Six Things You Didn't Know About Ogilvy East's Chris Garbutt

He Was Nearly (Big) Cat Chow

By Published on .

Chris Garbutt
Chris Garbutt

Earlier this year, Chris Garbutt left the "City of Light," where he had been chief creative officer at Ogilvy Paris, for the one that never sleeps, to become chief creative officer of Ogilvy East, in New York.

It was only the latest big move for the native South African, who started his career at Ogilvy & Mather Johannesburg with a degree in graphic design. He went on to work at TBWA Hunt Lascaris in Johannesburg and TBWA Paris before returning to Ogilvy. His portfolio includes work for Tiffany & Co., Google, Perrier, Ford, Nissan and some Coca-Cola Company brands.

Ad Age reached out to Mr. Garbutt to learn about his life outside adland for this week's edition of "Six Things You Didn't Know."

Young Chris Garbutt and his many medals
Young Chris Garbutt and his many medals

He was an elite athlete. Until age 16, Mr. Garbutt was a competitive gymnast in South Africa, training 17 hours a week. After seeing him do cartwheels on the beach at age four, his mom sent him off to burn some energy. He traveled around the country for competitions, but international events were not an option because apartheid-era South Africa was still isolated from the rest of the world. Mr. Garbutt was 18 years old when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

He played trumpet at Nelson Mandela's presidential inauguration. Mr. Garbutt has always been musical. "I wanted to be a rock star," he said. While he may not have had the chops for rock n' roll, he did end up playing trumpet in South Africa's navy band during his compulsory year of military training. Mr. Garbutt may not have ended up in a hair band, he does play guitar.

He used to make surfboards. Growing up in Cape Town, a surf capital, Mr. Garbutt learned to love the sport. At age 16, while still in high school, he designed his own logo and created a brand called Thunder Bay. He did a lot of silk-screening at the time and used to make his own decals to shape boards for himself and his friends.

He'd dive for lobster when money was tight. When he and his college friends were strapped for cash at the end of the month, they would put on their snorkeling gear and head for the beach near Stellenbosch University's Cape Town campus in search of dinner. "One time, I called my dad and let him know," he recalled. "I said, 'Dad I need money. I'm hungry. All I'm eating is lobster.'" Unsurprisingly, his father laughed and hung up.

He was almost eaten by a lion. When he was 24 years old and working at TBWA Hunt Lascaris, the agency had access to a game reserve. He and his coworkers passed a lion while driving one day and thought nothing of it when a few of them stopped to answer nature's call an hour later. When the girls he was with yelled "lion!" he was already about 50 yards from the car. "I saw the lion stalking me and then running for me and I did the worst thing -- I turned and ran." Though that launched a chase, his companions' screaming seemed to scare the lioness off.

He found a bit of South Africa in France. Mr. Garbutt spent 13 years working and living in France. There was admittedly an initial culture shock. "I moved there not speaking a word of French," he said. "I bought cassettes beforehand, because that's what you used to do, then I got in a cab and no one understood me." His first meeting took seven hours -- it seemed the French were a little chattier than he was. Eventually he discovered Basque Country, exploring Biarritz and Saint Sebastien and reveling in their great surf culture, much like the one he grew up in.

Most Popular