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Q&A with Hayat AKEFLI

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Exclusif Q&A of Trusted Magazine with Hayat AKEFLI, CEO & Founder of Bulls and Lions Creatives

How could you describe your career path in a few words ?

It’s a passionate journey of building bridges between Brand Innovation and leadership.

I started my career in the American firm, Young & Rubicam, where I’ve been fortunate to explore many international brands, acting in local & international Markets (Colgate, Land Rover, Jaguar, Danone...). Then, I joined Karoui & Karoui, an African leading group operating in the fields of interactive marketing, advertising and audio-visual … As an Executive Creative Strategy Director, I was honored to be behind the success of many transformational projects and launches of new brands in Africa, especially in Telecommunication Field (Inwi Launch in Morocco, Chinguitel in West Africa, Zaïn in Dubai, Tunisie Telecom in Tunisia, Maroc Telecom in Mali, Nedjma in Algeria…).

Then, I decided to have a break and go back to university to improve my skills and develop another way to practice leadership through brand innovation. The UK market was very inspiring for me, so I’ve decided to explore and experiment British culture for leadership, while preparing my Master in London.

Back home, I founded Bulls and Lions. This was a natural extension of my career, bringing my footprint to the Moroccan and African market. Mixing strategy, creativity and brand innovation, B&L journey started 10 years ago …

You were awarded Brand Innovation Company of the year in 2021. This year, you are shortlisted in the Top 3 of Digital & Interactive Agencies in Middle East and Africa. How do you build success?

I think that real success is the one we build for our clients, our team, and then for ourselves.

The first building block of success is raising the bar for quality requirements and setting an innovation driven way of doing. I believe that any organization’s success is strongly corelated to its teamwork’s alignment with the company’s purpose, standards and values. My mission, as a coach-leader, is to make the team inspired and connected to our innovation DNA to achieve outstanding brand experiences. I am committed also to contributing to their skills development by blending their professional and learning journeys, as much as I can. We explore together new trends and new technologies to deliver innovative and impactful solutions for our clients. And each time we reach the set level, we raise the bar again. So, seeking excellence becomes our daily exhilarating challenge.

The second key, is setting an efficient and agile process to deliver sustainable impact for our clients. As we operate in an emerging market, we know that our clients, corporate and business leaders, need to scale transformation rapidly, with less risk and with expectations of high impact. This is why, we reinvented our ways of doing when it comes to creating and implementing new strategies. Using augmented interactivity, experimentation and social proofing at an early stage, we are able to achieve impactful change and tailored experiences. We have also been heavily implementing digital solutions with continuous data analysis to scale the brand’s outreach and deliver agility.

Actually, we are maybe one of the few companies that can deliver a full transformational experience, empowered by digital solutions. I hope we’ll bring more impact for our country and continent.

What is the internal culture in your firm? How do you ensure that your team can sustainably deliver quality?

I believe that talent is the most valuable resource. I believe also that a great flexible environment at work contributes to set a high creative mindset.

At Bulls and Lions, we share the same passion for innovation and impactful creativity. Our values help us to inspire commitment and confidence. Under the crisis, there was like a glue that connected us to a positive vision of the future and helped us stand strong as a team.

We don’t put any limits for experimentation and design research. To support this culture, we equipped our Lab with the latest technologies (3D printing, Robotics, Virtual reality, laser-cutting, 3D scanning, interactive touchscreens and soils…) helping our team to prototype any physical or virtual experience.

How can a leader attract the very best talent?

Hiring by attitude and mindset is key and managing by sharing knowledge and passion is my leadership DNA. I am always after talents with a bold, positive and eager-to-learn attitude. Technical skills can be taught and acquired on the job, however having the right attitude that is aligned with the team’s spirit and the company purpose is the unique key to thrive.

What was your most challenging experience and it has changed your mindset?

I think that COVID 19 was the most challenging experience for all the managers and leaders these last years. In this context, our industry had to face new corporate and commercial challenges… from moving populations to remote work, to cancelling events and navigating economic crisis with drastic cuts in strategy & communication budgets…

The pandemic has in fact accelerated what was already happening: digitalization, Agile management and E-commerce Shift. These 3 trends are today definitely integrated in the core services of successful Brand innovation companies.

On another hand, during the crisis, Moroccan industry showed a high rate of innovation and agility. We were able to produce innovative & high-quality products, in short time… but the Made in Morocco is still struggling to develop worldwide notoriety. The same issue applies to many African markets (Congo, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire.. ).

As a brand innovation company, we felt directly concerned by this strong signal sent out by our industrial & innovation ecosystems to unlock the full potential of local businesses & boost the global outreach of our African territories.

To support this positive dynamic and better meet the future needs of Moroccan & African Markets, we launched The African Brand Lab: a “Phygital” space, where we explore with business leaders, corporate stakeholders, designers, engineers, and artisans… the power of Brand Visualization, and contribute to shaping an international leadership for African Products & Territories.

When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?

I think that navigating in uncertainty and ambiguity is embracing the new normal. I personally developed a kind of reflex to see opportunity in every situation. Positive mindset, agility and curiosity are key values for each leader who wants to thrive in a VUCA world (Volatility - Uncertainty - Complexity - Ambiguity).

Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?4

As a female leader, I believe that embracing diversity and integrity in the workplace are the way forward to lead by example. Work-life balance might be a challenge but instilling the

culture of Work Hard Play hard in my family helps me finding balance. Being Bold, honest and helpful for our clients and our team, seems to be enough for building respect and resilience for a female leader.

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