Kainaz, Sukesh and I represent ‘Ogilvyness’, says Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Ogilvy CCO
In this new weekly series ‘Power Sharing’, we will be talking to the Joint Heads of Creative at ad agencies to understand the challenges for the partners and leaders
He has done wonders for the agency as the Joint CCO of Ogilvy Mumbai, bringing home India’s first Grand Prix for Creative Effectiveness. Today he along with longtime partner Kainaz Karmakar as well as Sukesh Nayak are jointly responsible for Ogilvy India after being elevated as Joint CCOs.
Here’s understanding from Harshad Rajadhyaksha, CCO, Ogilvy India, how a three-way partnership has benefitted one of India’s biggest agencies more than six months after the high profile exit of Sonal Dabral.
What was your first reaction when you were told that you are going to be made the ‘Joint’ CCO of Ogilvy India?
The ‘CCO of Ogilvy India’ part was a matter of immense responsibility and pride. The ‘joint’ part was not even a factor, as Kainaz, Sukesh and I had been fulfilling a joint responsibility of leading Mumbai quite well since 2017 and are well used to it.
When you were climbing up the corporate ladder, did you ever factor in the possibility of having to share the top role with someone?
Firstly, it was not some sort of a ladder or a race as it might be in some corporate environments. In fact, Ogilvy has proven to be the classic example of ‘Karam kar, phal ki chinta matt kar’ for all three of us. On sharing the top role, it is not an alien concept at all in advertising. For decades, we have had some legendary partnerships successfully leading entire firms even as name partners.
How do you divide responsibilities at the agency, who takes care of what? Are there set roles or areas of expertise?
While all three of us are responsible for all our geographies and sub-sections, Ogilvy has such a vast footprint that for the ease of running things, Sukesh looks after the North and Kainaz and I look after the South. That is in addition to the three of us continuing to look after the Mumbai and Kolkata offices. But as I said, that is more for ease of operation. The three of us are always exchanging notes and pull in each other for any specific task that could benefit from the other’s involvement.
What happens in the event of a difference of opinion between the three of you on shared duties, who wins?
Yes, shared duties is a given because despite being a trio, we are one voice at Ogilvy for all purposes. Be it training, people policies, setting and assigning teams for new businesses, and most importantly, constantly assessing the quality of our work at an all-India level. That is where all three of us are actively involved. However busy our schedules are, we find time weekly to talk about work that is gathered from all our city CCOs. And on the few occasions if our opinions may differ, we give each other the due to talk it out and arrive at a consensus.
What do you always agree upon and what do you almost always fight about?
We always agree upon great work. That is probably the reason why we find ourselves chosen to share this immense joint responsibility. Because, as many different brands and categories that we may have worked on over the years, what the three of us share is a similar passion and drive for the same sharp quality of work. As for fights, you may not believe this but we haven’t had a single ‘fight’ to date. We are friends who enjoy what we do, and any work debates that arise are dealt with frank and open discussions. Often over coffee, chai, and other beverages, even while on Zoom calls.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a partner at the top in the same seat?
I can only think of the advantages, when you have like-minded partners sharing your responsibilities and load in pursuit of the same goal. And personally, I consider it a huge privilege to share this role with Sukesh and Kainaz. We respect each other’s instincts, each other’s work, and always have each other when needed as bouncing boards to take the most critical calls on work. And we do so liberally.
Would you say has Ogilvy performed better after the three of you were given the joint responsibility vs. when you had one leader, and what has changed?
Ogilvy has been performing top of the class for over 25 years now. And while Piyush is undoubtedly at the root of this culture of creativity that’s been embraced by every component of our agency, Ogilvy has had more than one creative heads sharing responsibility earlier too. Kinu (Abhijit Avasthi) and Rajiv (Rao), for instance, led Ogilvy India for a considerable time. Ogilvy was doing brilliantly under them too, and we plan to do everything possible to keep up that tradition.
As for the one change in the way the agency has functioned after us being in charge — that change is, we are running this ship in Covid-times. When we were given this responsibility in early February, absolutely no one would have thought that the world would see its most severe trial-by-fire within a month’s time. Our advertising industry and our Ogilvy India were no exceptions to that. These times have proven to be a fast-tracked-crash-course in leadership for all three of us. Every week threw up dozens of challenges on the work front, which the most seasoned of leaders, would have found daunting. And for us, it was time and fate almost mocking us to test what we could do in our brand new roles. Reduced resources, frozen recruitments, reduced spending, increased business pressures, increased client demands, increased working hours, lack of free weekends and increased employee apprehension were almost ‘gifts’ that came attached with our brand new role. Therefore I say it with a degree of pride that Kainaz, Sukesh and I have worked like maniacs to be on top of circumstances, and despite every limitation, ensured that we can lead and inspire our people to keep putting out the best possible work the country can see, even in these times.
What also goes without saying is how brilliantly our whole Ogilvy family has backed us in this mission, right from Piyush, Madhukar, Heps and Kunal, to our Account Management partners across cities, our CSO, Prem, our city CCOs Kiran, Mahesh and Ritu, our HR Director, Monty, and most importantly the hundreds of youngsters across departments and across cities who literally are Ogilvy India. That, is a terrific feeling!
How have the clients reacted to this power-sharing system? Any anecdotes
Not really. Like I mentioned, Ogilvy is not just a vast playground, it’s akin to a massive sports complex where there are multiple matches on at any given time. So despite there being three of us in the role, all of us find ourselves considerably stretched with plenty to do. Point being, we continue to spread our energies across different sets of brands and clients. So while the three of us share the same Ogilvy values and commitment to our clients’ brands, we ensure that there is no unnecessary overlap and that we can devote as much personalised attention to various brands at the same time. If anything, the feedback we have received from clients has been only positive.
They always say for the team members it is always easier to follow the vision of one leader. How do you overcome the confusion that comes with having three different ways of functioning?
Despite us being three individuals, we represent the same pursuit of great work and ‘Ogilvyness’, which forms the foundation of our leadership. Hence ensuring that the hundreds of people we lead do not have to follow the vision of Harshad, Kainaz or Sukesh, but follow the joint vision we have for Ogilvy, to simply keep creating work that’s stunningly fresh and benchmark-setting for the industry.
Do you look up to any duo, or any leaders who have been in a power-sharing role at any of the organizations you have worked with in the past?
We have seen several cases where multiple people have led their agencies very well. Aggie and Paddy are one. Chax and Pops were another. Kinu and Rajiv, Freddy and Naved have been legendary. Alok, Vikas and Preeti were again at the brilliant core of the erstwhile Trikaya Grey. These are all different people who have had a shared belief in the kind of work they lead.
Personally, do you think other creative agencies should have one CCO at the top or a joint leadership like in your case?
Personally, I think it is simply a matter of size-based requirements of an agency. You can have one, three or even four CCOs if required. What critically needs to be one are the vision and values you lead your people with. There cannot be confusion over there.
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