Ashwini Gangal

"I have never given a damn about regional jobs": Piyush Pandey, Ogilvy

Piyush Pandey, executive chairman and creative director, South Asia, Ogilvy, on his national creative director Abhijit Avasthi's recent exit, the road ahead, and the best way to strike a balance between one's 'agency job' and other interests.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

How difficult is it for you to let Abhijit go? Of all the things you're feeling right now, which emotion dominates?

It is not easy at all. It's difficult to let anyone, who is a key part of your team, go. Yet, you have to respect the fact that people have their own dreams and that there's a certain age to chase a dream. People expected me to do something like this many years back; I had entertained the thought, and then discarded it for life. So in a way people like Kinu (Abhijit) are doing what I did not do.

We've been talking about it for nine months; I've been reconciling slowly... I feel a sense of loss at this point in time. Of course, on a personal level my relationship with him is for life, but the working relationship is ending and any discontinuity has its own sense of loss, which I will take time to get over.

Of course, it's not like we're parting ways completely. He will be associated with Ogilvy, officially, for two projects, for which he will work with me every week for a couple of days.

On one hand you want what's best for Abhijit but on the other, you want what's best for Ogilvy. Didn't his desire to quit pose a conflict of interest for you? Perhaps you would've worked harder at retaining him if he wasn't your nephew?

It is a bit of a conflict. It's a mixed bag.

There are two ways of looking at it.

One way is - he was doing well at Ogilvy. To give this up for something is... well, questions like, 'Does he really need to do this?' come to mind. For a long time he has been saying, 'I want to do this' and I've been saying, 'Why do you need to do this? Think about it later. Hang in there.'

On the other hand, from the perspective of a youngster, I'd say - 'If you don't do it now, when will you do it?'

There is no greater retention than emotional retention. These are not people that you bargain money, perks and positions with.

For Abhijit, joining a rival agency as creative head is off limits. Is it because of the relationship he has with you? Would a larger, regional role evoke a different reaction?

No, it's not about our relationship.

Will Rajiv Rao (national creative director, Ogilvy India) join as NCD anywhere else? - Impossible.

Will I ever accept the position of chairman at any other WPP company? - No way.

I have never given a damn about regional jobs. Regional jobs are 'distant' and 'administrative'. The job becomes all about advising and guiding. You then end up becoming what I call a 'non-playing captain' of the team. And my boys don't seek that either. They're not the kind who'll want to sit here and tell the Sri Lanka team, 'Okay, you could have changed two words there' or meet the Vietnam team once in six months and tell them, 'Actually, you could have thought of this...'

That's not what they have learnt from me. I could have left this country many years back for many regional jobs. I do sit on Ogilvy's worldwide board, but that is a 'twice a year' kind of a responsibility. To sit and look at the work of Romania, which you know nothing about, and say, 'I am head of the European and African region' doesn't interest my boys.

Regional roles are like going for four weddings in a year, where you have to put on a tie; the other 361 days are when you roll up your sleeves and work.

How much of a priority is it for you to replace Abhijit?

Am I in a hurry to replace him? No. The priority is to find a solution to his responsibilities by distributing his work and empowering others.

If one of the senior CDs rises to the job, then that person will move up.

Filling the seat is not a priority. Does it have to be a dual-NCD scenario? No. I may just put his seat away. If I require it, I'll bring it out again. I may just have three NCDs someday.

There's no denying the fact that his absence might cause some of your clients to think of moving out...

Some people can think of that.

But (for clients) it's a balance between having a big shop in which they have a hero, and having a hero who still doesn't have the large structure that is required for the brand.

A lot of Kinu's clients have not met Rajiv... they'll have to get to know one other now. Rajiv is a man of few words who gets things done in his own quiet manner.

You're doing a project for the power ministry with Madison's Sam Balsara and marketing consultant Sunil Alagh. How difficult is it to balance one's 'agency job' with 'extra-curricular' interests?

Both Sam and I have worked with BJP, so it is like an extension of an account.

I am part of the committee (the energy team) within my personal capacity, as an advisor to the Government. But when we do a campaign for them, what resources will I use? - Obviously Ogilvy & Mather. But I may just say, 'This work should be given to Agency X from America...'

I sit on many boards. I don't sit on the board of say, Dainik Bhaskar, as chairman of Ogilvy; I do so as an industry leader. I sit on the board of MGD (Maharani Gayatri Devi) School. Within what capacity? - As a person. Not every chairman of Ogilvy will be sitting there.

It's the way people who do their jobs are also heads of AAAI (Advertising Agencies Association of India).

It is difficult to find a middle path if one wants to get involved in time-consuming projects.

But people do it all the time. For instance, Prasoon Joshi and R Balki direct films while managing their agency jobs...

That is almost like taking a sabbatical. Sumanto (Chattopadhyay, executive creative director, Ogilvy India) acted in a film. He was out for one month. Then he came back in. But if he wants to do something like that on a continuous basis, then what happens? Then it won't work out.

If Balki says, 'I want to teach at FTII (Film and Television Institute of India),' then he can't have an arrangement with Lowe. But if he wants to make a film every two years... that is acceptable.

When people ask me to be a board member of any organisation, the first thing I ask them is, 'How much of my time will that involve?'

What's your message to Abhijit's team - people who're likely to miss him around the office?

I had a chat with them yesterday. I said, 'Over the next six months, show me what you have learnt from him. This is your chance.'

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