Redefining Asia for Ogilvy

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[Singapore] As an Asian and a creative, Khai Meng Tham, 42, jumped two hurdles when he was promoted to co-chairman of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide's operation in Asia/Pacific last January. Although he retains his regional creative director role, Mr. Tham now shares responsibility for the agency's overall business across 18 countries with Miles Young, the chairman since 1995.

Mr. Tham will help identify acquisition targets, particularly in China, where WPP Group-owned Ogilvy wants to develop a second network. He wants to transform Ogilvy's regional clients such as Unilever and American Express Co. into brands more relevant to Asians. Mr. Tham's promotion follows Ogilvy's triumphs in creative since he joined the network in July 1999. "His view is geared toward ideas, as opposed to work strongly driven by execution," Mr. Young says. "In Asia, execution is often mistaken for ideas."

"I am one of those rare birds that can do both," adds Mr. Tham. "I've got a good sense of dollars and cents; my background, having a Western mind and an Asian heart, has helped."

Raised in Singapore and later educated in London, Mr. Tham started his ad career at Leo Burnett Co. in London and Chicago. He then returned to Singapore, becoming Batey Ads' first Asian creative director.

Several Asian executives hold senior regional positions such as president and CEO, but only one network, Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, is managed by an Asian chairman, Taipei-based Raymond So.

While times are changing, Mr. Tham observes, "I don't sense Asians want to play such a big role, and sometimes, of course, they are not given the chance. It's partly Confucian ethics ... Asians just don't want to be aggressive and disagree, but that attitude won't get you noticed at companies such as WPP."

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