David Ogilvy once said: "Hire people who are better than you are, then leave them to get on with it."
Management at Ogilvy & Mather London in the 80s and early 90s certainly followed that advice - the agency's list of alumni includes Cilla Snowball, Nick Howarth, James Murphy, Johnny Hornby, Simon Bolton, Neil Simpson and Alan Rutherford.
But even if it followed the Ogilvy way to the letter, how did one business manage to produce so many of today's leading lights? A lot of it was down to the culture of the agency and especially the emphasis placed on recruiting graduates, Mike Walsh, the Ogilvy chief executive, EMEA, says.
"In all the years, no matter what the financial difficulties, I consistently held on to having an active graduate recruitment programme," he says.
In 1990, an intake of six graduates included Hornby, Murphy, Howarth and Emma Lawson. Joe Clift, now the head of brand management at Visa, was in charge of graduate recruitment that year.
"It was a very structured recruitment process and had been for many years," he says. "I looked at all the applications and boiled it down to about 100 for first interview, all of whom I interviewed myself. I got that down to about 30, who then came into the agency for day-long interviews with five or six people."
Deciding who to employ was not an easy task, Clift says, and he very nearly didn't take Hornby at all. "He turned up dishevelled and stressed - I think he'd travelled down from Edinburgh - and he was shambolic for the first ten minutes. I took him through because I saw something of the instinctive adman about him, and in the next round he shone."
The Ogilvy culture meant graduates were given plenty of time to settle in, Murphy says. "It had a real university atmosphere - we were called the C&As (the cocky and arrogants), because we hadn't quite lost the arrogance of being students. I had terrible trouble getting in on time even though I lived in Clapham, and Emma (Lawson) once asked the planning director to photocopy his notes for her after a presentation."
Presentations were a feature of the training, Adam Leigh, a former joint managing director at Euro RSCG, says. "The calibre of people who gave lectures was unparalleled. We met the editors of all the national newspapers - that would never happen now."
Ogilvy was the agency of choice for many in the business because of its emphasis on training but also because of the quality of its accounts (which included Guinness, Marmite and Rowntree), the gentlemanly culture that was David Ogilvy's legacy, and the strength of its creative team. "In the 80s, it was an agency that was fuelled by creativity, civility and opportunity," Snowball, the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO chairman, says. It was also ahead of its time in many ways, Simpson, now the global marketing communications director at Vodafone, says. "They were talking about integrating the disciplines even then, way before those kinds of topics became fashionable," he says.
Fast-forward to the mid-90s, though, and many of the people who spent their formative years at the agency had already moved on. The irony for O&M is that, having trained so many of today's leaders, so few of them have remained at the agency.
"The hardest thing about looking at that list is the brain drain," Walsh says. "But you can't accommodate everyone with the top jobs. There was also a sort of seven-year itch with a lot of people - they wanted to prove they could do it somewhere else."
Many ex-employees blame the move to Canary Wharf for the exodus - at the time of the move, transport links to the area were poor. "Everyone didn't leave at once, so they managed to convince themselves that it hadn't been a bad move, but lots left over a three-year period and most of that was down to the move," Hornby says.
The change in ownership was also a factor - WPP overstretched itself when it bought O&M at a price that many analysts considered too high and, for a time, the business struggled to deal with the debt it had taken on when interest rates were rising.
A side-effect of the acquisition has been a change in the kinds of accounts that the agency holds - today, more group business than domestic accounts.
"That is a challenge for all of the networks," Hornby adds. "Talented people want to use their skills and develop strategy and advertising, not get handed stuff from overseas to adapt and send back for approval."
It is very difficult to imagine such a long list of alumni coming out of any one agency today. "Advertising was a lot more popular among graduates in those days; the volume of applications was huge," Walsh says. "Then the City came along, the industry had two recessions and everyone saw the headlines about redundancies and how hard it was to find a job. The proportion of great people applying to the industry is nowhere near as high as it was and it won't be as high again."
