Isobar Global CEO Jean Lin shares her story at Dentsu Diversity Café


Isobar Global CEO Jean Lin shares her story at Dentsu Diversity Café

Diversity Café, a Dentsu-sponsored internal series of sessions focussed on the gender divide recently invited Jean Lin, Isobar’s Global CEO, to give her view. Jean shared her own experiences, from beginning her career as an Account Executive, to setting up her own agency, to becoming Isobar’s Global CEO to open the conversation and to empower women in the industry through her own learning.

Chieko Ohuchi, Executive Officer at Dentsu, gave a brief introduction and praised Jean’s outstanding achievements as an industry leader. The session then delved into what her thoughts are around empowering women towards their future.

The Beginnings

Diversity and inclusion are key parts of the global agenda. They affect us all and go beyond gender, incorporating culture, language, beliefs, political views, as well as empathy more broadly -  how people understand each other, how women support men and vice versa in the road towards equality; the dynamics of empowerment. As the original founder of an agency in the late 90s, later acquired by Isobar, it is no surprise that many women wonder how the Global CEO role changed Jean’s life.

Back in the late 90’s, Jean’s digital consulting business started as the dot com boom flourished, eventually selling it to Aegis Media (now Dentsu Aegis Network), Isobar’s parent company. In Jean’s many roles, she took on global strategy, regional leadership and her current Global CEO role. Did she always dream of becoming a Global CEO? No, yet from a very young age, Jean was driven by doing things she enjoyed, and that has always been the goal – to become someone who does things that bring her joy.

Believing in Hunches

The idea of starting a digital business started during Jean’s second maternity leave. She would go online to research the industry and discover what needed to change. Embracing the idea of change led her to meet like-minded people online with a similar interest in the subject. Some said, “If you start a company with that idea, we’ll join you,” adding even more fire to her ambitions. Jean’s husband played a key part in helping realise her vision, by saying that the only thing that could stop her from staring her own company were her own limitations.

An encounter with a curious investor at a conference in San Francisco who believed in the vision of a business with data, technology, media and creativity at its core, lead to Jean drafting the outline of her business on a napkin, and that led to all pieces falling into place. She understood that other people saw value in her vision and it was time for extra self-belief to let the hunch play out.

Even today, Jean’s father’s words of wisdom are deeply rooted in her approach to business, as well as her everyday life:

-Before a woman, comes a person; and being a better person is more important than being a smarter woman.-

What Does This Mean for Women Today?

Jean explained that following your passions and doing things you won’t regret is powerful. Believing in hunches and your instincts to realise a vision will elevate anyone. As long as you believe in your own agency, you will then make something bigger than yourself happen.

It is common around the world for women to feel that there is a choice to be made between having a life or a career. Rather than AND, it is OR and this puts pressure on women. Jean recalled a time on a late weekend morning when her two children, who were still small, discussed why there was a difference between their mother and other mothers at school. Their overall conclusion was defining: “Mum is happiest when she’s at work and she should do it so she can bring her interesting stories home and be mum!

Work, Life and Balance Today

Being a happy person was imperative to being a good mother, Jean shared. The Work/life balance is more of a circle and cannot be differentiated. In the advertising business we are lucky to work with creativity because that fuels our lives in many ways. The answer to complicated questions like balancing work and life is always a simpler one when creativity is involved. It boils down to looking inwards, finding the answer in how we can creatively come up with solutions to enjoy life, work and enabling our best self to come through.

Being what we want is far from selfish, the happiness we get out of it has the energy necessary to help others, spouses, children, friends, we all grow. We see and interpret the world around diversity through empathy, this leads to creative solutions to challenges and building better people before smarter women. Dissolving the obsession with perfection enables  women to be more authentic to themselves, and discover more about others. Because in the end, it’s more important to be authentic than perfect.

Women in Executive Roles

Jean explained that as a minority in a male-dominated business, women may feel the need to conform. If the situation was reversed, men would likely take the same stance, and this is still not openly discussed. Expressing yourself will always be important. As women, being silent prevents us from being explicit in what we think. Overcoming this is the initial step before higher representation and a central engine that promotes diversity and inclusion in our organisation. 

On Global Leadership

Collaboration is a powerful force for change. As a group, Isobar has a great opportunity to bring innovation from outside Japan and create a dialogue between Dentsu and Isobar. It is tremendously valuable to have flexibility as leaders, and taking distinct approaches to being CEOs, mothers, spouses provides great mental strength. More than authority, leadership is often about the soft influences you have on others so that they take your idea and achieve it better that you would by yourself. It shows real character, to reach the realisation that we are far from being the centre of the universe – once people achieve this it gives them incredible flexibility in their relationships and helps people build empathy with others.


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