Ogilvy Chief Miles Young Is Busy Reinventing a Troubled Agency

So don't expect a Christmas card

Some five years ago, Coca-Cola’s Jonathan Mildenhall took his first tour of Asia after assuming the company’s top marketing job, and as one would expect, Miles Young, then regional chief of Coke roster shop Ogilvy & Mather, took his client out on the town, in his own inimitable way. In Bangkok, Young treated Mildenhall to a meal at a streetside joint where the Ogilvy exec ordered in the local dialect and they dined on bowls of steaming noodles served on a Formica tabletop.

“I expected an expat living in an expat bubble—but he’s not a British guy, he’s not an expat,” Mildenhall says of the man who now runs the global agency out of the U.S. “He understands local culture, especially street culture,” Mildenhall continues. “There has been a lot of Ogilvy management establishment in New York, but Miles is truly a global leader who lives in the world.”

So much for the bygone era of elegant client lunches in midtown Manhattan where Ogilvy brass would expect the coffee at the end of a meal to be served with a piece of new business. In the years before Young’s ascension, the agency was largely run by Americans imbued with a kind of insular elitism reflecting one of the bluest of advertising’s blue-chip clubs. New business largely came by way of personal connections, with former CEOs functioning as agency ambassadors, swooping into some far-flung office before moving on to the next dot on the map.

Young, who just marked his fourth anniversary as Ogilvy’s worldwide CEO, is forging a new way of working in that role. Like his much-respected predecessor Shelly Lazarus, he has spent most of his career at the agency, championed integrated communications and been a leader in direct marketing. But the differences between the two are telling: Young has never been part of the American advertising club; rather, he is a global player who built Ogilvy Asia into the dominant presence in the world’s fastest-growing market.

In transitioning to the New York headquarters, Young brought that same aggressive ambition and revamped view of the industry’s future. And he has made new business an urgent pursuit. Since his arrival, Ogilvy has won global business from UPS, Kimberly-Clark, S.C. Johnson and Philips. Meanwhile, Ogilvy Group’s worldwide revenue in that time has grown 15 percent to an estimated $2.3 billion.

Yet while highly regarded in Asia, Young remains little known in the states. He certainly wasn’t the obvious choice for the top job. But in talking to Martin Sorrell, CEO of Ogilvy parent company WPP Group, he makes it clear that Young had already played a larger corporate role. Apart from running Ogilvy Asia-Pacific, Young served as a de facto WPP chief in the region, supporting acquisitions and developing talent.

“Miles has a deep understanding of Ogilvy and its culture and its importance within WPP,” Sorrell said in an interview with Adweek. “Historically, our leaders just focused on their own companies.”

Sorrell first approached Young about the job at the end of 2007, at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China. The two met for a drink (during which they were interrupted for a chat with Jordan’s Queen Noor). But taking the position wasn’t such an easy decision for Young.

In Asia for 13 years, Young had doubled the region’s revenue to $500 million between 2003 and 2008 and built out operations in China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Pakistan as he expanded practice disciplines. Along the way, Young fell in love with Asia and lived amid the lush vegetation in Hong Kong’s exclusive Peak District, with its sweeping views of the harbor and the city. The adman vacationed at his Sri Lanka plantation and sought out local regional artists, acquiring a stunning collection of Asian paintings and sculpture.

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