With an impressive 15-year tenure at Awin, as well as his contribution to Awin initiatives, Adam Ross will lead the company as it approaches a crucial turning point, embarking on developing their open partner ecosystem.

We caught up with Adam to find out more about his new role and how he plans to steer Awin in their pursuits.

You’ve been working within Awin for the past 15 years, so most partners and clients will be familiar with who you are. Do you mind introducing yourself and your background for those who may not?

“I’m 39 years old, born in Dublin but moved to the UK over 20 years ago. Awin has been my passion for 16 years. I was fortunate to find a company and industry that really resonated with me; I’m passionate about technology and love the positive sentiment of mutual success that underpins our business.

“I started off in technical services and ended up joining what was then the Affiliate Window board at 27 years of age. I joined the group (zanox) board in 2014 and together with Mark Walters, Peter Loveday and more recently Virpy Richter, we’ve doubled revenue and profits during that time and expanded our reach across three continents. It’s been a monumental ride.”

What unique value do you think you’ll bring to the position?

“I’ve worked in almost every client facing division of the company and have a deep understanding of both how Awin and our industry works. I also have a strong vision for how I think it should develop.

“However, I’m conscious of this value also being a potential blind spot. Our industry can be an echo chamber and I feel we have so much more to offer than we’re given credit for. So, while I’ll lean heavily on my experience and knowledge, I’m also committed to taking a step back, looking objectively at where we stand, and pushing the boundaries of our industry far beyond where they sit today.”

What are some of the legacies that Mark has left behind, and how do you plan on keeping them?

“Mark has a proud legacy of delivering exceptional growth every year for over a decade but also delivering it while cultivating a highly-engaged and positive culture. He always had time for every member of staff, no matter their level, with an incredible generosity of heart and spirit.

“These are qualities that are innate and hard to replicate, but I’ve learnt a lot from him over the years and we’ve worked very closely on building Awin, so my aim is to certainly maintain and try to develop on those things in my own way, whilst also delivering the vision I have for Awin.”

In the announcement it mentions a crucial turning point for Awin as it embarks on “building the world’s leading open partner ecosystem”. Could you tell us more about what this would look like for your partners?

“There are two elements to this. The first is something I referred to earlier; the application of our vast experience in facilitating lucrative and long-term affiliate partnerships to other parts of the business world. These are transferable skills and models, as is the technology that powers them.

“When we speak of a partner ecosystem, it’s about broadening the definition of what we do today to pursue new aims and ambitions. We have to closely examine the value we bring to our partners and use that as a foundation to develop even more. There’s a whole world of new exciting relationships we can facilitate if we put our minds to it.

“The second is to draw your attention to the word ‘open’. There are some trends we see in the world today towards protectionism, looking after one’s own interests above all else and acting in isolation. You see it at the political and national level and unfortunately, you can see it within the digital economy.

“Google, Facebook, Amazon etc operate walled gardens where clients are forced to play by their rules. Even in our own industry, we see some advocating a disparate industry, closed programmes and separated instances of technology. We see companies being aggressively disparaging of the industry which preceded them, despite deriving most of their revenue from it, and all the while disregarding the benefits that openness brings.

“The term ‘network’ is even being portrayed as something negative. Throughout this pandemic, our open network has flourished to the benefit of all our partners. Far from being legacy or negative, billions in revenue has been generated for clients, entirely new advertisers, publishers and tech partners have risen through the ranks, all benefiting from the open network we operate. We will be pursuing open principles as we look to the future.”

What will the first steps be in working towards this vision?

“The first step is always to listen. It’s one of Awin’s core values and something I pride myself on. We’ll be engaging with partners of all sizes and from all markets to understand where we can add the most value and this will have a major influence on our path forward.”

What is the greatest challenge you think you’ll deal with as the new CEO?

“The biggest challenge for any leader in modern times is coping with rapid change and ensuring their organisations are resilient and agile enough to respond to that. COVID has taught us that better than anything. I don’t know what will come next, but I do know that we are ready to respond to change and even to initiate it. I’m pretty sure after the last 12 months, anything else should be a walk in the park!”

Why do you believe 2020 was such a good year for Awin?

“There are many reasons for this, too many to list, but if I were to pick the top three…

  1. The resilience, dedication and commitment of our 1,000+ staff around the world. The way they adapted to the crisis and in turn helped our partners adapt was remarkable and continues to fill me with pride today.
  2. The breadth of our client base. With 16,000+ advertisers across all our markets, whatever was happening around us, Awin had an advertiser or solution to respond.
  3. The power and scale of our technology. There might be some who read that and raise an eyebrow. I’ve seen us subtly and not so subtly criticised for our tech but I think people fail to grasp the sheer volume that runs through our platform and how fast it has grown.

“We put huge pressure on our teams as we keep adding clients, growing traffic, acquiring networks, moving into new areas, the list goes on yet, despite all this, we went through the biggest Cyber Week in the company’s history with 165m clicks, 1bn impressions, 10.8m sales and 831m EUR in revenue tracked without so much as a reporting delay on the platform. I’d challenge any tech team in the world to cope with that. Even AWS had problems during peak trading.”

You’ve recently adopted a 4-day week – how is this panning out and how does it fit into Awin’s transformation?

“The 4-day week is centred around the belief that happy employees are engaged and productive employees. The traditional 9-5, 5 days a week is a model left unchallenged from the industrial revolution and I feel that it isn’t relevant or appropriate for modern times. The pandemic has exposed this all the more. Remote, flexible work brings greater levels of productivity.

“We aren’t wasting time travelling to and from an office each day for starters. For me personally, I was on planes every week, sacrificing valuable hours in traffic, and at airports and this was the same for many of my colleagues operating at a global level.

“Having said that, remote work is also intense (probably because it’s so productive) and achieving a clear separation between work and home life can be challenging. The 4 day week gives people back some time to focus on their families, hobbies, further education or just plain old rest so that when people are at work, they can give their absolute best. We believe it’s the future of work but right now it’s a major differentiator for Awin and will help us attract and retain the best people and it’s people that will ultimately deliver this transformation.”

What do you think are the biggest threats to the affiliate industry in 2021, and how does Awin plan to tackle them?

“Insular thinking and behaviour. We must think beyond the confines of our industry if we’re to grow and succeed. This is all about mindset and not resting on our laurels. If you work in e-commerce you are likely to have had a successful year with physical retail mostly shut down, but we shouldn’t assume that the success we’ve seen immediately means that we’ve delivered more value to partners. This can only be determined by looking at our performance in context, something we’ve been working hard on in 2020 and will develop further in 2021.

“Secondly, grappling with disparate and volatile regulatory changes across major markets and whether tracking in its current form can survive this. We can either try and work around the regulations or think of a sustainable, long term solution and I fear not enough thought and effort is being put into the latter.”

What would success look like for you in January 2022, a year after leading Awin as CEO?

“We have a clear plan and it’s centred around enhancing client value. We’re developing more sophisticated ways to capture and measure that and it’s whether we improve those scores that will determine success for me.”

We would like to thank Adam for taking part in this Q&A. The points he raised are great food for thought and it is inspiring to think about the exciting year that lays ahead.