Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

30 August 2022

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

Among many cool features of TBWA\HAKUHODO that make up our unique culture, “The Office” would be one of the most fundamental elements – it is where all the Disruption®︎ begins by our pirates.※
(※At TBWA we call ourselves and colleagues “Pirates”. To read more on Pirates Culture please see here!)

Our office is not a run-of-the-mill office building. It is ‘the building’ which those who spent their youth in Japan in the heyday of the bubble economy may have once admired and visited. Once filled with the energy of young people, it had been transformed over time into a huge warehouse. Current Chairman, Ichiro Zama, was one of the people who made the bold decision to renovate the huge warehouse and created an office space that can now be called “the face of TH”.

The office that disrupts conventional thinking and continues to evolve, have received awards including the New Office Promotion Award (awarded by Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Award and Creative Office), and has been globally recognized as one of the “innovative offices of the world”.

Zama shared the behind-the-scenes story on the making of TH office, the secret places and his takes on the role of an office in the new normal era.

Where Disruption begins
Q. Where did the inspiration come from for TBWA\HAKUHODO’s office?

TBWA\CHIAT\DAY\LA. Photo from:

TBWA\CHIAT\DAY\LA. Photo from:

In the early 2000s, it was common for most of Japanese companies to have “neat offices” in high-rise buildings with their desks orderly arranged in rows. At the time before TH was established I was an employee of Hakuhodo, and for about two years starting in 2001, I was on secondment to TBWA\CHIAT\DAY in Los Angeles. I was struck by the office, which looked like a huge warehouse from the outside but so stylish and spacious on the inside. The office was called “CHIAT CITY,” and there was a basketball court or lounge where employees enjoy their breaktime, a bus stop bench and a phone booth in the corridor that looked like streets with outdoor signs. Legendary creator Lee Clow always walked around in an aloha shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, some employees brought their dogs, others were on kickboards…it just looked like a city full of energy, filled with the rebellious pirates’ spirit. The office had a unique and powerful culture that gave the impression of a willingness to move the world through Disruption, which I wanted to bring and apply in Japan.

TBWA\HAKUHODO was founded in August 2006 as a joint venture between TBWA and Hakuhodo, and from that time onward we began the search and planning for a new office space. Then-CEO who also understood the unique culture of CHIAT\DAY office in LA, and other executives including myself, shared the belief that the office was one of the most important factors for bringing together employees with roots in the two different companies and creating synergy by fusing them together as one company. I believed that a change in working environment changes behavior, and a change in behavior changes awareness, which leads to changes in the way we work, creating a more dynamic and creative mindset.

Q. What made you decide on the current building for TH office?

Originally, the warehouse had been left unused with plans to become a bowling alley, but when we found a vacant space on the 5th and 6th floors, we had a gut feeling that this was the right place we’d been looking for. Since it is the equivalent of two floors, the high ceilings would give us more space to explore bold and freer interior design and construction than in an ordinary office building. And having a large open space with no walls or pillars, would make all TH members gather on one floor and make internal communication and interaction between departments overwhelmingly easier. We decided to design an office from scratch that would allow us to maximize our creativity.

Office that never stops evolving
Q. Tell us about the general design concept of the office.

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

I wanted TH’s office to be a “creative wonderland,” an epicenter for the free flow of ideas, unbound by formality and conventions. People coming and going in the large space without walls between teams, and new ideas emerging from the free conversations among these people…Ideas changing form and coalescing to become projects, and in such process, the pirates would become happy and make something that would make the world happy…I believed this kind of place could be called a “creative wonderland”.

Based on this idea, we created the office area on the 5th floor to resemble a “park”. The 5th floor includes a conference room designed to look like a hill, and a spacious Disruption Court (a multi-purpose space that can be transformed for meetings, lunches, parties, etc.) designed to look like a town square.

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

The first floor area that opened in 2012, used to be “the legendary disco” that symbolized the bubble era in Japan. We renovated this area for the use as an office area but since we respected the history of this place, we have dared to retain various aspects that it had during the days of the disco. The bar counter and the entrance ramp are still the same as they were in those days, while then-stage is now used as a lounge space, and then-VIP room is used as a meeting room. We have also installed a new mirror ball to give it more of the atmosphere of those disco days – this is our TH’s sense of fun. This place was once a fountainhead of culture in those days when Japan was full of vitality, and now we would like to continue the vitality and transmitting our creativity to the world.

