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Setting up a business in Singapore: Mangham Gaxiola’s Stephen on his journey

Age: 53
Nationality: British
Position: Partner at Mangham Gaxiola

Stephen Mangham 

I grew up in a very ordinary English suburb. I never really saw the world before I was 24.

My dream was to be the guy on TV reporting from war zones. It seemed to me that no job could be more exciting.

I studied law at university, but spent most of my time working on the university newspaper. I was fascinated by the business of persuasion, hence I ended up working in advertising.

My first job of any kind was delivering milk at the weekend on freezing cold winter mornings. I think they call it “character building”. My first full-time job after university was with the Leo Burnett advertising agency in London as a graduate trainee.

I always try my best and I always stay positive. I’m a big believer in the power of positive thinking.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received was from a taxi driver when I first moved to Frankfurt at the age of 24. I was feeling homesick and a little sorry for myself, and started telling her how difficult it was living in Germany. She told me to stop comparing Germany to the UK, and just accept the differences.

The toughest work situation I have ever faced was when I ran an agency in Poland in the 90s. There was a defeatist, negative mentality that took a lot of work to turn around. I went home most days for the first six months feeling profoundly depressed, but trying to keep up a cheerful front. We got there eventually and two years later we won creative agency of the year with largely the same team.

Living in Singapore inspired me to become an entrepreneur. I moved here in 1995, and it really is the best place to be in the world right now.

My dad always wanted to run his own business, and he took the plunge in his mid 40s. I was hugely impressed by his bravery and never-say-die spirit. I didn’t think that I had the guts to do the same, but it’s funny how history repeats itself.

A famous agency partner was renowned for saying, “We’re only ever two phone calls from bankruptcy”. I have the same attitude.

I hope I get the work/life balance right. I play a lot of sport, spend time with my family, read. I play football twice a week, and occasionally wakeboard or go diving. I also seem to spend more time than the rest of my family walking the dog.

Gax (business partner Robert Gaxiola) and I want our agency to be a player in our industry – to be in the same competitive set as the leading multi-nationals, to compete for the same clients. That’s why from day one we’ve gone for ambitious clients like CIMB Bank, Beiersdorf, and Samsung. The great thing is that in our industry, at this time, you don’t have to be big to be better. Just smarter.

Compared to Europe, it’s a lot easier to do business here in Singapore. This is a great place in the world to build a business. There’s so much more potential for growth.

I’m only an occasional traveller, not in the road warrior class. My favourite retreat from the world is in the south of France at our holiday home, and work-wise I’ve got trips to Malaysia and Germany lined up. I don’t travel Business Class any more though – it’s our money!