Bobby Pawar has to lead us from good to great in our creative business: Chris Hirst

On his visit to India, the Global CEO of Havas Creative talks about his sense of the India market, expectations from leaders here & his strategy of leading Havas Group's global creative business

e4m by Srabana Lahiri & Jeel Mehta
Updated: Feb 28, 2020 1:20 PM
Chris Hirst

Chris Hirst, Global CEO of Havas Creative, is upbeat about his ongoing India visit with the primary objective of learning about the India market, and spending quality time with Havas India’s Group CEO Rana Barua and Chairman and CCO, Bobby Pawar.

Widely recognized as an innovative and inspirational leader, Hirst has a proven track record of leading transformation. Now a year into his global role, Hirst talks about managing the global business of Havas Creative, sense of the India market and conversations he has had with the company’s clients here.

Here are excerpts from his conversation with exchange4media:

You took on the role of CEO of Havas Creative in January 2019. What have been your priorities since then?
My priority No.1 was just to go and get to know the network. I wanted to visit our key markets and so I spent a lot of my time at airports and in planes, because if you take on any challenge, the first and foremost is to understand your standpoint, to understand where you are today and that is being honest as well. The slightly more business and strategic answer to your question is that I run the creative group of Havas and I think a lot of our competitors use the word ‘creative’ to describe the sector rather than to describe what they really are. I want us to be the best creative network in the world. To be the best, we need to have world class creative agencies in key locations. My job is about auditing where we are in our journey and starting to get us there.

What are the changes you have made in this past one year that give Havas Creative an edge over other networks?
Our business is difficult but complicated. The fundamentals of what makes a great agency - I’ve had to learn about digital, data and decoupling and all such things in the course of my career. But the fundamentals here I guess here are talent and culture. My overriding priority for this year is being the best that I can ensure in our key markets. We have absolutely A-star leaders in our businesses and we have the cultural environment that allows businesses to perform. India is one great example where about 15 months ago, we put a new leadership team in place with Rana (Barua) and Bobby (Pawar), and the business needed to change. Now they are performing beyond the best expectations.

How would you assess the last one year from a global as well as India standpoint? Which have been the top performing markets?
Havas performed well last year, and we try and measure our business on four key metrics which we have shared with all our agencies. Those metrics are:
- Staff engagement
- Client satisfaction
- New business performance
- Awards performance

So, we are really pleased with the progress we have made on staff engagement and client satisfaction. Our new business performance is going strong in North America and Europe where we have been made the No.1 agency for new business last year. The area where we really need to focus hard now is where we have Bobby in our business - to lead us from good to great in our creative business. India has been a huge success story. We built a team about 15 months ago, and we have achieved a number of fantastic things. Our business has grown and we have completed three really exciting acquisitions. Our business in India feels super good and we will continue to be enormously ambitious.

What’s been your main agenda on this visit to India, and what is the sense you have of the India market for Havas Creative? What have been your conversations with the clients you have met so far?
I had come to India almost a year ago, when I was about four weeks into my job, and at that point, Bobby and Rana were pretty new in the company too. We had a lot of ambition but hadn't done anything yet as it's easy to be ambitious but difficult to deliver. This time, my objective was to come and meet the businesses, be a part of the group and spend time with Bobby and Rana. Frankly, it's a people business and just spending time is an end in itself to understand the market. The more I understand the market, the more I can help the leaders in our markets. I want to meet the Press too and make sure that our market understands our global ambition. We have got happy clients and the conversations were good. The biggest thing I have learnt about the market in India is that there is a sense of slightly anxious anticipation of a rapidly approaching digital transformation landscape here. From a media spends point of view, this market is still a traditional market where 90 per cent spends are still non-digital; nobody really knows what might be the settling point for the Indian market.

What are the big areas of focus from an India standpoint?
Well, I always say to the agencies that growth is the answer to any problem in all businesses. So, the over-riding way to grow is to have happy clients. We have a direct correlation between growth and how our employees feel on the business platforms. It is important that our managers now pay attention to that.

Havas Group in India has been aggressive with regard to acquisitions… how does this help Havas Creative, and can we expect any more acquisitions this year? If yes, in what area?
I don't want to be too specific about that; we have other groups such as Media and Health in our business, so I am not going to answer on their behalf, but from the creative group point of view, broadly and globally we are going to look in the areas of one, Creativity - where we find real, A-class creative agencies. We are interested in having conversations with them. Then, what you might call UX. User Experience - that's actually one of the big flabby kind of words, with lots of stuff concealed under that. It can be everything ranging from let's say CRM or e-commerce even.

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