Q. In front of the main entrance on the 6th floor, there is a billiard table and a lion statue, and you can see the entire office area from a bird’s-eye view.

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

The office functions largely as a place for employees to work, but another aspect of the office is as a place for making presentations to clients. During the days when our office opened, it was common practice for advertising companies to bring in proposals and boards to present to clients’ offices, but we dared to invite client executives and staff members to our office and to hold “Disruption Days” to discuss the branding ideas.
The playful atmosphere and the energy of TH employees that filled the office made open discussions easier, as the clients were able to get away from their everyday corporate framework or hieratic relationship a bit. I found that the entertainment aspect is very effective in unleashing creativity with the clients and partner companies.

Q. Tell us about the 4th floor office area opened in 2020!

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

As TBWA\HAKUHODO continued to grow, we have strategically expanded and transformed our office space from our main offices on the 5th and 6th floors, to the 1st floor, the 9th floor, and finally the 4th floor, to foster and maximize our Disruption Culture.
Recently – especially in the past three years – the world has changed dramatically and it affected the way of work fundamentally. Different working styles have become more accepted, making it more important than ever to meet the needs of each individual. While our previous office areas (1, 5, 6, 9F) were primarily designed for collaboration and co-creation, the newest area on the 4th floor is focused on the “individual” and is a place where pirates can concentrate on planning and developing disruptive ideas freely.

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

The area consists of meeting rooms of various sizes, individual concentration spaces, and 1-on-1 rooms to promote close dialogue, as well as workshop spaces and a manga library. There are also the lounge and café (so popular because of free delicious drinks!) which encourages communication and refreshment. During the COVID-19 years the lounge area was also used as a studio to shoot company events delivered online. I would say it is a place that embodies the fact that our office has been and will be actively evolving to meet a variety of needs and changing times.

Office that fosters culture
Q. Tell us about the experience you enjoyed most in TH office!

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

It would be the parties we used to have for our employees’ and their families and loved ones before the COVID-19 days. Parties themed Christmas, Halloween, Hawaiian Night, Brazilian Samba…I would describe our fun culture as “Work hard, Play hard!” At one party, the parents of one of the employees came and were surprised and grateful that their daughter was working in such a great place. Christmas Party was a regular event and fun every time, but my most memorable moment was when we had a real reindeer from Shonan Animal Productions come and take a family photo with Santa Claus. I used the photo for my personal New Year’s card design.

Q. Are there secret spots in TH office that is not widely known?

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

In fact, next to the meeting rooms that are designed to resemble a “hill” there is a ladder set up and you can actually climb “up the hill”. I liked this space a lot – when I was a CEO, I used to climb up here to refresh a bit or check my e-mail. When there were many people gathered in Disruption Court for company-wide meetings and events, many members would climb up here to participate and have a good view..
Also, since the office site was originally planned to be a bowling alley, we created elements reminiscent of a bowling alley in various parts of the company, including lights lined up like bowling pins, signs in front of the restrooms, etc. You will find those elements in several hidden spots, so I hope employees or visitors will enjoy finding these.

Q. What does TH office mean to TBWA\HAKUHODO? Please tell us how you see the roles of the office in the future, and how you want the TH pirates to think of the office.

The office is where each and every one of us pirates gathers, and I believe it is so important in terms of fostering a culture of Disruption in our behavior and thinking. Even if it changes with the times in the future, I personally would like to stick to a one-floor, open office without both physical or psychological walls between departments.

To our pirates, this may have seemed like a story from the retro analog era, but we have continued to make numerous achievements as a Disruption Company and one of the leading companies in the industry. As times change, the working environment and work methods should be changed to stay one step ahead of the times, and the way we work is a very important theme. In an age where digitalization has progressed and remote work has become the new norm, how should the next office environment change? I encourage us all to think through this and disrupt the conventional way of work, conventional office together.

Make it Smart, Make it Beautiful, and Have Fun – The Inside Story behind TH Office

Ichiro Zama, Chairman, joined Hakuhodo in 1984. In 2000, he was appointed Vice President of G1 Worldwide, the predecessor of TBWA\HAKUHODO. As a founding member, he was involved in the establishment of TBWA\HAKUHODO and was appointed CEO in 2009. During his tenure as CEO, TBWAHAKUHODO was selected as AdAge magazine’s International Agency of the Year in 2011, the first Japanese advertising agency to be selected, and was featured on the cover of the Agency A-List.
He has been in his current position since 2015.

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