Shreyas Kulkarni

The job I was hired to do at FCB Group India is done: Rohit Ohri

The outgoing chief explains his global elevation, the search for his successor, and the creative legacy he is leaving behind at FCB Group India.

Rohit Ohri is going places. The former chairperson and CEO of FCB Group India is moving into a new role as an FCB Global Partner, and he is tasked with one specific mandate: bolster the FCB APAC network.

At a CEO meeting of all FCB agencies held in Mexico earlier this year, “Tyler’s vision was to fire up the APAC network,” says Ohri. Tyler Turnbull is the global CEO, FCB. Ohri will work with him to realise this mandate.

From defining what shape the APAC network should take to not necessarily restricting itself to a creative shop to leveraging some of FCB Group’s parent Interpublic Group’s (IPG) strengths, many options were discussed at that meeting.

Ohri is one of the three FCB Global Partners today. There is Tina Allan, head, data science and connections, and she works with Turnbull. And there is Danilo Boer who is a global partner for creative, and he works with Susan Credle, global chair and global chief creative officer, FCB.

"I don't believe in command and control. I lead from behind. I'm always there for my team if and when they need me."
Ohri on how he doesn't see himself as a ruler.

Sprucing up the fortunes of the APAC network may seem a daunting task, but Ohri may well be experiencing déjà vu. “In my last two years ('14 and '15) at Dentsu, I was CEO, Asia Pacific, and my mandate at the time was to build the Dentsu network in the region,” he quips.

The FCB website lists India, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, and Malaysia as part of its APAC network; places Ohri expects to visit soon.

“My first job is to write the plan which will take me the better half of next year, visit the markets, and detail it.”

Whilst he scans these markets, Ohri will let FCB’s bedrock i.e., ‘Creativity fuelled by diversity, data, and technology’ guide him. “We are not going to do random development of the network, it's about how can we serve in each of the markets,” he remarks.

And before he embarks on this new journey, Ohri was part of the team which searched for his successor at FCB Group India.

“I was ready to do another challenge because the job I was hired to do at FCB Group India is done,” he quips before revealing it took them “six to eight months” before Dheeraj Sinha, the now former CEO of Leo Burnett South Asia and Chairman of BBH India was chosen to succeed him.

It was a global process and there was a head hunter involved, Ohri tells us. “There is a process wherein the first phase you map agencies. At this level, it doesn't come to ‘here are four names you have to talk to’”. CEO Turnbull met the shortlisted candidates at the end and took the call on Sinha to become the new group CEO India and South Asia.

John Thangaraj, group chief strategy officer, FCB Group India, will lead the group’s planning duties going forward.

Advertising is facing a sort of identity crisis today. It is no longer the alluring field it was a few decades ago, the creator economy is luring away the young creative folk with dreams of quick monetisation, and the economic uncertainty doesn’t help either.

Having someone like Sinha with a vast strategy and planning background helps steer a large agency group amid such times. “Yes, he's worked on strategy and digital but, in his last three years he's made the transition from planning to general management, so he's very clear and will be focusing on it,” remarks the FCB Global Partner.

Ohri moves on from FCB Group India after nearly eight years at its helm, and he is very proud of the creative transformation the agency group underwent in this period.

He credits much of this change to two people. The first is Swati Bhattacharya, chief creative officer, FCB India. “She has driven the agency's vision, built the belief that as an agency, we can be a world-beating agency.”

The second is Robby Mathew, vice chairman and chief creative officer, FCB Interface. “They have been my partners in this whole creative journey. I owe a lot of my success to them, and what they bring to the party.”

He also, when asked about whom he looks up to, says, “I do consult Shashi Sinha, CEO, IPG India, a lot because he's been in the system, knows IPG well, and I look to his guidance. And he's quite the icon in the industry.”

Ohri also credits Nitin Karkare, vice chairperson, FCB Ulka; Joe Thaliath, vice chair and CEO, FCB Interface; Kulvinder Ahluwalia, CEO, FCB Ulka; Debarpita Banerjee, CEO, FCB India; Rakesh Menon, chief creative officer, FCB Interface; Keigan Pinto, chief creative officer, FCB Ulka.

“The team is solid,” says Ohri. He believes every organisation needs to be ready for transition and the fact that you don't have succession forced on you, you must have the vision as a leader to have a succession planned. “These are the people who will lead the agency forward and that's the big salute I want to give. They've enabled and empowered this dream, that I had for FCB.”

He does not see himself as a ruler with generals and subjects. “I don't believe in command and control. I lead from behind. I'm always there for my team if and when they need me.”

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