Q&A: Ogilvy’s Miles Young

NEW YORK Miles Young, the new worldwide CEO of The Ogilvy Group, spoke to Adweek senior reporter Andrew McMains about his appointment last week of insider John Seifert as North American chairman — replacing regional co-CEOs Bill Gray and Carla Hendra — why he’s not a fan of co-leadership setups and his expectations for the new regional leader.

Adweek: What do you see in John that makes you think he’ll be a good chairman for North America?

Young: The first thing is you can almost tell that you made the right decision by the reaction you get. My e-mail box is in the midst of a kind of meltdown because the heat of enthusiasm is huge. People like him, respect him, believe in him. He’s got exceptional [emotional quotient] skills. He has qualities that I look for in leaders: they have vision on the one hand but are humble on the other. He also understands what needs to be done to drive the business forward here. That’s the first point. The second point is he has got some breadth. He has worked abroad. He has not just been confined to this market. He has got some global perspective. And I think as the world moves closer [together], that’s a very positive take. Plus, his client experience. He’s the archetypal big client guy and we need that as well. He was hungry for the job, which also helps.

How would you describe his leadership style?

He’s very consultative. He’s consensual in terms of making decisions, but he’s also got a very clear sense of the way things need to go. So, I think his views on what’s needed for a modern communications business in North America are pretty persuasive. Also, for me, the most important thing is that he’s about content — what the business produces. Not necessarily how it does it, but what it actually produces: ideas, excitements, engagements. After a period in the industry that has been fairly hellish generally, a business like ours needs some strong focus on that. We need to remind ourselves what we’re in business for.

So you’re not a fan of joint leadership structures?

Yes.

Why?

At the end of the day, however well meaning they are, they create some confusion as to whom do you go to for what.

Is that why the duo of Bill Gray and Carla Hendra didn’t thrive?

I wouldn’t say they didn’t thrive, but I don’t think it’s a good model. Actually, I think they thrive better than the outside world gives them credit for. But in a curious way, giving credit to a duo is not a very easy thing (laughs). I mean how many times do you write headlines about a duo?

It’s also easier to ascertain performance with a single leader.

You bet.

You also appointed a new chief talent officer and a new chief technology officer. What are the thoughts behind that?

I want to have people that I feel I can work with. Not that I couldn’t work with the others. But in the case of the chief talent officer, [George Rose] had decided that he didn’t want to stay around anyway. I looked there for someone again who has got great listening and communication skills. Marie-Claire Barker has got that. She’s absolutely a people’s person. You have to be that. Again, a very popular choice and, in fact, a very easy choice to make. . . . I was very impressed with the work that she has done on our Gen Y people. She has totally rebuilt the graduate recruitment program in Ogilvy. . . . She’s very sensitive, and she also understands what the Ogilvy brand is about.

What about Yuri Aguiar, your new technology chief?

Yuri is somebody who worked with me in Asia. He’s not moving into exactly the same role but a very similar one. He has done a wonderful job making our technology systems global. Right now, he’s in India, for example, because [we have moved] a lot of our back office [people] to Bombay.

What are John’s priorities coming into this job?

The thing about Ogilvy is that the assets — hard and soft in North America — are actually very good, in my view. What John needs to do is to activate those assets. It’s as simple as that. It’s not even a question of rebuilding something that’s not working. . . . Its pitching record is very good. Its ability to keep the business it won after the pitch is not very good, but that was [due to] bad luck in two cases. If those cases hadn’t worked out that way, the story would be very different.

You’re talking about Wachovia?

Wachovia. Then there was another one, another big one at the beginning of the year. So we have to be a bit watchful before we jump to judgments. There’s an awful lot that’s good here and [we’re] unprecedented in our talent, in my view, particularly in the sweet spots of the business. Particularly in those parts of the business that I believe are important, which are the added-value consulting parts. So it all exists. But what we need is someone to put it together rather more and to take it to market, package it and sell it on a North American basis. That’s my brief to him, really.

Did you look outside for this role and why did you choose to stay inside?

I couldn’t see anyone better, actually. It’s as simple as that. So it wasn’t too difficult a choice. I looked at the obvious suspects in North America and my feeling was that John was actually [significantly] above them in terms of his expertise. Remember, this is a pretty humongous job. It’s running a large matrix and you couldn’t simply pluck someone from, for instance, a classic advertising agency to do this role. Nor could you simply pluck somebody from a pure-play new communications agency. You have to have people who really understand the integrated paradigm and how it works. So in both capability and attitude, I thought John was really above anyone else. Then the final thing I mentioned to you is that he wanted to do the job. That for me is a very large part of what makes a successful candidate.

Are you surprised that he hasn’t been in this kind of role sooner?

He has had country management roles before. In Asia, he ran Singapore.

He has been at Ogilvy 30 years, has got a host of experience and yet, until now, in this market, hasn’t had a top management role. Isn’t that curious?

You have to understand that he and I get along well together. So that’s also an aspect of the mix, isn’t it? And [with me] coming [to New York], I think it suits both of us that we would team up very well. That’s probably the answer to your question.

Is Carla’s primary function to focus on New York?

We want her to focus on New York but also some of the other businesses that exist in North America that she’s closely connected with. She’ll keep a role with them.

Which clients do you envision Bill staying close to?

Morgan Stanley, Time Warner Cable, United Healthcare, Kodak and a few others.

Your announcement mentioned Bill handling network initiatives as well.

These are some projects I have, which I can’t talk to you about at the moment.

Are they of the acquisition variety?

Yes, loosely. But for me, they’re very significant.