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Redefining the norms as a leader for change

Flavilla Fongang is a recognised leader in marketing as she created the D.A.C. system and The Beyond Marketing Approach which have helped numerous brands successfully grow their business. Flavilla is the chosen brand advisor for BBC and provides regularly actionable brand strategy advice.

Flavilla’s story

I was born in Paris and I was the third daughter of a very lively African family. My mother was a secretary with a very modest salary. We weren’t rich but she always made sure we had food on the table. Once a year, my mother would buy me any pair of shoes I liked but I had to look after them as it was the only pair she could afford. She wanted me to study well so I could have a bright future. On the other side, I loved trouble and trouble loved me back. I was a tomboy who used to fight with boys and got expelled too often to count. My grades were nothing to be proud of. She didn’t know what to do with me and lucky for both of us I was transferred to a new school when we moved to a new area in Paris.

My life changed when I met my new headteacher. She believed in me more than I believed in myself. She was able to show me my potential and soon after I became the most studious student in my college. I carried on and studied marketing, business, and psychology. I loved it because it allowed me to be creative and continuously challenged me to try something new. I was luckily offered an opportunity to study in London for a year. My mother was worried to see me go while I was ready for a new adventure.

When I arrived in London, I didn’t speak a word of English. I quickly made friends who helped me find my way through the city. Everything changed for me when I switched on the television. For the first time in my life, I saw more Black people on tv than I ever saw in France. My aspirations were elevated and even the sky was not high enough to match my ambition. So I decided to stay in London as I believed I could accomplish so much more. I studied for one more year and then, it was now time to enter the real world to make a living.

After struggling to find a job because I didn’t have any experience, I obtained a role in the oil and gas event industry. I was ambitious, progressed quickly, and sooner than later I was running my own department. I traveled the world and understood the importance of diversity to grow together. I was born in a family of entrepreneurs and it was natural for me to become one. So I quit and became first a fashion stylist and then a brand strategist before launching my own agency. With my branding and marketing, I chose to focus on technology. I believe technology has the power to make a big impact and I wanted to work with individuals and companies who aren’t afraid to improve the world. This has been a phenomenal experience. But I quickly realized the lack of diversity and representation of Black women in technology. I knew how important it was to inspire Black women and girls to see successful Black women so they could dream big too. I launched Tech London Advocates Black women in tech in 2019 which became the largest community

Leadership is about giving the ability to people to enable the best version of themselves.

Why 3 Colours Rule?

3 Colours Rule was first a fashion consultancy before it became a creative branding and marketing agency. When I started my journey as a fashion stylist, I realized that individuals wear most often black because it is safe but also because most individuals don’t know how to wear colors well or are afraid to make a fashion faux pas. So, I decided to create a color strategy to make it easy for individuals to feel confident about colors. 3 Colours Rule was a simple color approach for anyone to understand and apply. Wear two neutral colors and combined them with one primary or secondary color. When the fashion consultancy became a creative agency, I realized the same rule applies to the creation of brands. Most brands are a combination of 3 colors. Moreover, we use colors to help our clients align to their brand values as each color has a psychological meaning. For our brand, we chose red for passion, black for professionalism, and white for trust. 3 colors simply rule.

What is leadership for Flavilla?

Leadership for me is about giving the ability to people to enable the best version of themselves. It’s not telling them what to do but enabling them to become great leaders themselves. It’s also about giving room for individuals to make mistakes and learn from them. After being baldy managed by a CEO who was moody or before then a director who loved micromanagement, I knew what I didn’t want to be. Strangely enough, I learned from the mistakes of bad leaders as much as from great leaders. So when I launched my agency, I wanted to create an environment where my team can express themselves freely, disagree, and feel valued; from the receptionist to the directors. I realized the importance of culture and built within our DNA. It then became effortless to attract the right talent who believed in my vision as much as I did.

Who inspired you to be a leader and why? What motivated you to step up and become a leader?

I found leadership inspiration in so many individuals, including my mother, so it is hard to name only one person. What I have learned is that great leaders create a safe space that allows individuals to blossom. They listen, are avid learners, let go of their ego, and aren’t afraid to share their weaknesses. The greatest leaders don’t believe they are always right, let go and often hire the right people who possess the expertise they donor. Sometimes, wanting to hold all the power as a leader, we become our own burden. I learned to get out of my own way if I want to achieve success for myself and my team. Plus on a regular, I feed my mind with books and audio content from leaders in all fields to discover new approaches that will make me a better leader.

Brand leadership gives validation to your value proposition and attract the sought after stakeholders.

What are some challenges to becoming a good brand leader?

Numbness. It’s human nature to not challenge the status quo, to not question the norms. Two decades ago I realized, I redefined my limits or refused to accept the norms that were given to me. Moving to another country, the perception I had of myself changed and my vision changed too. That’s when I chose to question the norms that needed to be improved. I chose to be vocal, to make people feel uncomfortable so they could learn and reframe their own mindset.

Why do you think brand leadership is important?

Brand leadership is so important for so many reasons. Brand leadership gives validation to your value proposition and attracts sought-after stakeholders. Brand leadership means the power to charge premium rates with no objection from prospects. Brand leadership gives the power to lead and influence the market. Beyond brands, there are humans and we do business with people we like. Brand leadership inspires movements, therefore builds communities, therefore grows brand advocates, and builds legacies.

What has been the most satisfying moment in your career as a leader?

For me, the most satisfying moment of my career was the brand creation of BRIM, Black Representation in Marketing for Facebook, Shell, and other leading brands in the industry. As a black female marketer, the opportunities and the representation of black people have been very poor. Being able to work on a project that means will help many more black entrepreneurs and professionals who are used to not getting a seat at a table meant a lot to me. It’s a movement I was proud to be associated with.

Another satisfying moment was to create The Voices In The Shadow book through my non-profit organization. A book that tells the stories of 51 black women in tech that has been distributed to schools across the UK and Ireland for free. This book has various impacts, it increases the representation of black women in tech, changes the pre-conceived made towards black women and it inspires the next generation.

Are there any brands and/or leadership initiatives that you admire? From clients or anyone else?

I often say, being good at what we do is not enough and I get confused looks at first. If we look up, the planet is in distress and there are too many societal issues for us to ignore. The brands that I admire the most are the ones that have integrated social impact within their brand engagement and actions, such as HSBC, Nike, Levi’s and many more. It’s important to be more than words.

Leadership Lessons

I learned the importance of hiring great people who know more than I do and also giving chances to young talents who are passionate and avid learners. I learned the importance of developing processes and systems soon to get out of my way and allow my team to deliver while I focus on the bigger picture. I never neglect the importance of making my team feel valued and allowing them to take ownership. I learned to say no if it doesn’t align with my vision. I learned the importance to protect my peace.

How can women develop their leadership skills?

Be comfortable being the only one in the room. Be so good at what you do, no one will ignore you. Learning doesn’t stop at schools. It is a continuous journey. When I created my podcast, Tech Brains Talk, it was to help other entrepreneurs succeed while learning along the way. I wanted to be successful leaders and understand their journeys and their strategies.

What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?

Don’t be afraid to speak out and stand for what you believe. Always do what you think is right even if it means going against the status quo. If I wasn’t vocal, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Find your purpose, bring people along the way, and don’t let go of it.

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