Ashwini Gangal

"The day I feel I have to be merciless, is the day I'll give up the job": Kunal Jeswani, CEO, Ogilvy India

With a clogged pitch pipeline, countless client meetings and the added mandate of manning the Mumbai office, Kunal Jeswani, CEO, Ogilvy India, is a busy man. But he makes time for a quick interview.

Edited Excerpts.

Edited Excerpts

What has kept you busy these past four months?

It's been hectic.

There's been a lot of client engagement, because when you get into a role like this, the most important thing is to connect with as many clients as one can. I've been spending time meeting them, figuring out what their business needs are, and how we can cater to them.

I'm meeting every client I can. It's not like I'm making a list and saying, 'Okay, these are the top ten clients that I should focus on.'

I'm meeting the ones that need to be met. It's about identifying which clients need my support, where I can help the most... The last thing I want to do is meet people for the sake of meeting people. It's not about pleasantries... It's about getting in where there are difficulties, where there are fires.

When you became CEO, a lot was said about a 'digital guy' getting the top job at O&M. In the 'real world', on a day to day basis, does your digital background help?

On a day to day basis, my job is not a 'digital job'; it's running a company. And a large part of that company thrives on businesses that still focus on mainstream media and other disciplines.

Digital, today, is one of those disciplines. It's one of the services we offer. The task I have, over the next five years, is ensuring it doesn't become a discipline. To make sure it percolates across the organisation and is embedded in every service we offer.

The task is also to ensure our digital unit becomes increasingly specialised and offers specific specialist capabilities.

Such as...?

Such as e-commerce consulting, digital content development, social, digital media and performance marketing. These capabilities exist but need to be honed and sharpened such that people know us specifically for them.

With you at the helm, does Ogilvy participate in more standalone digital pitches than it did before?

Yes, the number of clients who come to us for OgilvyOne (O&M's digital arm) and our digital capabilities is increasing month on month... but not because of me.

Credit goes to Vikram (Menon, president and country head, OgilvyOne) and his team that's doing more than a pitch a week.

In the recent past, Ogilvy has lost some senior members, like Kawal Shoor (former national planning director) and Navin Talreja (former president, Mumbai and Kolkata). How much pressure has this put on you?

A fair amount.

Talent is a huge, an ongoing concern. We lose good people every year, for one reason or another - sometimes people are not happy with what they have, sometimes they feel there is more opportunity outside, sometimes people want to start off on their own.

Does filling the gap worry me? No. There is enough and more talent available in the market to fill the shoes of anyone who leaves. If I leave, there is talent available, both inside the company and outside, to fill the position.

What worries me is losing good talent. The issue is addressing why we lose good people, and understanding how we can retain them, and make them feel like they have strong, long careers here at Ogilvy.

How does one go about doing that?

It begins with understanding that we haven't been the best in terms of training, HR, career paths and talent management. We haven't done a great job on this front; we need to.

Over the next few years I want to fortify this front. It's on my list of things to be done.

What else makes the list? What are your other pressure points?

The whole digital transformation story. That doesn't happen in two or three months. It's not like they make me the CEO and suddenly, day after tomorrow, Ogilvy is this fantastic digital agency and everything's transformed.

We're 1,700 people across the country. There's a lot to be done to take the agency to the point where clients respect our digital chops as much as they respect our advertising chops.

If you ask me, hand on heart, if we're a kick-ass digital agency that can do everything that we want to, today... We're not.

People say your leadership style is very collaborative, that it's less about leading from the top. What do you make of such feedback?

If you ask me what I'm good at, it is getting people to work together. Ogilvy is a humongous company - many disciplines, many geographies, many clients.

How do you get a data guy, an e-commerce guy, a PR guy, an activation guy and an advertising guy to work together? One of the biggest challenges I'm going to face - and that's where I think I'm going to succeed, in terms of leadership style - is being able to bring all these people together and get them to work together... to collaborate.

Others say you need to sharpen your claws, that you're too gentle...

Maybe so, but it's not something I've ever believed in.

A lot of people tell me, 'You need to be ruthless in this job' and 'You need to be really tough with people...' I don't agree.

It's not my style, and won't ever be. The day I feel I need to be merciless with people is the day I'll give up the job. I've run businesses long enough to know that you can get as much out of people by being good to them, as you can by being tough with them.

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