Dynamic Duos: Orchard’s Wai Kwok and Mikaela Crimmins

In this week's Dynamic Duos, Orchard CEO Wai Kwok and head of strategy Mikaela Crimmins tell Mumbrella about the 10-year journey that took Mikaela from account manager to head of strategy under Wai's leadership, as the pair continue to 'spot the bumps in each other’s blind spots' as Orchard grows from Indie to large agency.

In Dynamic Duos, Mumbrella each week asks two members of the same organisation with a professional and personal affiliation to share with readers the importance of workplace relationships in an increasingly hybridised world of work.

Wai Kwok:

I met Mikaela over 10 years ago when we were looking to hire another account manager for our growing health division. She had health experience and a great sales background, but the one thing I remember most is that she had bags full of chutzpah. Not the brazen type, respectful, but someone you knew who could achieve amazing things.

I didn’t know it at the time, but with Mikaela coming on board we had perhaps just hired one of the most important people for the agency – period.

She very quickly soared through the agency ranks… Orchard at the time was growing quickly but she stood out so clearly. In the agency world there is a lot of fluff out there, packaging up average ideas, and sometimes teams just going through the motions. What Mik brought was another level of great critical thinking – a genuine thought or idea that would make a difference to the comms problem and the creative idea. This was balanced with a sheer grit and tenacity of always wanting to do better.

In quite rapid time, she made it from account manager to the 2IC in the strategy department. For someone still fairly young that was fuelled through her contribution in winning pitches, stepping up and becoming a cultural leader for the agency – but also, let’s just say that timesheets and client billing was her kryptonite (not something you want in your account management team).

She very quickly became a partner in crime – we worked on so many pitches together, sharing the late nights, just in time. Celebrating many wins with vino but also sharing the gutted feeling of losing a great client pitch thinking where could we have done better? Why I like best partnering with Mik, we build on each other’s ideas, there is no ego or seniority (even though she is clearly smarter than me) and together we make each other better.

I was so proud that Orchard could develop talent like this from the ground up, genuine premier league talent. Orchard was growing and going places. But then I got that email that every manager dreads. ‘Do you have 10 minutes for a quick catch up’.

Mik had decided that she needed to experience another agency, make her-self more rounded and work on global brands like Coco-Cola at Ogilvy. I was devasted personally and professionally that she was leaving… but she did have one departing note for me. “Wai, don’t worry, I will be back one day and the account manager you hired will be heading up your strategy team”.

Two years, 5 weeks and 2 hours later… she returned to Orchard to become our head of strategy.

Mikaela Crimmins:

10 years ago, I interviewed for an account manager role at this ‘up and coming’ digital agency with polished concrete floors. I remember thinking at the time that the managing partner, Wai was so ‘coooool’ – slacks, thongs, and thick rimmed glasses. He gave off the “casual meets creative” vibe – how edgy?!

From the get-go I admired Wai’s knack of balancing strategic, commercial, and human imperatives, all at the same time. He cares about the work, the bottom-line, and he never stops caring about the people. Don’t get me wrong he’s no Mother Theresa, he can really grind my gears. He can drop the ‘truth bombs’ at inopportune times and his directness can bruise the ego – but these small inconveniences are always in pursuit of ‘inventing better’.

That said, I did untether from ‘The Kwok’ to refine my craft on bigger brands and learn about brand strategy from the best in the biz at Ogilvy. But Orchard couldn’t keep me away and I returned after a couple of years with a keen understanding (and appreciation) of how to make brands matter.

So, what makes us a ‘dynamic duo’? We have complimentary skills. We cater to each other’s blind spots. I am probably an eternal optimist, and Wai tempers this with healthy pragmatism. I can skirt round the issue, Wai cuts to the problem. Wai can be ambitious; I can be strategic. Wai likes horrible music; I have fabulous taste in music. We don’t always agree – but we always set up safe environments for meaningful and constructive conflict. We are each other’s blind spot detector and I think this is where the magic happens.

Common to both Wai and I, is that the more we learn the less we know. And we’re both learning, me how to be a better strategist and leader and Wai – how to manage accelerated growth – from Indie to large agency, but if we continue to spot the bumps in each other’s blind spots – I think we’ll manage all right.

Wai on Mikaela:

Most memorable moment with Mikaela: So many moments – but I would say the trip to New York when we had a go at a global pitch – that was probably a stretch. We had a good go at the pitch, but it was a great opportunity to have a few late nights out and get to spend time with Mik, the friend Mik versus the head of strategy Mik.

Describe Mikaela in one word: Ingenious

Mikaela’s most annoying habit or endearing behaviour: In a world of selling and advertising Mik genuinely cares about people, her team, and their development at work, as well as bigger societal issues and actually participates in local charities and her community to make a difference.


Mikaela on Wai:

Most memorable moment with Wai: A pitch with Wai in New York. We didn’t win, not sure the pitch was particularly good, but boy did we give it a good nudge. And I remember just really enjoying the process – equal parts challenging and fun!

Describe Wai in one word: Fearless

Wai’s most annoying habit or endearing behaviour:

Annoying? 10 years ago, it was hearing his flip flops ‘click, clack’ on the concrete floor with ferocity.

Endearing? His weekly ‘walk/talk’ check-ins – here Wai endeavours to solve yours and the world’s problems. On one occasion I am sure we did 10 laps around Pyrmont, closed my rings, broke a sweat, and overcame the week’s greatest challenges.

If you and a colleague would like to submit your story to Dynamic duos, please email kwelch@mumbrella.com.au.


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