Lesson #5: Tend to Your Team to Create a Company of Giants

Every so often, Ogilvy would send each of his directors a set of Russian nesting dolls, where inside the largest doll would be a small one, and then a smaller one, and so on. In the smallest doll, he would place a piece of paper that read: “If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are larger than we are, we’ll become a company of giants.”

Ogilvy understood the power of the people on his team and the importance of making the most of them in order to deliver superior service to his clients. He thus devoted an extraordinary amount of effort to ensuring they were given challenging opportunities, recognition for achievement, and maximum responsibility. “Some of our people spend their entire working lives in Ogilvy & Mather,” he said. “We try to make it a stimulating and happy experience. We put this first.”

It was one of Ogilvy’s top priorities to help make the best of his staff’s talents, investing much time and money into hiring, training, giving them maximum independence and flexibility, and avoiding management by intimidation. “We see no conflict between adherence to high professional standards in our work and human kindness in our dealings with each other,” he wrote. “We treat our people as human beings.”

Whenever a staff member at Ogilvy & Mather was experiencing personal problems, whether with illness or alcohol or something else – the agency would strive to help them. However, in return for the freedom and respect they were given, high expectations were conversely placed upon employees at Ogilvy’s firm.

“I believe in the Scottish proverb: ‘Hard work never killed a man,’” said Ogilvy. “Men die of boredom, psychological conflict and disease. They do not die of hard work.” He admired people who worked hard, were objective and thorough, and he was not afraid to lead by example. “I figure that my staff will be less reluctant to work overtime if I work longer hours than they do,” he said, noting that “agencies which frequently work nights and weekends are more stimulating, more successful – and more profitable.”

According to Ogilvy, a tight – albeit informal – ship was a happy ship. “Lazy and superficial men and women do not produce superior work.” He also claimed that the agency “had little time for: office politicians, bullies, paper warriors, toadies, pompous asses, and prima donnas.” More than anything else, Ogilvy placed supreme importance on honesty: “Honest in argument, honest with clients, honest with suppliers, honest with the company – and above all, honest with consumers.” Thus, a person’s character had as much of an impact on their being promoted as anything else.

Ogilvy wanted to create “Ogilvy & Mather – one company, indivisible.” Whether it meant hiring people with more talent than him, paying them more than him, or giving them the independence to pursue their own creativity, Ogilvy did what he could to foster a team that would take his company to the top.

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