Piyush Pandey and Devika Bulchandani on cultivating future leadership at Ogilvy India

In a quick chat with Pandey and Bulchandani, Social Samosa dissects how Ogilvy 2024 will pan out as the leadership team sees a shuffle, the values that make Ogilvy what it is today, the future of advertising, and more.

Karuna Sharma
New Update
Piyush Pandey

“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants”

-David Ogilvy. 

In India, a giant that has been leading Ogilvy for almost 40 years and has become synonymous with Indian advertising is Piyush Pandey. His love for creativity, which directly comes from his heart, continues to shine brightly to date. 

The man behind some of the iconic campaigns such as Asian Paints’ Har ghar kuch kehta hai, Fevicol ka mazboot jod, Mile sur mera tumhara, and more, Pandey has played a pivotal role in changing the course of advertising in India and proved to be an inspiration to young creatives. 

He has been loyal to the agency for decades and has passed on that passion, love, and loyalty to advertising to Hephzibah Pathak, VR Rajesh, Harshad Rajadhyaksha, Kainaz Karmakar, and Sukesh Nayak. This team will now lead one of the biggest creative agencies in India as Pandey will be taking on the role of Chief Advisor, a major leadership transition that will take effect from January 1, 2024. 

When Devika Seth Bulchandani, Global Chief Executive Officer, Ogilvy joined the agency, her mom candidly and proudly asked her, “Is that Piyush Pandey’s agency?” Bulchandani said Pandey has been one of the reasons why young talent consider working in advertising and referred to him as the biggest giant in a company of 15,000 people, who is an icon. 

What truly makes him a giant? Bulchandani said that the fact that he hires giants. He has built a leadership team that has stayed loyal to Ogilvy for more than 20 years and they will now carry on his legacy to newer heights. 

Bulchandani described this transition as ‘just changing gears but driving the same car.’ Pandey will no longer be involved in day-to-day operations but continue to lend his voice to his key clients and Ogilvy’s newly shuffled team. 

In a quick chat with Pandey and Bulchandani, Social Samosa dissects how Ogilvy 2024 will pan out as the leadership team sees a shuffle, the values that make Ogilvy what it is today, the future of advertising, and more. 

Edited Excerpts:

It's been almost a year since you joined, and this is the agency's first major leadership shuffle. How are you navigating this transition, Devika?

Bulchandani: David Ogilvy has a very famous quote, “If you want to be a company of immortals, you hire giants.” I want to talk about the concept of a giant and how you call Piyush, “The Piyush Pandey.” I'd say in our company of 15,000 people, he is the biggest giant, a legend, an icon. But what makes a giant is the fact that he hires giants. Piyush has not only done the most incredible work for Ogilvy India and created what this company is today and the body of work upon which he sits, but he has also created a leadership team here with Hephzibah, V R Rajesh, Sukesh, Kainaz, Harshad, and Prem, who collectively have over 140 years of experience at Ogilvy. Each one of them has been here for a really long time. That's the hallmark- they are legends who don't just think about themselves but also think about the legacy that they'll leave behind, looking at who will carry it forward. I have full confidence in them. Each one of them is ready and capable not only to build on the legacy that Piyush has created but also to take it to new heights.

Regarding Piyush, he has Ogilvy in his blood, and he's not going anywhere. When we talk about his role as Chief Advisor, it means he is there for me whenever I need him, he's there for our clients whenever they need him, and he's there for the leadership team whenever they need his guidance.

However, he is stepping away from the day-to-day administration to focus on the big things, determining what our work should look like, who needs help, when they need it, and how he can impart his wisdom.

Piyush, like Devika said, you've nurtured giants who have 140+ years of experience, and you've been in this creative business for almost 40+ years now. You are the face of Indian advertising; young advertising and marketing professionals look up to you, and they enter the industry because of you as they get inspired by your work or when they read about you. How did you manage to stay around with the same firm for 40+ years? How has that been passed on to even the current set of people who are set to lead Ogilvy from now on?

