Feature

Young swaps Asia success for the global stage

Ogilvy Group's new global chief executive is looking to replicate his great success with Ogilvy APAC.

Miles Young...new chief executive of Ogilvy Group
Miles Young...new chief executive of Ogilvy Group

Ogilvy Group's new global chief executive is clearly a likeable man. Shelly Lazarus chose a WPP press release to express her feelings for the 53-year-old Englishman who succeeds her in January with the words: "I love Miles Young."

Even the vocal Neil French, with whom Young had the odd run-in during his time as the creative director of Ogilvy Asia-Pacific, is lost for a mean thing to say about him.

In true Ogilvy fashion, Young's rise has been steady rather than meteoric. After spells at Lintas and Allen Brady & Marsh, the Oxford graduate joined Ogilvy London in 1983 as an account director. Seven years later, he was the managing director of O&M Direct.

In 1995, he moved to Hong Kong to run Ogilvy APAC, a job he has done ever since. Clearly not Filth (Failed in London, tried Hong Kong), Young was seen as the man to take Ogilvy up a gear in Asia, where the agency was strong but punching under its weight.

Ogilvy APAC, while already big, lacked a sense of urgency before Young arrived, recalls Tim Isaac, who succeeds Young as the regional chairman. And the network was patchy: small in China, tiny in Vietnam and non-existent in Japan. India was not fully owned and Australia was weak.

An early step was to invite the entire network to a regional meeting. Young saw to it that most of Ogilvy APAC attended a summit in Thailand and descended the Mekong river in a large flotilla of canoes.

Young explains: "I'd been reading about the Mayans and how they aligned their empire. They drew everyone together at intermittent periods in great tribal gatherings. Running a large disparate network, if you don't do that, you build bureaucracy, not community."

Less cuddly steps followed. "I was told that China was a black hole, invest in it at your peril," he says. "Our aggressiveness early on has paid off. I was instructed not to enter Japan, but we did and now we have a distinctive operation there. I was told our joint venture with Singleton in Australia wouldn't work, but it has."

Some sneer that Young's job was made easier by preferential treatment from WPP, which they say has invested in Ogilvy more lavishly than siblings JWT, Young & Rubicam or the ailing Bates141. Young's role as WPP's de facto chairman in Asia, giving him a hand in acquisitions, supports that theory.

Whether the theory is true or not, Ogilvy has grown into a top-three agency in most countries in Asia, and employs 6,800 people. Revenues have doubled, to $500 million, in the past five years.

It is Young's "paranoia" that has driven the network, Isaac says. "Miles has never raised his voice to me in disapproval or anger, but he often left me feeling that he should have done. He is constantly pushing and probing for things to be done better by the client."

Young is happy to admit that his approach verges on obsessive. "God is in the details," he says. "I had it drilled into me as an account executive to always check the menu card. This is critical when running a large network. Either you run it or it runs you. There is no middle way."

Some snipe that, while Young may be a good business builder, he is not driven by creative work. French would argue that this is irrelevant as Young has always hired the best people to worry about the work for him, then leave them to it.

In Tham Khai Meng, Young has had Asia's most awarded creative at his side as the regional creative director and - very deliberately - co-chairman. Asia-Pacific is consistently the most awarded part of the network, shunting Ogilvy Worldwide into third spot in the Gunn Report last year.

While Ogilvy has been named network of the year by Campaign's Asian sister title, Media, with wearisome regularity, there have been blips. The saying goes that big pitches in Asia are not anyone's to win, they are Ogilvy's to lose. But being beaten by TBWA to Singapore Airlines in a pitch last year was enough for some to suggest that Ogilvy is not the force it once was.

Not winning SingTel, Singapore's biggest advertiser, in a pitch in January was also a blow, as was a review for unhappy client Malaysia Airlines, called in August. "Ogilvy was the pre-eminent creative agency in Asia," an equally senior executive at a rival network says. "That is not true today."

Richard Pinder, now the chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide, followed Young to Ogilvy London, then followed him to Asia to run Leo Burnett. He says that Leo Burnett won agency of the year during his time in Asia partly because it was impossible for Young to keep Ogilvy at its peak every year.

Steve Gatfield, the chief executive of Lowe Worldwide, thinks Young's biggest test will be on his doorstep: New York, where Ogilvy has performed indifferently in recent years. "Ogilvy New York is still a strong business which grew rapidly on the back of IBM, but there is the need to renew and refresh it. The risk with a US-based global role is that global stuff becomes the focus and the US is not dealt with."

Young argues that while New York "does not need fixing", there is a lack of confidence in the US market brought on by the recognition that "not everything begins and ends in New York", and the collapse of the traditional business model, he says.

"Three hundred and sixty-degree thinking is still relevant, and at its root is the need for big ideas and the need to measure them. But we need to ensure that advertising continues to be nourished. I'm not being a Luddite - I couldn't be less Luddite - but TV is still the most effective medium."

Young rubbishes the notion that Ogilvy is run like a collection of fiefdoms. But he concedes that Ogilvy "does not network enough" as a global entity. "Ogilvy draws its strength from being strong in critical markets, but we need to do more to become one agency with one culture."

In doing this, he is desperate to do right by Lazarus and the agency's founder. "The first time I met David (Ogilvy), he flopped down like a big Labrador and we chatted for an hour. It always amazed me how he would spend time with the people you'd least expect him to."

Young has taken a similarly personal approach in Asia, and will be hoping his charms work for him on Madison Avenue come January. "The emperors of Rome had the right idea. Disguised in togas, they would mix with the masses and listen to the gossip. David had that gift."

THE INDUSTRY ON YOUNG

- Neil French, Owner, World Press Awards; former creative director, WPP:

"We had one disagreement in the eight years we worked together, and that was only me being prickly. Miles is charm on legs and has a brain the size of a planet. If there is a downside, it's his taste in tailors. His smartest move was to take it slowly in the beginning. It wasn't 'my way or the highway'."

- Richard Pinder Chief operating officer, Publicis Worldwide:

"Miles is a brilliant organiser, inspirer and energiser. While I have huge respect for Shelly Lazarus, for the past five to eight years we've worried less about Ogilvy Worldwide. Now we're a lot more worried about Ogilvy Worldwide."

- Steve Gatfield, Chief executive, Lowe Worldwide:

"Miles' big achievement is in China, where Ogilvy is now a 1,200 staff-strong giant. As impressive is his construction of a broad and deep network offering that owes much to his through-the-line background. In some markets, such as Singapore, OgilvyOne is bigger than Ogilvy Advertising."