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In the hot seat: Steve Smith, COO, Arabian Radio Network

Steve Smith of Arabian Radio Network on the keys to success in broadcast comms

Steve Smith was appointed COO at Arabian Radio Network (ARN) in August 2008. He is responsible for all operations including full P&L, programming and strategic direction for all ARN brands. Steve’s focus is to continue ARN’s leadership in innovation and digital development. Over the past eight and half years, alongside Mahmoud Al Rasheed (GM) they have led ARN’s move from a traditional content creator to what is now regarded as one of the finest multiplatform entertainment groups in the region. He has capitalised on the Middle East’s enormous appetite for entertainment and technology, and with UAE’s mobile penetration at 250% and smartphone usage being the highest in the world, ARN is now leading the way for content designed for all platforms with a strategy that is structured to flourish in this digital landscape. Seraj Jaghbeer, Consultant at Hanson Search MENA, sits down with Steve to find out how he made it in the industry.

How did you get into communications?

I grew up in regional Australia in the middle of nowhere. Radio was and still is a major component of entertainment in the bush; it really was a great vehicle that made you feel like you were in touch with the rest of the world. However, at that stage, it was looking like I was going to be an AFL (Australian Football) player and most of my focus was on that goal. Playing Australian Rules Football exposed me to the world of radio, so when I realised that I wasn’t going to make it as an AFL athlete, I saw broadcast as a good way to stay in the world of entertainment. Naively, I hassled every radio group in the country to give me a start. In the early 90’s I was given a start with 2UW in Sydney in their direct sales team and some 25 years ago and here I am in Dubai today running this great network called The Arabian Radio Network.

What personal attributes have most helped you in the course of your career?

I think a sporting background does help in this business. You need to be disciplined –there are many distractions. Being disciplined in terms of your own health and fitness and ensuring that those areas are paramount is key to your success. Being prepared is also important. I try to encourage young people coming into this business to take the time to prepare before they actually put their hand up. Preparation in this business is essential as once you go to air with something it’s gone. The more time you can put into preparation, whether it’s a new idea or a new business, the better. That’s the thing that is going to determine whether or not you’ll do well.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the course of your career?

This was the first international expat experience for myself and my family. It was enormously exciting and we prepared ourselves as much as we could. Coming to the Middle East has been an enormous challenge, but such a rewarding experience professionally and personally. Playing AFL football as a professional was a dream and not realising this dream was a great challenge to get over. You can mope about and feel sorry for yourself or you can learn from that experience and really drive that energy into something else. That’s what I did once I realised I would not get to play at the highest level. I took the opportunity to take learnings and channel that drive towards making sure I was a success in this business instead. Keeping healthy and fit has always played a part in my day to day preparation in this world of Media and Entertainment and this I can contribute to the learnings from the past.

Who has been the most inspiring person you’ve worked with?

There are two parts to that answer. My Emirati partners, particularly Mahmoud Al-Rasheed General Manager here at ARN. He’s been wonderful in making sure that even though we had an appetite for massive growth, that the cultural sensitivities of working in a market like this are noted. My energy and leadership style alongside Mahmoud’s knowledge of the market and his passion for great content means that we have worked very well together since day one. Another inspiring individual is Mohammed Almulla who is CEO of AMG. He came into the role not long after I started, in the depths of the Gulf financial crisis. We worked closely with Mahmoud in ensuring that whatever we built for the short term had a long term plan. He is a visionary. Look at what he’s done. I would not have imagined in my wildest dreams that those two gentleman would be the biggest influences on my career prior to coming here, but they’ve both been significant and from a visionary point of view they are second to none.

What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

An entrepreneurial gentleman I worked with back in Australia, called Tony McGinn (MCM Entertainment), used these words many times: “Don’t sit still - do something”. Even if you have a tremendously successful business, you shouldn’t feel like you’ve run your race, there’s always more to do and improvements to be made.

What would you say are the three words that best describe you?

Energetic. Driven. Passionate. Unrelenting. (Sorry, four is best.)

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the industry?

There is such a long line at the front door of this business to get a start here at ARN. I’d suggest that if you get the opportunity, you need to work harder than anyone else and make sure it is your focus for at least the first 24 months. Be the hardest worker and take on as many projects outside your job description to increase your knowledge. You will get noticed and others around you will also want to imitate. You have to understand that to be successful in the entertainment business means committing to a lifestyle, not just a job. It’s a business where your whole family needs to understand the pressures and commitments required. In radio, everything is fast-paced and immediate. Being able to strive to do better than you did yesterday is a key for success in this business. You can never really turn off the switch, you need to think constantly about how the things you see or hear could make great content. Most importantly it has to be fun. A successful radio network has to have a culture of fun because what we are really trying to do is put smiles on our listeners’ faces. This is impossible if the creative environment is not a place of FUN.

How can Hanson Search help?

If you are looking for the best talent in the MENA region, please don’t hesitate to contact me below for a confidential discussion.

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Author: Felice Hurst

With nearly twenty years of experience in search and recruitment and a decade of experience working in MENA, Felice set up the Hanson Search Middle East office to develop our offering in the region. Working across the spectrum of high-level vacancies, Felice has had considerable success across in-house and consultancy roles.

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