Pandey: Ogilvy never gave me a reason to want to leave, and fortunately, I behaved myself and stayed here. It's the best thing that has happened in my life. During my first interview, my MD at the time asked, "You've been a cricketer; you have done so many things. What guarantee can you give me that you will be here after a year?"

I must have been a bold person because I replied, "I can't give you any guarantee. But can you give me a guarantee that you'll keep me here after a year?" He gave me the job, and it's been 41 years now. It's been a place like home for me. So nothing changes for the people. These people and I have grown together. It's not that they were in isolation.

Look at the people we have now put into leadership positions. They were responsible for the company's growth for a long time. So, they were obvious choices for us. They're not new to this. I think it's a fantastic way to move forward. We know them well enough, the company knows them well enough, the clients know them well enough. 

It's the best time to change the batting order and have number seven(here, used in reference to Mahindra Singh Dhoni's jersey number) become a coach, player, or bottle boy.

- Piyush Pandey

We live in a world where people move places; they feel that they've grown out of an organization, and like Devika said Ogilvy runs in your blood. How have you ensured that the same Ogilvy blood runs through the upcoming people? 

Pandey: This was being done earlier; I just continued it, and I think it came naturally to all of us. You didn't have to go and practice. It has been part of Ogilvy’s DNA for a long time, and I have been a part of this journey.

How did you decide that this is the time for you (Piyush) to take that number seven position, and how difficult was it for you to do it?

Pandey: Not difficult at all. We've been discussing it for a long time. The best example I can use is that of Clive Lloyd. As Vivian Richards and others joined the West Indies team, he made them bat in the top order and let himself fall back. And on the day they all got out, he was there to support them. That's what I love. As far as getting tired of things is concerned, I enjoy this; it's my hobby, my work, and these are my teammates who are going to take over. They are not outsiders.

Why did Piyush decide to move on to the role of Chief Advisor?

Bulchandani: Understanding the right timing in succession is very important, and when we started talking about it, Piyush was the one who raised it and said that these people are ready. And I think the real display of leadership is to recognize when the next generation is ready and then give them the stage. I think they're beyond ready. For the last four or five years, they've been doing most of the work in any case.

What does this transition mean for your clients? Will you (Piyush) continue to lend your voice?

Pandey: Yes, because it's a promise that we made to them. So I will be there, and I will be easing these people into those roles so that they develop the same kind of relationships that I had with those clients. It’s years worth of relationships. And we have to be fair to our clients. Unless we are able to give them better than or equal to what we have been giving them till date, we have to do our duty.

With Hephizbah in the new role, the first woman to the executive chairperson, what does it mean for Ogilvy?

Bulchandani: Ogilvy has had a deep legacy of having women leaders. But I just want to say this, being an Indian woman myself, to see India being run by a woman makes me incredibly proud. And Hephzibah is one of my favorite people. One day I even said to her, "Come on, move to the US.” 

She is a giant amongst all the Ogilvy giants. So I feel confident, I feel proud and I want to see her take on more and more. I think this is the beginning of her leadership journey.

Devika, moving on to lead Ogilvy globally as a woman leader was an inspiring turn of events for a lot of women creatives. And with Hephzibah taking that role here in India, what do you think it means for women in the creative business?

Bulchandani: That you can do it. And as they always say, “If you can see it, you can be it.” So when people like us have a seat at the table, I think every young woman is inspired. And I always say to every young woman, “You should see this and believe that you can do it.” But there's also a lot of responsibility that people like Hephzibah and I have. To make sure that once we've got a seat at the table, we are making room for others to come in. Otherwise, there’s this tendency of scarcity at the top. That's a really important aspect for me to say as to how I am making room for other women and diverse people and minorities to be able to have a seat at the table.

It's not just about us making it; we also have a responsibility to ensure that others are not just inspired but that we are actively making room for them.

- Devika Seth Bulchandani

Devika, can you tell us a bit about the culture that you have built after joining Ogilvy?

Bulchandani: I didn't build the culture. Ogilvy has a culture that transcends any one leader or any one person.

