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Ever wonder where you’d be now if you’d made one different decision way back when? Whether you believe in fate or not, it’s always fascinating to look back and think “Wow, if that one thing hadn’t happened, I might be a completely different person today!”. Time and time again in the Marketing Expert Series, we meet people who ended up in digital marketing by chance; it was not what they had studied, and it certainly wasn’t what they had expected for themselves. Yet, they all love what they do.

In this issue, we meet a man who was in the wrong line of work when he first started. Fresh out of university, he went off to do what he thought was to be his career, until his boss let him know otherwise and set him on a new path.

We might never have had the chance to interview Navin Rajarathnam, if not for that chance of fate. He would never have gone into branding or marketing, and would never have had a fascinating and diverse career, or been able to share the insights of a said career with us in this issue of the Marketing Expert Series. We would never have been able to learn from his experiences or found out how he got to lead a dynamic team at GVE Asia, or share vicariously in his passion and drive.

Luckily for us, someone helped him onto a digital marketing and branding career path. And he loves what he does.


Hi, Navin, thank you for joining us in our Marketing Expert Series. Let’s kick off with something a bit general, please tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get to where you are now?

Firstly, thank you for this opportunity. It is indeed an honour. So! Let’s go back a little.

I started off as a PA with an incubator start-up after my degree as that was the first job that came my way in 2003. After about a year my boss pointed out that my core competencies lay elsewhere and told me that I should be working in either PR or advertising. He was good enough to send my CV to his contacts and I got my first interview with Michelle Ong, then General Manager at Mccann Erickson.

Michelle offered me my first stint as a Brand Executive working on the Proton account. From there things really fell into place; I had truly found my calling. I enjoyed working with the team at Mccann’s and we all grew really close and I am still best of friends with so many of them. We worked long hours but we also partied and that drew us together.

After almost 7 years, I left to join M&C Saatchi and was with them for another 6+ years. These 14 years with international agencies truly taught me grit, passion and never to ever give up no matter what the circumstances are.

From there I decided I wanted to enhance my skills and decided to move to the client-side of business and went to work with a bank, then a glove manufacturer and now I am with GVE Asia. I’ve had quite a colourful career and the industries I have worked with are completely varied, but all this has given me an advantage: it has allowed me to look at business strategies from various perspectives and learn from each of them.

You’re the Group Head of Marketing, Branding and PR at GVE Asia. Can you tell us a bit about GVE Asia? What exactly is GVE Asia?

GVE Asia is an organization that has varied businesses. We currently own and run 10 various business. We started as an importer of luxury cars but have since expanded to include luxury service centres as well as bars and restaurants. We have a medical business as well that deals with masks and sanitisers and we own several clinics. In addition, we also own the biggest 4S Volkswagen centre in Malaysia. Our CEO Dato Sri Devan believes in diversifying and building a strong conglomerate of brands and industries.

What does your role as Group Head of Marketing, Branding and PR look like? Do you have a favourite part of your role?

I lead a team of managers and designers and we look into the various parts of the whole branding and communications. The team manages the strategy, content development, social media management, performance marketing, CRM, email marketing and crisis management, among others. We operate as a startup so no one day is ever really the same. Some days we even assist the project management team or even help the mixologist for the parties we organize in our bars.

I think what I enjoy most in my current role is managing a very dynamic and young team. It’s refreshing and I actually learn something new every day from them. The exchange of knowledge is definitely a two-way street! We have built a wonderful rapport and they inspire me tremendously.

How have the developments of the COVID-19 Pandemic affected your strategies? What challenges and/or developments have you had to adapt to since 2020? How have you overcome them?

Seeing that we have a very varied business model, we have had to adapt and change at lightning speed. Marketing and branding have always been agile, but the pandemic thought us that we needed to take it up many levels up and be adaptive at such a speed that we don’t have time to second guess ourselves or our strategies.

The biggest challenge is WFH. Now since the pandemic is over, the team has had the benefit of working in their own pace so having them come back full-time to the office has taken quite a bit of internal strategizing and a lot of hand-holding.

We have realized that the hybrid working environment has worked and many find that quite beneficial to them. It allows them to manage their families, but we have had to encourage the team and build a better environment within the office to entice them back into the office. To this end, we introduced an ice cream machine, built monkey bars and installed a punching bag as ways to make coming back to work a little bit more interesting.

What sort of lasting impact do you believe the pandemic’s forced acceleration of digital transformation has had on your industry?

The real lasting impact is that social media has helped grow our business in leaps and bounds and engage with our customers. Before this, social media was just used to showcase our luxury cars and to gather leads, but the pandemic has taken that to the next level where customers have engaged with us on a whole different level and we have managed to double our sales in 2020 despite all the lockdowns.

Do you think that this impact has permanently changed how you and your team go about your work? Where do you see your strategies going in the next few years?

I think now it’s gone back to pre-pandemic days and consumers in the luxury segment want what they did previously. They want the experience of walking into a showroom, engaging with the sales team, taking the car for a test drive and having that wow moment. They want to feel special. We have had to re-look our strategies to straddle both online and offline to give our customers a seamless journey as now its even more intense than what it used to be. As the paradigm has shifted, engagement is even more challenging so we need to focus our strategies in building the showroom experience even digitally.

Any advice you’d give to young and/or aspiring marketers?

Be agile, hungry and adaptive. Speed and accuracy are crucial but being inspiring and thinking out of the box, always gives you the advantage.

It’s been great to learn more about you and your work, Navin, thank you for sharing. How can people connect with you if they’d like to know more about you or GVE Asia?

They can drop me a line at navin.r@gveasia.com or find me on LinkedIn at my profile Navin Rajaratnam and I would be more than happy to touch base and connect.

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