived in London!” 

“I know, I know,” I say. “The meeting in Finland is only in November, so we still have some time. I’m just mentioning it, because we’re meeting Mark again here in London, together with Daniele Fiandaca. They founded Creative Social in 2004 as a network of creative directors and business owners. Since then they’ve grown to be the most influential network in the creative industry.”

Daniele is head of innovation at Cheil Worldwide, he is based here in London. Creative Social has developed exclusive events around the world on different creative themes, from Amsterdam to Shanghai and from Beirut to São Paolo. They call them CS Global events.”

“Sounds interesting, let’s go and mingle with the creative social crowds!”



Daniele Fiandaca - Creative Social and Anouk Pappers - CBNWS
Daniele Fiandaca and Anouk Pappers

After introductions from both sides…

“So tell us, how did you come up with the idea of starting this network?” I ask.

“Well, we set up Creative Social because we saw that although digital was redefining history, we were pushing against an advertising institution which did not really want digital to succeed,” Mark says. “In the UK we knew of some brilliant independent agencies and we discovered that by working together, we were best placed to drive the movement forward.”

“Cool, I read that Creative Social is doing different things, but the CS Global events seem to be the most special. Can you tell us some more about those events?” I ask. 

“It’s a one- to two day-event we organize twice a year,” says Daniele. “Targeting a small group of 40 senior creatives from the CS collective. The aim is to share, inspire and discuss any issues raised by participants.”

“Why 40?” I ask.

“That’s the ideal number of a tribe: optimal interaction, no need for a mic and many other advantages,” says Mark.

“Lately companies have also started approaching us and putting forward issues they would like to see tackled by a group of creative leaders,” Daniele adds. “So we include that issue into the programme, which gives an interesting angle to the event.” 

“Can you imagine what happens if you put top creative entrepreneurs together and let them brainstorm?”  Mark asks. 

He looks at us expectantly.

“No, not really,” I say.

“Well neither can we, that’s the cool part,” Daniele continues. “Creative Social is a lab for great ideas.”

“And having lots of fun in the process,” Mark adds.

“So, what do you say?” says Mark. “Will you join us? Our next edition is in November in Helsinki.”

“We won’t be able to make it,” Maarten says. “Too bad. We’ll be in Asia as part of our trip Around the World in 80 Brands, collecting new stories, visiting our curators and expanding our network of influencers. When is the next one?”

“In April 2014 in Seattle,” says Mark. “Come to that one! And in the meantime, be sure to follow our blog,”

“Great! Count us in!”


Do you want to know more about Creative Social, get involved as a member or as a brand, send an email to and mention to her you read their story at CoolInfluencers!

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