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Changing of the guard

Southern Thailand’s leading English-language media company, Class Act Media, is experiencing a mile-stone transition. This young but rapidly growing organization is seeing a leadership change of sorts, with its Managing Director Simon Samaan returning to his native Australia, and his compatriot, General Manager Jason Beavan, due to step up to oversee all the company’s operations at its headquarters in Kathu District.

By The Phuket News

Monday 13 October 2014, 09:00AM

These include The Phuket News – Phuket’s highest-circulation English-language weekly, Novosti Phuketa – the island’s only Russian-language weekly, Live 89.5 – Phuket’s only English radio station, and The Phuket News TV – Phuket’s English-language TV broadcaster.

The Class Act Media story is an extraordinary narrative of hard work and deft entrepreneurship, even by Phuket standards. In 2007 Samaan decided to treat himself to a sabbatical in Phuket, following the sale of his first business, a company he had started from scratch in Sydney.

“I had been to Phuket before and really liked this wonderful island, but never had the luxury of spending enough time there,” he says.

However, this tropical milieu soon activated the entrepreneur in Samaan. And it wasn’t long before he embarked on a new venture, a monthly magazine called The Phuketian.

Duly, one thing led to another. “The idea for Class Act Media grew from publishing that magazine. Things expanded from there, as I had always believed that Phuket was big enough for a multi-platform media company.”

Seeking a kindred spirit with whom to turn this vision into a reality, Samaan hired Beavan.

As Samaan explains it: “I met Jason when I was interviewing for a second staff member for the magazine. The business was growing well, and I needed more time to implement my ideas. Apart from obviously being much taller than me, I was also very impressed with his professionalism when he came in for the interview. The fact that we had apparently once lived very close to one another in Sydney, probably also helped.

“Jason immediately struck me as seeming thoroughly professional, hard-working and eager to learn more – all qualities that are not that easily found in one person.”

Here, Beavan picks up the story.
“Class Act Media came into being by necessity really. The magazine had grown to a point that it could not expand any more. As with all endeavours, if you are not growing, you are dying. Therefore a more ambitious media business plan was drawn up by Simon and myself.

“Simon, having an accountancy background, put together a spreadsheet of expenditures. If printed it would have filled an entire football field! And I planned the sales and marketing strategies – an outline that could fully occupy the whole of the back of a business card. After putting the two together, we knew it would work, though, we had a demanding but workable and achievable plan.

Step by step, Class Act Media took shape and rapidly grew, but not without plenty of “hard yards” (to use an Australian colloquialism), and long hours from Samaan and Beavan.

Today it occupies a special place on the island – for readers, listeners and viewers who depend on the information it provides, as well as the engaging content it delivers across many media.

Samaan highlights five particular notable achievements concerning the company’s formation and growth.

“Firstly, I think it was the fact that I had no investors and starting the company on a shoe-string budget. Perhaps my accounting background helped in the challenging early days, with sound budgeting and cash-flow management.

“Secondly, we managed to start and sustain a successful business in a foreign country after being here for a very short time. That was never going to be easy especially with the obvious language barrier and excessive red-tape.

“Thirdly, we managed to grow rapidly in a relatively short period of time whilst maintaining our systems integrity and not compromising on offering a high standard of service to our clients.

“And finally, it’s integrating all major media platforms – print, web, radio and TV – under one roof, including a Russian-language newspaper, which I actually can’t even read myself.

“This might sound a lot easier than it really is but it’s actually a very difficult thing to do, especially when dealing with professionals with expertise of one of these platforms, but who may not necessarily have a background in overall multi-media commerce. I believe we’ve done this quite successfully and continue to do it well.”

Above all, there’s the overarching dimension common to almost all successful and enduring enterprises. “I truly believe that the secret to the success of any company is having the right people. And I am blessed to have an amazing team here, though perhaps I will take some credit in that, by creating a supportive, relaxed, yet extremely professional, fair and hard-working environment,” Samaan explains.

On the issue of hiring, Samaan has this to say. “Staff is the most important asset a service-orientated company can have. We take our hiring extremely seriously, and I think this is reflected in the quality of staff who work here.

“We mostly look for attitude rather than skills. I’m a big believer in the adage: ‘you can train skills but you can’t train attitude’.

“So if we interview someone and it becomes apparent that they lack a specific skill but really want to work for the company, then we will hire them and train them on that missing skill-set. I believe this has certainly proved to be a winning formula thus far.”

