Ewan Ross, Greater China area director at Meltwater, is making a mark in the region’s media monitoring sector
Decisiveness is a key trait for any aspiring executive, and it didn’t take Ewan Ross long to decide that banking wasn’t for him.
With a five-year master’s degree in economics and economic history from Edinburgh University, it had seemed an obvious move to accept a coveted place on Standard Chartered’s management trainee scheme. But despite the attractive salary and generally bright prospects, he started having second thoughts even during the new joiners’ on-boarding programme.
“I just couldn’t see myself in that kind of environment and didn’t aspire to be someone further up the chain,” says Ross, who now, just a few years later, is Greater China area director for media intelligence firm Meltwater. “Growing up, I played in bands, wrote songs and scripts, made videos, and even had a go at film and TV production. I wanted to do something which was more creative and allowed for initiative and ideas.”
Though born in London, Ross was raised in Kinross, an “unremarkable” small town north of Edinburgh. His parents, a community outreach specialist and a procurement officer in the Scottish government, had moved back there for a life in the countryside. And while it made for a happy upbringing, he felt early on that he had to get out and see more of the world.
“I was ambitious and knew that whatever I achieved in life would be through my own efforts,” he says. “In my school and community, if you wanted something, you had to make it happen. And though I chose to study economics because I was good at maths, I also thought it would open up other avenues.”
That proved so in the form of an internship with FMCG giant Procter & Gamble outside London. Those few weeks in the corporate environment were a real eye-opener, introducing Ross to the possibilities of marketing, PR, international assignments, an American Express card for expenses, and the keys to a BMW.
“Perhaps I had my head turned a little,” he says, noting the contrast with a previous volunteer stint teaching English to 10-year-olds in Romania. “But anyway I joined Standard Chartered in August 2008, just as the financial world was collapsing all around, and soon realised it was no place for the part of me that wanted to get things done, make an impact, and have a real influence.”
So, changing tack, he opted to join Meltwater in Edinburgh, initially in a sales role. Within seven months, though, he was promoted to manager and, not long after, was on the plane to Cape Town to run the main South African office.
The firm, which was founded in Norway in 2001, uses software to monitor news and social media so as to give clients usable intelligence, analysis and market insights. With companies in every sector realising the importance of tracking and interpreting online data in the digital era, the scope for growth was almost limitless.
Reflecting this, Ross was transferred to New Delhi barely 12 months on to start a new office from scratch. He hired an eight-person team and steadily developed products and strategies tailored to the needs of the Indian market.
“I was doing a start-up, getting extra responsibilities, and seeing different parts of the world,” he says.
The next stop, about a year later, was Hong Kong. Since arriving, Ross has also overseen the expansion of offices in Shanghai and Beijing, taking total headcount to 60-plus, with plans to move into evolving areas like talent analytics.
“There’s no doubt it’s challenging to run a ‘software as a service’ company dealing with mainland China; language is always a big issue,” he says. “But it is also a huge opportunity. You have to take it and run with it, and I’m certainly lucky to have one of the better markets in terms of growth.”
Core revenue comes from clients paying a subscription for the service provided, based on criteria like total searches done, the number of users with access, and the general level of support.
Looking ahead, though, the aim is also to offer more in-depth analysis of available data, meeting specific information requests relating to consumer trends, e-commerce activity and advertising tactics in different sectors.
To this end, the head office is currently investing millions in R&D to build a new platform and is considering how best to capture and include extra data from sources like patent offices, job adverts and LinkedIn to give an all-round view of what companies are doing and make sense of it. Separately, there is broad support too to push into new locations such as Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Taiwan.
“We can see that general business strategy will be increasingly shaped by insights from online data,” Ross says. “Data analytics can also play a key role in recruitment and HR by reporting what exists and helping to predict predicting what could or should happen. This can help, for example, in measuring the effectiveness of employee engagement programmes and optimising what is spent.”
Away from work, Ross still finds time to play the guitar and go diving and hopes to get further involved in creative projects and TV production. And when Meltwater’s “project China” nears completion, he would like some time to take stock before committing to the next series of further challenges.
“My personality type finds it difficult to do something that would be a step backwards,” he says. “But I’ve always been interested in teaching, mentoring and developing people in a business context. That’s a key part of my role now, and I hope to do more in future.”
HAVING AN IMPACT
Ewan Ross gives his five factors for success.
Discover your calling “I find it sad that people feel a lot of pressure to follow a career path that won’t let them make the most of their talents. Work is such a fundamental part of our lives that we should have the courage to do something a bit different.”
Get your hands dirty “We emphasise that you learn this business by getting experience ‘at the coalface’. That means doing sales, meeting clients, and understanding what makes them tick.”
Drive returns “Systems are a factor in the growth equation, but really it’s all about the people. When we hire, it’s because we believe the individuals will help grow the company as a cashflow-positive model.”
Be ambitious “The aim is to keep attracting high-calibre young candidates who are hungry to do something challenging and looking to run their own business unit.”
Show spirit “We mainly hire fresh graduates, who can be from any discipline. The most important things for us are character, personality, attitude, integrity and willingness to learn.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Intelligence tests.