Monday, July 27, 2009

Gone Too Soon

Once in your life, you will meet someone that will have a great impact on your life. I first met Yasmin Ahmad at my job interview for Leo Burnett back in 2000. It was the longest interview I've ever had.

That's the thing about Min. She has such presence and yet she makes you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, I wasn't very comfortable that day. I was nervous as hell. Here was the greatest creative director in the country asking to see my humble work. As my shaky hands and quivering voice took her through my book, she interrupted me, the way only Yasmin could.

"Nervous ah?" she laughed, "No need to be nervous lah. This is good work."

That still didn't comfort me though. I was still nervous, especially so when she brought Ali in to show him my work. "Ali has to see this," she said. "Don't worry, he won't bite. He only looks fierce because of the janggut!"

She kept laughing about how nervous I was. The interview lasted almost three hours.

She called me on the Friday the week after and told me my offer letter was ready. I went over to pick it up and she showed me around the office, pointing out the hottest girls there!

My first day at work, she brought me to an offline session for a MAS commercial. It was the one about the two boys saving up money to watch the Malaysian hockey team play at the Sydney Olympics. The music track was Man Bai's "Kau Ilhamku".

I sat in a corner and watched as she made comments to what I thought was an already perfect spot. Then she turned to me and asked me, "Eh... What do you think?"

What? The great one asking me for my comments? Wow! I was honoured! Unfortuntaly the only thing I could muster up was, "It's nice..." Damn, I must have looked like an idiot! Not a good start to my career at LB!

But that was Min. She was always excited about any new commercial, script, idea. She would get the entire creative department in and eagerly show them and get their feedback. She was like a kid with a new toy. And her work was always brilliant.

My first assignment and I nervously walked in to her office to show her my headline and first draft body copy. She liked the idea and immediately went to my desk to fine-tune the copy. She was always brutally honest with her feedback. If she liked something, she'd get really excited and sit down with you to see how we could take it further. If she didn't like it, she'd say some thing like, "Boring lah... Try this or that." Honest, but always willing to give a guiding hand.

Over the three years I was at LB, as I got to now her, I slowly managed to overcome my nervousness whenever I had to see her. She was larger than life, yet down to earth at the same time. She was charismatic, charming, funny, witty. And this helped me calm my nerves.

She never encouraged late nights at the office. She believed we were all adults and knew what our responsibilities were. She only asked that deadlines were met and the work was decent.

She loved movies. We'd be sitting around the office, brainstorming and she'd just walk up to us and invite us all to go watch a movie. At 3pm on a workday! She believed no good ideas can come from sitting around the office. We have to go out, experience life, then and only then, can we create advertising that people can relate to.

She taught me about advertising. She taught me about life. She taught me how to write. "Write from the heart," she'd say, "not the head." The one piece of advice I thought made me a better writer.

She was my boss, my mentor, my friend.

I left LB in 2002, seeking greener pastures. I rarely saw her after that. But she continued to make an impact on me through her work and her movies. I wish now that I had kept in touch more.

Today, I heard Man Bai's "Kau Ilhamku" on the radio, played in tribute to her. And I found myself crying. It reminded me of that first day at LB, the day I started to get to know this truly wonderful person.

Good-bye, Min. You will be missed.

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