“Another key to the success of any business is honesty. It’s not always about having lots of capital but also about being honest to your clients, suppliers and staff. If people trust you, they’ll want to do business with you”

Time to rewind for some background on Class Act Media’s founder. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Samaan has a Coptic Egyptian heritage. (And indeed “Samaan” is one of the very oldest Christian surnames known to be currently in popular usage.)

By profession, Samaan is an accountant and has worked as one in both Sydney and London. “Having such a background certainly gave me a great foundation for the business world,” Samaan says.

QSI International School Phuket

But his life story belies the clichéd stereotype of a deskbound number-cruncher. Samaan’s working life has been adventurous and varied.

As a qualified EFL teacher, he taught in Spain while also learning the language of the Iberian country.

Later, back in Sydney, he built a business that facilitated internships for international students in Australia, and which also provided educational tours.

“The idea was still new to the Australian market and it was a real ‘slog’ in the early days, as we had to explain to employers what exactly an ‘internship’ meant before we could even do any selling.

“Eventually and with probably some luck I believe I was in the right place at the right time, for demand for internships grew and grew. The business was eventually bought out in 2007 by Australia’s biggest university – Monash University.

“Throughout that time I also studied and qualified as a registered migration agent – which is something I also do on the side.”

Like Samaan, Beavan hails from Sydney. “Not far from the grounds of the mighty Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs [a rugby league football club].

Professionally Mr Beavan has worked his way up the old-fashioned way. “I’ve always been a sales/customer-service professional, and started my career by selling shoes on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings while I was still at school.

“Then moved into hospitality at 17, starting as a bellman at what many consider as the best hotel in Australia, The Regent in Sydney. My last job in that industry was banquet sales manager for a large Sydney city hotel.”

As for their two Australian’s working relation, Mr Samaan says: “I expect a lot from my staff, especially Jason, but I believe I’m also fair and give credit when credit is due.

“My expectations of Jason are probably endless, and at times I have to step back and tell myself that I’m probably asking for way too much. Saying that I also believe Jason is the sort of person who thrives under pressure and is also always looking to achieve more. He understands my vision and ideas, but also has plenty of his own too.

“We’ve certainly butted heads on occasion. But being both down-to-earth individuals from very similar backgrounds – both growing up in the working-class suburbs of Sydney – has meant that it’s always back to normal five minutes later, and nothing that can’t be sorted over a drink or two.

“I really couldn’t feel any safer leaving the company in such capable hands.”

Cue for a quip from Jason, infamous at Class Act Media for his wisecracks. “My working relationship with Simon? Even better after Simon leaves … ha ha. Joking aside, Simon has helped me grow in to the person I am today, and I know I will continue to learn from him. We do not always see eye to eye, but I think that is one of the main reasons why we are where we are today – I guess you could say we balance each other out.”

Looking ahead, Samaan says: “Class Act Media has only been going for three-and-a-half years. So I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of our potential yet. The future involves expansion to other provinces and newer media platforms. The future is bright, as they say.”

Samaan will shortly be assuming more of a back-seat role, with his family’s relocation back to Sydney, and Beavan taking over the wheel.

We’ve set up a fully integrated system and our IT platforms are second to none,” Samaan explains. I can even check what meetings my staff are having online. This means that apart from travelling back to Phuket every couple of months or so, my role will be mostly just liaising with Jason and thinking of new ideas and strategies for the growth of the company.

Beavan is similarly upbeat. “With the team we have in place, and most of our staff having been with us for some time, there is only one way that we will evolve: bigger.

But it’s not all work and no play for this pair of hard-driven individuals with lofty standards. For Samaan it’s cricket that helps him unwind away from work.

“It’s an excellent sport because of its ‘socializing’ aspect, and something I also love playing when time allows.”

You can take the Aussie out of Australia but you can’t take Australia out of the cricket-playing Aussie.

“But above all, I like spending time with my family and basically just giving my mind a rest.”

Beavan, also a parent, says: “When I want to relax, you will find me at home, playing around on the floor with my young kids, with me pretending to be a dinosaur or some other fearsome creature. But I’m usually no match for the little ones!

“Much-cherished family time aside, often work appointments feature in my weekends. That said, I can’t complain: I’m very lucky that these usually involve me attending some of the best events in the most beautiful locations on the island.”



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