SOME OGILVY ALUMNI
Simon Bolton - chief executive, UK and Ireland, JWT
Oliver Cleaver - European marketing director, Kimberly-Clark
Joe Clift - head of brand management, Visa Europe
Peter Cowie - business development director, JWT
Micky Dennahay - chief executive, Guzel Sanatlar/Bates, Istanbul
Nick Emery - chief strategy officer worldwide, MindShare
David Furnish - filmmaker and Elton John's partner
James Heneage - managing director and founder, Ottakar's
Johnny Hornby - managing partner, CHI
Nick Howarth - managing director, HHCL/Red Cell
Carl Johnson - founder, Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow Johnson
Emma Lawson - head of account management, WCRS
Adam Leigh - former joint managing director, Euro RSCG
Sez Maxted - managing director, Draft
David Muir - chief executive, The Channel
James Murphy - managing director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
Sarah Palmer - managing director, Big Green Door
Mark Patterson - chief executive, MindShare North Asia
Mandy Pooler - former chief executive, The Channel
Ben Priest - creative director, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
Andrew Robertson - president and chief executive, BBDO Worldwide
Charlie Rudd - deputy managing director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty
Guy Ruddle - presenter, BBC Radio Five Live
Alan Rutherford - global media director, Unilever
Hugh Salmon - founder, The Salmon Agency
Neil Simpson - global marketing communications director, Vodafone
Rob Smith - founder, Farm
Cilla Snowball - chairman, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Clive Tanqueray - head of Nike, Wieden & Kennedy Amsterdam
Phil Teeman - head of Unilever, MindShare
Anne-Marie Verdin - former marketing and communications director,
Tom Vick - joint managing director, DFGW
Nick Waters - chief executive, MindShare South-East Asia
Mark Wnek - columnist, The Independent
GRADUATES OF THE OGILVY & MATHER SCHOOL OF ADVERTISING
- Cilla Snowball, chairman, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
Snowball joined Ogilvy & Mather in 1983 as an account manager on Rowntree and Lever Bros and worked her way up to new-business director before leaving for AMV in 1992. "Twenty years ago, the market was booming and everyone at the agency was young and ambitious, it was a great time," she says. "When I joined it was a well-led, well-run place to work and all of us that were there still have a lot of affection for each other. There was a real sense of friendship and partnership, both internally and externally."
What Ogilvy taught me "I took away so much from it, but what it comes down to is that if you achieve the balance of creativity, civility and a great place to work, then you will have a great business. Leadership is everything."
- Nick Howarth, managing director, HHCL/Red Cell
Howarth was one of the 1990 graduate intake and stayed for five years as an account manager and director. "It was such a great bunch of people, James (Murphy) and Johnny (Hornby) are still my closest pals in the business," he says. "The agency had huge amounts of integrity - it was a charming and wonderful place to start your career and was incredibly supportive. I remember applying to ten agencies but Ogilvy was the agency of choice. It belonged to an era when agencies had more luxury to offer that sort of environment."
What Ogilvy taught me "When I joined, they took a lot of time hiring brilliant people, making sure they were happy and creating a working environment to suit them and that's what I try to do."
- Nick Emery, chief strategy officer worldwide, MindShare
Emery started at Ogilvy in 1992, running the Guinness, Microsoft, IBM and Duracell accounts and left five years later to help set up MindShare.
"It wasn't so much that I thought it would be a fantastic, dynamic place to work - the attraction for me was the range of creative accounts; the agency was doing some good work and had well-integrated teams. It gave us all a strong grounding in the basics," he says.
What Ogilvy taught me "The Ogilvy ethos: the people there were gentlemanly, caring and slightly traditional but challenged convention at the same time. They cared about their people but were entrepreneurial. It's hard for agencies to do anything similar now that they don't have the media department to pay for it."
- James Murphy, chief executive, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R
Murphy joined as a graduate in 1990 and was quickly moved on to some big accounts including Ford, Guinness and Save the Children, before he left in 1994. "It was a really well-rounded introduction to the business because O&M had such a good spread of FMCG, automotive and beer brands," he says.
