As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Wasim Choudhury. He is one of the founding partners at MCD Partners and currently holds the joint position of Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operations Officer. He oversees finance, production, IT & technology and HR & operations departments at MCD.
Wasim brings 20+ years of experience managing agencies. Prior to MCD, he was the Manager of the International Department at the Stock Market Photo Agency where he helped in establishing the team’s overseas offices, an experience that was instrumental in setting up MCD offices across New York, Chicago and Rochester.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
In the early 1990s, I worked with John Caruso — one of my other partners at MCD Partners — at the Stock Market Photo Agency (TSM). I was completing my MBA while working at the photo agency, and John and I talked about setting up a digital shop someday. He left TSM to work at a nascent digital agency, and when the time came, just before the dotcom bubble burst, we got together to start MCD Partners.
Around the time we set up MCD Partners, many other digital agencies were springing up too. My partners covered creative and account management, but felt they needed a partner to oversee finance and operations. At the time, that was quite unique about our agency. Today, 21 years later, I think it’s still a winning formula. They work on managing the work output while I work on keeping the company running, and running profitably.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
At the beginning, we all wore many hats. We have a strong coffee culture at MCD Partners. One afternoon, long before Instacart was an option, we were running out of coffee and I decided I would just go to the nearest Starbucks store. Not being a heavy coffee drinker myself (much less a coffee brewer), I just grabbed the first pack in sight and rushed back to the office. That evening, everyone started to complain of headaches. It was then when someone realized the cause: I had deprived the team of caffeine with decaf coffee.
While that was funny and trivial, I learned that the division of labor is practical. I was the most useless person in the office to buy coffee and should have sent out someone who did this well and regularly. Suffice it to say, I was permanently banned from buying coffee for the office.
But the lesson is not forgotten. Our agency process is to ensure we have fully trained personnel who are the best in what they do and are fully dedicated to the work. While we back each other up, our roles are clearly delineated.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain it?
The Economist is where I find a lot of guidance. The Economist not only reports on current events in business and economy, but also usually provides lines of thinking that are beyond just the obvious.
As for books, my favorite author is Michael Lewis. In particular, I enjoyed his book, “Next: The Future Just Happened”. It was published in 2001 and dealt with how the internet was upending established businesses and business practices. It was the dawn of a major business revolution and MCD Partners played a part in helping many businesses transform in this new digital era.
One quote still resonates with me, “The only thing capitalism cannot survive is stability. Stability — true stability — is an absence of progress, and a dearth of new wealth.” I think any business that comes to simply rest on its laurels is an agency that is about to disappear. Like all organizations, agencies need to evolve because the world around us is constantly evolving. The goal for me and my partners is to be aware of those external shifts and ensure we are changing internally to match and more importantly, stay ahead.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Being born during the dotcom era, our team always felt that technology would change the world for the better. And in many ways, it has and continues to do so.
Changing for the sake of change is not a worthwhile endeavor. However, changing to improve should always be the goal. Whether it is to make a process easier, simpler, available 24/7, or cheaper so a larger group of people can benefit from the change is what we strive for. Our job isn’t always to make things prettier (our talented design team always does that), but to continually make things more functional and more beneficial.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
We wanted to set up an agency that did right by our clients and right by our employees. While we were waiting to build the agency, we needed a placeholder name and we immediately settled on Principle MCD. And our goal has always been to do the right thing, care about the client, put ourselves in their shoes and go after the right solution rather than what makes MCD Partners the most money. If we do our job well, most clients will give us more work. If you don’t put in the dedication, then all you get are a string of one-and-done clients.
Equally as important is to do the right thing for our employees. We aim to give them the opportunity to grow and be independent. We set up departments where employees can learn and grow, and we keep our organization flat so everyone is accessible. MCD Partners is an extremely collaborative firm, we value each employee’s contribution.
Doing the right thing does not mean pleasing everyone all the time, but rather listening to our people and determining the best way forward, balancing the needs of everyone.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
At the end of the day, I would say it’s about checking in with your family and your team. We intentionally set up weekly Zoom meetings to check in on how everyone is doing and what is going on in their lives outside of work. Can we physically help out if someone is having a bad day? Maybe not in every case, but providing them a good ear to listen was something they may have needed at that moment.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Not seeing my teams has been a big challenge. Not because we can’t get the work done, but because there is an irreplaceable sense of community when we are all together.
