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Ogilvy’s global CEO on making a succession plan work at Ogilvy India

By Amit Bapna, APAC editor-at-large

September 28, 2023 | 8 min read

The agency’s global chief exec Devika Seth Bulchandani and executive chairman for India Piyush Pandey tell The Drum how they’ve approached the often tricky task of introducing fresh blood to a long-established leadership team.

Behind Ogilvy India's succession plan

Devika Seth Bulchandani and Piyush Pandey

Ogilvy India recently announced its succession plans in the presence of Ogilvy’s global chief executive, Devika Seth Bulchandani, who had flown in from her home ground in New York.

Among the big changes, Piyush Pandey, a veteran of 41 years at the agency, will be moving on from his current role of chairman of global creative & executive chairman and will be taking on the position of chief advisor.

While Pandey will continue to work closely with major clients and the agency team, he will do less day-to-day administrative work and spend more time as a mentor and guide. “For me, my hobby and my work are the same – I would be very much around,” he says.

Hephzibah Pathak’s elevation to executive chairperson marks a major milestone as she becomes Ogilvy India’s first-ever woman in this role. An old Ogilvy hand, Pathak has been part of the senior leadership at the agency and will lead and drive the company’s strategic direction, growth and transformation agenda.

Ogilvy India’s new chief exec will be VR Rajesh, who is currently Ogilvy India’s group president and another of its home-grown talents. One of his key tasks will be responsibility for running the agency’s operations across offices in India and all its business units.

SN Rane, group executive co-chairman of India & chief operating officer of South Asia, will work as business advisor to Ogilvy Asia Pacific. He will continue to advise on various business operations and planning issues for the region’s offices.

The agency's three chief creative officers – Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Kainaz Karmakar and Sukesh Nayak – will be joining the Ogilvy India board. Chief strategy officer Prem Narayan also joins the board. The quiet and astute planner Narayan has also been at the agency for many years.

Devika Seth Bulchandani and Piyush Pandey talked The Drum through the big changes.

On dealing with succession planning

Devika Seth Bulchandani: “In general as an industry, we’re not good at it. One of the reasons we’re not good at it is because all that we have is talent, and talent tends to move around and it’s a vicious cycle.

“Now while talent is our secret superpower, there’s a limited supply of talent. So, succession planning for that reason, is hard.

“It’s funny that you asked this question because just the other day I was talking about it to somebody at WPP about how can we get better at it.

“I’d say Ogilvy by and large, is much better than most other agencies when it comes to succession.”

The Ogilvy India plan

Devika Seth Bulchandani: As usual, Mr Piyush Pandey has done what is needed and done it so well. He is the man with the ideas and culture and magic - whatever he does, whatever he touches turns to gold. No wonder succession planning at Ogilvy India has been so seamless.

“Today Ogilvy is a brand because it has a very deep culture backed by a core of innovation, constant evolution and excellence. As a result, people here have stayed a long time.”

Why now?

Piyush Pandey: By the way, what we have announced here is not an overnight thing. We’ve been talking about it for a long time and doing it now. Most of the people have been part of the bench at Ogilvy for many years.

“I’m so glad that it’s happening at a time when we are all behind it, and not forced into it. We are taking the front foot here as opposed to a reaction to something. It’s been talked about. It’s been planned, and there’s been no earth-shattering urgency either.”

The fear of change

Piyush Pandey: “There is no fear. If we had got someone from outside I would have been apprehensive. When we have done it with people who have been around for so long with the system, it seemed the obvious choice and hence without any fear.”

One word of advice for the new top bench

Piyush Pandey: “There’s something that both of us have in common – do great work but never lose your humility. That is what makes us the Ogilvy that keeps us where we are.”

Is this Ogilvy 2.0?

Devika Seth Bulchandani: “I don’t think it’s a version thing. Evolution is a natural phenomenon for any thriving organization. To me, this is just part of the organization moving forward. We have to constantly evolve. Because if we don’t, then you need a revolution and 90% of the time that’s a disaster.”

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Ogilvy’s Asia footprint

Devika Seth Bulchandani: “In Asia, the two superpowers have been China and India, and given that China is currently facing some macro-economic challenges, India’s position for any multinational company has become even more elevated which makes me very happy.

“Southeast Asia’s operation is very strong for us. Singapore is a big market as our hub and also as a key local market. China is a very strong market for us, notwithstanding the current situation. Then we have a very strong presence in Australia and a robust presence in Vietnam and Indonesia.”

Highlights of the Ogilvy India chapter

Devika Seth Bulchandani: “Ogilvy India is undeniably known for its creative prowess. A little less known fact about the India office is its technology practice where over 1000 people are working in Coimbatore in Southern India. That’s going to be a space that is worth watching.

“One of the things that we have been discussing is how we look at India from a different perspective. How India can become a base for us to be able to do work for the rest of the world, as opposed to being just the Indian market and itself.”

Reflecting on one year as Ogilvy’s global CEO

Devika Seth Bulchandani: “Cannes 2022 was a big moment where we were the network of the year. It was great with all of us coming together after the pandemic.

“Of the big wins, Ogilvy just won the Verizon business in the US, which is one of the biggest brands in the US. Winning one of the biggest pitches is a big one for us too. Also, for Ogilvy, the volume button has been a little lower in the US than in some of the other markets.

“The way the team came together and the excellence that they displayed - that felt like a real marker of moving forward.”

Agencies Agency Leadership Ogilvy

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