What Ogilvy taught me "Three things, all of which came from David Ogilvy. Always hire and promote people who are better than you - I've made a career of riding on other people's talent. Don't underestimate the consumer, she's your wife - that sounds sexist now but you'd be amazed how many discussions in ad agencies still patronise the consumer. And that strong agency cultures are built on strong individuals."
- Simon Bolton, chief executive, JWT
Joining in 1981, Bolton had a career in account management before moving to Ogilvy Thailand in 1987 and then returning to the UK in 1995 to run American Express. "There was a lot of mystery and mystique to the business," he says. "They taught you the nuts and bolts at a time when there was much less business taught at university. I remember being addressed by Michael Baulk early on, and him saying we were the lifeblood of the industry and that we could even be his boss in the future."
What Ogilvy taught me "All about teamwork. The strong team ethos there formulated a lot of my thinking about teams. They were very good at communicating from the top down and there was a strong sense of mentorship, which we all need at times - you need someone to turn to at any age."
- Joe Clift, head of brand management, Visa Europe
In 1983, Clift was hired as a graduate trainee and went on to run graduate recruitment himself. He stayed at Ogilvy for 15 years in local and global roles before moving to client side. "When you're in your mid-20s and you're all competing with each other and trying to move up, you don't really think about what's happening but in retrospect it was amazing to have all those people there at the same time," he says.
What Ogilvy taught me "I took away lots of experience on how to recruit. It was a structured, time-consuming process but luckily it was concentrated into a short period of time. I look at Johnny (Hornby), Nick (Howarth), James (Murphy) and Emma (Lawson) and it gives me huge pleasure that they have risen to the top so quickly."
- Neil Simpson, global marketing communications director, Vodafone
Another graduate trainee, Simpson started at Ogilvy in 1988 in the same intake as Ben Priest, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R's creative director, who actually began his career in account management. "There was a lot of energy at the time, it was a big multinational with well-respected clients and it was lot of fun," Simpson says. "Getting a place there as a graduate trainee felt like you'd got into the university of advertising."
What Ogilvy taught me "As part of the grad scheme there was a session on dressing a room and pouring coffee. I was dismissive of it at the time, but it's part of what they taught us about professionalism and attention to detail as well as the basic business methodology of developing and evaluating advertising."
- Tom Vick, joint managing director, DFGW
Vick joined Ogilvy as a graduate in 1991 and stayed for nearly eight years in various account management roles and as the new-business director, a position he achieved at the tender age of 26. "It was a really vibrant place with a great balance of local and global business. Guinness, Bupa, Fisherman's Friend - the reel stacked up against any agency in town," he says. "We used to go out together every night and it was like being in the bar with your mates - that's not something you can force."
What Ogilvy taught me "The management team at the time were very good at making sure you understood the Ogilvy way - doing business in a common-sense, rational way, treating people fairly and making sure that you always hire people who are better than you."
- Adam Leigh, ex-joint managing director, Euro RSCG
Leigh was a graduate trainee in 1987 and was made an account director after three years, before leaving in 1996 as the agency's new-business director. "It was a kind, caring and nurturing environment, you felt you could have a long career there - I only left in the end because I felt I had to try working in a different environment," he says. "I was lucky enough to have three offers from agencies as a graduate, but everyone said I'd be mad not to go to Ogilvy."
What Ogilvy taught me "All the rules I stick to now about how to look after clients, how the business should operate. I loved the feeling of tradition about the place and we all made some great friends and contacts while we were there - I'm doing a project for Johnny Hornby now and he once worked for me at O&M."
- Johnny Hornby, managing partner, Clemmow Hornby Inge
Another of the 1990 graduate intake, Hornby stayed at Ogilvy for four years in account management roles.
"It was a place that trained brilliantly and taught you all about advertising," he says. "At the time, Ogilvy was always in the running for Agency of the Year and there were good teams working on great ads.The atmosphere created by working with loads of brilliant people was amazing to have in a first job."
What Ogilvy taught me "I suppose it was how to be professional and the importance of having strong moral fibre and of training people properly. Lots of things about the Ogilvy way have become outdated now, but the values remain relevant. It's no coincidence that all of the people who worked there at the time went on to do so well."