MCD Partners has three offices across the country, so when the pandemic hit, we had most of the tools and resources already in place to work collaboratively from remote locations. That said, we have set up frequent (if not daily) video meetings for each department to remain on top of things. These check ins allow us to address anything that we’d talk through in person, from new ideas to challenges the team might be facing.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
No question the news has been often shocking and relentless this year. We are dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime health crisis coupled with a very divisive political climate, so telling people to switch off the news isn’t very practical. However, perhaps proposing suggested tips around only checking news feeds at certain periods during the day could help. Or dedicating some time every day to something other than listening to the news — whether it’s family time, Netflix, cooking, exercising or any combination thereof can also take the mind off the news.
No question these are anxious times so it’s important to keep an open dialogue with friends, family and coworkers to periodically discuss what is happening in the world. Discussing events and how they impact us with people outside our homes hopefully provides empathy for us to realize we are all affected by these outside events.
Our employees, as well as their dependents, who feel anxious, nervous, overwhelmed and/or lonely, are encouraged to seek professional help. And technology is enabling more accessible Teladoc services for therapy. MCD Partners ensures that our medical plans allow employees to seek these services without hassle.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Some aspects of the Covid economy will most likely stay. Anything post-pandemic that has added value and efficiency will likely stay.
Anything that has allowed contactless service will continue to thrive, well beyond the pandemic. This would include banking services, streaming services, video conferencing services, online retailers, and even grocery delivery services. Not necessarily just because they are safer, but because they are more efficient.
For some, the hobbies started during the pandemic will probably become passions for a long time.
There will most likely be a pent-up demand for travel — domestic and international. I anticipate big marketing by tourist destinations to make up for the losses during the pandemic. Airlines and many hotels, which are hurting now, should rebound in 2021 and beyond.
Event spaces will likely have a temporary jump in the second half of 2021 as people who missed weddings, graduations and other celebrations will try to schedule makeup ones.
Retirement home sales should also see a rise as many will think about investing in that beachfront home that they can work from remotely now vs. waiting until retirement.
Online colleges and schools will also continue to flourish.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
The main “after pandemic” question for agencies will be, who needs to go to the office and how often? Some companies are even asking if an office is necessary. There will be a paradigm shift in the commercial real estate market.
In order to counter the fall in demand for office space, we could see many offices being rezoned and made into residential buildings. To curb a flight to the suburbs, the existing and new residential buildings would need to continue the trend of offering community amenities — such as reading rooms, roof decks fitted with grills, gyms, spas, etc.
Cities will have to adapt by making themselves more “livable” with land dedicated to parks and more walk and bike lanes in the future. There will be further investments in the arts and entertainment to keep people around.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
For one, we continue to build and tool teams that can work together effectively regardless of any physical separation.
We would train them for working using multiple project management platforms like Google’s G Suite, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Jira, etc. and be ready to jump on Zoom, GoToMeeting, WebEx meetings at any time.
The training of new team members also has to be considered. We would have to come up with best practices for remote learning, review process, and mentorship.
It should be easier to embed employees in client teams in this new economy as well. Previously, this process had many obstacles; employees needed to pass strict background checks to be in client offices — but now, they can be part of any team without being at the office. Employees themselves would prefer the arrangement as this would mean they would not be commuting regularly to a client office — which often had meant long drives in the opposite direction.
The pool for qualified employees would now not be limited by geography.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
In some ways, I would continue to tell people the same thing I have before the pandemic: be the best you can be at everything you do and everything else will fall into place.
I would encourage people to have an open mind and take the changing work environment in stride. See the changes as a positive rather than a barrier.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’ve always lived by “Carpe Diem”. This world may be full of opportunities, but one has to be proactive and go after them. Sure, there will be some that will lead to dead ends and others that won’t result in tremendous success, but if one does not pursue them then there is no way of ever knowing. You have to always be ready to roll up your sleeves and take on the day.
How can our readers further follow your work?