POV: Importing CEOs: Is this the beginning?

By Anushree Bhattacharyya and Shibani Gharat , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Advertising | November 16, 2011
Matt Seddon from Saatchi Philippines will replace Kamal Basu as the Saatchi India CEO. Will it be a new trend? afaqs! speaks to industry experts on how each one could gain from this partnership and whether it will bring the India office close to the network.

This isn't the first time when an Indian agency has imported a CEO from abroad. We have had John Goodman as Ogilvy India's CEO in 2004, or Charles Cadell from Malaysia as the head of Lowe India in 2007. We asked agency heads on how each one could gain from this partnership, and whether it will bring the India office close to the network...

M G Parmeswaran
Executive director and chief executive officer, Draftfcb Ulka

This is not the first time when an agency has got a CEO from one of the network agencies. However, none of them lasted for more than two-three years, forcing agencies to rely on local talent.

The two main challenges for the new CEO are to understand the vale paradigm of Indian principles, and understanding the changing consumer behaviour. While it is a good idea to bring someone from the international market, the move can only succeed in a situation where the agency has large international clients who follow the same standard process across the globe, and the person has the experience of dealing with such accounts.

Piyush Pandey
Executive chairman and national creative director, Ogilvy India

I do not think that an international personality is required to get an Indian agency closer to its global counterparts. Indians are smart and global enough to take the business ahead. In fact, there are fine cases where Indians are heading the global businesses.

Pratap Bose
Chief operating officer, Mudra Group

I do not think this will be a trend as most imported CEOs come here on either contractual term, or for a short while.

Personally, I do not advocate the idea that only local people understand the intricacies of local business, but it is true that for a person who comes from the international market, there are various challenges to be faced like creating a sharp team, as well as a stable relationship between team members. Also, the new head has to balance the relationships with existing clients, which at times, maybe a tricky task, because the client is more familiar with his predecessor's working style.

In terms of how this decision can add value depends on the individual, and his capability to perform and create a fine business model.

Rohit Ohri
Executive chairman, Dentsu India Group

If you go by the Dentsu example, then each region is headed by a local head to manage their businesses as they have a better understanding of their respective markets.

The first real hurdle Seddon will face is to manage the scale of the market, because Philippines is a dot-sized market when compared with India. Next, he will have to understand the complex nature of this market, as well as the clients. As for the company, it will benefit from such a decision, since the person brings a particular skill set, which it did not have so far, or lacked in some areas.

Sushant Panda
Managing partner and chief executive officer, Euro RSCG

I believe there are two things that drive foreign appointments to an Indian agency. First, it depends on the kind of talent pool there exists within that organisation. Second, it depends upon the perspective that the network has in India. If it has a lot of global clients associated, then it is appropriate to have a foreign national as a leader. But, I feel the whole argument is not a valid one. If you have Indians running agencies abroad, then why not have a foreigner running an Indian agency?

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