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India is a bright spot, but with one caveat, says IPG’s Steve Gatfield

11-May-2009
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India is a bright spot, but with one caveat, says IPG’s Steve Gatfield

The first thing that would strike anyone about Steve Gatfield, EVP, IPG, and outgoing CEO, Lowe Worldwide, is the differentiated perspective that he brings to any discussion. The case was not too different when exchange4media met up with Gatfield for a conversation on his decision to exit Lowe Worldwide as its CEO and what were his plans from here. The topic of discussion also included where India was positioned in the global advertising and media industry.

While Gatfield agreed with everyone else when he said that India was a bright spot in the overall picture, he also pointed out a “concern”, as he saw it. He said, “India is a very critical part of the future, but with one caveat, and this has been true of India for a while now. In all sense, the political risk in India is getting higher not lower, and what is happening in Pakistan has contributed to this. When you particularly look at the history of foreign multinational activities in the country, the political environment has played a key role on whether companies would invest millions of dollars in plants and infrastructures, and basically getting their businesses going there.”

He added, “In many respects, I really hope that India is able to carry on with the road of modernisation that has encouraged foreign direct investment. India is definitely a bright spot, but the political risks have certainly not diminished, so that would remain a key area of India’s place in the future.”

The Next Show

Gatfield’s approach to work is more on “project-basis”. The Lowe assignment, too, had begun as a three-year project, much like the Leo Burnett stint prior to that. He explained, “When I was given this assignment, the objective was to turn around Lowe, reorganise the organisation and put it on future growth, which is what I have done. If you look at the IPG financial analyses that we put out every quarter, you would see that in 2008, Lowe has returned to profit. So, I am handing the business in very good shape, which is showing strong growth and I am very pleased that India has been an important part of that.”

Speaking more on this project-wise approach towards work, Gatfield observed, “However brilliant a show you put on, it would end. The saddest thing you can ever do is to try and stretch it. The next day the excitement should be about the next show. That is the way I look at things. I am very proud of what we have been able to do with India, and I am very confident that we would be able to take it to greater heights. And there is also great value in getting minds and perspectives from newer people, who then put on their own show.”

The India duty continues

Gatfield informed that he would be staying involved as Chairman of the Lintas Group, probably for after the rest of the year. He said, “I have been involved in India for a long time, much before the Lowe days and I know India well. What is likely to happen is that I would handle the India mantle to the new CEO Global at a slightly different time than for the rest of the organisation.”

More than India, however, it is the changing face of the communication industry that has caught Gatfield’s attention right now. He elaborated, “My view is that we are at a tipping point in the industry – may be not in the developing markets as much as the developed markets, but certainly in the developed markets. We are seeing a much stronger than ever fusion of art and science, the future of data and technology, and it is giving us the ability to basically come closer to solving the issues of ‘50 per cent of advertising is wasted’ and all of those things. Such an opportunity comes once in a generation, and we are quite lucky to be here at a time like this. My next chapter is going to be about the organisation design that is best placed to capture all the things that are needed to create a very forward looking 23rd century communication plan.”

(Read the full interview with Steve Gatfield in this week’s issue of ‘impact’.)

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