My job, as I came in, was to understand that culture and to build on it. Because no culture can just be static. We have to keep moving forward and add to it because every time anybody comes, we can't just sit there and talk about David Ogilvy. He is an important part, but we also have to see other things. He is the biggest proponent of things moving forward, and innovation and change being the lifeblood. So the things that I focused on are recognizing and paying homage to the legacy and really understanding it and becoming a student of the Ogilvy culture, but also creating a sense of restlessness and I always say, “It's not where we want to go in life that matters, it's how you do it.” Where we want to go is to be the best agency. But every agency can say that, what's really important to me is how we do that.

I talk about this a lot internally and externally, and I call it the 4Hs. 

The first is hunger, which is very important for a culture. If an agency is not hungry, hungry to win for their clients, hungry to win new business, hungry to have the best talent to come to it, we're not going to succeed. And Hunger is not enough.

Second is hustle; you need to hustle because you need to get it done where our industry is all about like the art of the impossible. So you need to hustle for that. Shah Rukh Khan My ad campaign would not have happened if the team here hadn't hustled because it's never been done before. So you need that hustle. But if you have hunger and hustle, you can also become a really hard culture.

You need a heart because, at the end of the day, we don't have machines. I know there's AI and technology, but we are an industry of human beings and without heart, ideas will not be able to tap into the hearts and minds of humanity. 

And the most important thing when you're somebody like an Ogilvian, and you want to be the best is they have humility because if you don't have that, nobody wants to be with you. They may come to dinner with you, but then they walk away and say, I never want to see you again. Another way I always phrase it is to say I'll debate anything with anybody but two things non-negotiable, which is the pursuit of greatness and doing it with goodness.

AI is disrupting the advertising industry. How is Ogilvy preparing itself for the future? 

Bulchandani: Ogilvy India did AI before we were talking about AI. In our industry, buzzwords become the flavor of the day.

Pandey: Technology is only an enabler. I have to have an idea, like Shah Rukh Khan, my ad campaign, somebody had an idea that we must help the small retailer; that is an idea of the heart. And then figure out how to do it. I can do it through AI.

You must embrace technology, but it can never be a replacement for ideas. 

-Piyush Pandey

A lot of people are reimagining things with AI; they are reimagining how brands look like people, or given the example that you shared was a personalization at scale. What is your advice to creatives who are still dabbling with this thought about whether AI will take up their jobs or will replace them at jobs?

Pandey: In the days of Henry Ford, when everything in the past became dependent on technology, people lost their jobs. But jobs are always evolving. You move from one to another.

It's common to feel insecure about what you're doing, but in the process, you can discover your true self and find a better job. You should not be scared.

Do you think with AI, the role of creatives would be reimagined?

Bulchandani: AI is in the ideal state when you think about the creative process today. Because of the fragmentation of media, the creative people and a lot of other people in our industry end up doing a lot of grunt work, resizing banners but if AI takes all of that away, that will be brilliant because then the human imagination is actually free and has more time to be able to think and reimagine and imagine new realities. 

One thing we both share in common is the love of our industry and the lack of doom and gloom. And we, as an industry, have a tendency just to doom and do everything.

What would be your advice for creatives in India and globally?

Bulchandani: A lot of things in the world can change. But at the end of the day, the human imagination is the one thing that will change everything that we deal with. The most important currency, the most essential thing that we have in the world, is the human imagination. And that's the thing that changes everything.

What brands and Indian advertising and marketing ecosystem could expect from Ogilvy 2024?

Bulchandani: I'll tell you from a creative perspective. our clients, consumers, the Indian industry, and the world can expect creativity that defies all boundaries and things that you never imagined because that's the hallmark of Ogilvy 2024. 

Your advice for brands stepping into this great Indian festive season.

Pandey: Festive season has got a heart. People go and do things without thinking of logic; people are moved by it. Ideas that touch people are going to be the champion things in the festive season. Otherwise, the technology comes only second. 

sukesh nayak ogilvy india Harshad Rajadhyaksha Kainaz Karmakar Devika Bulchandani Hephzibah Pathak