PLAYER PROFILE: Piliguian shapes O&M into model of cultural diversity

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Ogilvy & mather's North American CEO, Tro Piliguian, generally shies away from the spotlight. However, it was unavoidable last week when he received an award for his multicultural efforts from the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network.

Even so, Mr. Piliguian, born in Egypt to Armenian parents and raised in French Quebec, chalked up his work in leveling the advertising playing field to "just second nature."

"Multiculturalism in Canada took off about 25 years ago. I grew up with that, and with my own minority background, it just makes you more sensitive to it," he said.

MAKE OGILVY A MODEL

Mr. Piliguian, 53, became involved with the Rev. Sharpton when he approached the crusader last year and offered to make Ogilvy a model example of racial and economic equality. A tough challenge, but one that keeps the agency striving to be that prime example to measure others against, he said.

He credits Ogilvy founder David Ogilvy with building an underlying foundation of multicultural fairness at Ogilvy.

"We have an Ogilvyism that goes something like, `When it comes to hiring and promoting, we will hate and deplore people who discriminate.' He said that 30 years ago," Mr. Piliguian said.

Along with promoting those long-term multicultural principles, Ogilvy currently is forming a group to oversee all the agency's ethnic efforts.

Because Mr. Piliguian prefers others to take center stage, his name is not as well-known outside Ogilvy as is that of his predecessor, Shelly Lazarus, now chairman-CEO of Ogilvy Worldwide -- or even some of the people working for him, such as New York office Co-Chairmen Bill Gray and Rick Boyko. And when he moved up from president of Ogilvy North America to CEO several months ago, it was done with little fanfare.

"I'm not a shy person, but I like to keep out of the limelight. I'd rather push those people in the day-to-day out there," Mr. Piliguian said.

Before Ogilvy, he quietly built a succession of successful businesses. He began his career at a Montreal TV station and went on to build one of Canada's largest TV production facilities, Champlain Productions.

He moved into advertising because he said it afforded the greatest opportunity with the least capital -- and it was a business he knew from shooting commercials in his production days. Together with two partners, he built the Academy agency in Montreal. Ogilvy acquired 33% of the agency in 1988, and upped its stake to 49% in 1990.

NORTH AMERICAN CHIEF

Mr. Piliguian ran Academy Ogilvy as president for two years, later taking over all Ogilvy's Canadian operations as chairman of O&M Canada from 1990 to 1994. Then Ms. Lazarus persuaded him to take over as head of the New York office; he added the North American responsibilities two years ago.

He reluctantly changed his title from president to CEO, after clients expressed confusion over his role. He is a hands-on manager and wanted to make sure that was clear.

"I like the president title and have always used it because it says direct responsibility. I only took CEO because it became too complicated," Mr. Piliguian said.

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