The World: Insider's View - India

While many Asian countries have a fair number of foreign faces working in their ad industries, India is a notable exception - the vast majority of its talent is homegrown.

"With one billion Indians, who needs you?" Indians are straight talkers and Indian journalists never worry about sparing the feelings of their victim. Hence this question, posed over the phone a few days after the announcement that I was relocating to Mumbai to take over as the chief executive at Ogilvy India.

Despite politically correct posturing, there are still many opportunities for ex-pats in Asia as the markets expand. One market that has never seen an influx of foreigners, however, is India.

Directly after independence in 1947, most of the second-rate journeymen who had been dumped in India faded away politely and were replaced by homegrown leaders. In the past five years, this indigenous talent pool has exploded, with Indian advertising achieving top-table status - marked most symbolically by the appointment of my partner, Piyush Pandey, as the first Asian chairman of the Cannes jury.

Therefore, being the first foreigner in Ogilvy for 30 years, and one of just two-and-a-half Western expats working in the Indian market, has been a bit of an eye-opener. The most unnerving experience so far was to sit in the audience of an industry forum as an Indian industrialist ranted about the failure of the Indian ad industry to stand up to foreigners in general, and WPP in particular, only to realise half the audience (or so it seemed) was staring at me as the sole representative of both iniquitous tribes.

Generally, it has been wonderful. The people are warm and friendly; the places to visit and see offer a range of experience that makes India a microcosm of global ecology and economy. The challenges businesses face are unique and exciting. Where else do you work not in one or two different official languages, but 22? In fact, in many ways, operating in India is more akin to a continental experience. When you cross the land border from one state to another, the language may change, the laws will be different, the people will both look and think differently - even the scenery and the way of building may vary.

And then there's the work. The hottest new piece we have is a 90-second epic filmed for the launch of the Indian-owned Bajaj motorbike, the Discover.

We hired Jackie Chan to star as a monk who has resisted every temptation except this bike. In a land where Bollywood actors appear in every other ad, it was a brave move.


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