The boss who loves gangster rap and tequila
TIM SMYTH, Founder & CEO at Flame Tree Ltd
- Group CEO at TBWA East Africa
- CEO, Ogilvy Africa at Ogilvy & Mather
- Managing Director East Africa at Millward Brown
- Managing Director at Indochina Research Ltd
- Managing Director at Silk Road Cambodia Ltd
The back of Tim Smyth’s business card morbidly bears a skull and crossbones with the words; “ Change the rules.”
“Pirates,” he explains the graphics,“ are passionate, they have lots of fun and they drink a lot.” He then stares at the skull adoringly before adding, “We at TBW don’t want to break rules made by someone else. We want to change the rules all together.” Fair enough.
Tim – an Australian - has 20 years experience in market services industry across sub-Saharan Africa.
He’s also the founder of his own agency, a group of six companies in South East Asia that he ran for 15 years before relocating to Africa.
He serviced major global clients in 16 countries across Asia, Africa and South America, offering them communication and rebranding solutions.
We meet at Sankara Hotel’s rooftop, by the pool, and the conversation that ensues can only be described as “quirky and dark”, but fun.
Because you’re Australian, I’m of the idea that we take a picture of you by the pool. Did you remember to carry your swimming trunks?
(Laughs) Yes, I wore them inside. But me being Australian is not more about surfing and rugby, all, which I engaged in actively during my younger days, it’s more to do with drinking. We are professional drinkers.
Is that right? What is your drink of choice?
Tequila. Good tequila. Tequila is a great party lightener.
Being in your industry, I assume, calls for a very hectic drinking lifestyle?
Yes, we work hard and play hard. We always throw office parties, it’s a culture. Some of these parties involve wearing a bra over my shirt, like I did recently.
Hang on, did you just say you wore a bra over your shirt! Is that on the record?
(Laughs) Yes. Wearing this bra is the penalty imposed on those who miss staff parties or flout other company regulations. It’s an idea that was started by the TBW agency in South Africa. We call it The Bra of Shame and it doesn’t matter who you are, you break rules, you have to wear it.
You spent 17 years in Vietnam. What did you learn?
Yes, Vietnam and Africa suffer from the same historic misconceptions. I learnt that anything is possible, but everything is difficult. Also, people from there work hard and play very hard.
What music do you listen to?
Jazz-fusion. The best jazz bars I have experienced are not in London or Chicago or even New Orleans but in the bars of Kinshasa. They’re hot, smoky and sweaty and the music is pulsating. I also love rap. The original rap, the 90’s rap.
So you are a real G.
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m a lyrical gangster. I love rap in its rawest form. I don’t do average rock like what P-Diddy sings, or whatever he calls himself now. Give me “Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio, the best song ever if you listen to the lyrics.
What are you reading?
Steve Jobs’ book. I read about two books a year, and big books don’t inspire me much so this one should shore me until end of the year (laughs).
How many kids - and wives - do you have?
(Laughs) I have two teenage girls and one wife. Raising teenage girls is confusing because I used to know what they talking about, but not anymore. In fact, now they don’t want me to know what they are talking about.
What’s your weakness as a father?
Not spending enough time with my daughters, I guess.
Of course, between wearing bras and knocking back tequila, you don’t have much time, do you?
(Laughs) Exactly what my wife would say! I’m caught up in two different types of love here. I love my job and I love my family. Both are like family to me, and both are equally demanding. Anyway, over the weekends, I’m always dropping off and picking the girls to some sleep over or to some engagement.
What’s the most romantic thing you have done for your wife?
On her 40th birthday, I wrote her a poem on 40 reasons why I love her.
Can you remember reason number 27?
(Chuckles) Yes. It was something like; “I love you because being with you continues to make me a better person than I ever was.”
Oh, that must have earned you enough brownie points to last you through two fights!
(Laughs) Funny thing, my wife and I hardly ever fight. In 18 years of marriage, we have had only three arguments and they were all about me being childish and foolish.
The one person you would love to have dinner with?