Dr Mumbo

What to do about sacked advertising grandee Tham Khai Meng? Write a celebratory listicle of course

So dear readers, Dr Mumbo couldn’t quite believe his eyes when he woke up this morning and saw The Straits Times headline: “Ogilvy fires Tham Khai Meng: 7 things to know about the Singaporean advertising veteran.”

Yep, that’s right. You can imagine the scene in the editorial conference. The question on everyone’s lips – what shall we do as a follow-up on the story of Singapore’s highest achieving ad man, who got fired from his global role at Ogilvy in New York over allegations of misconduct?

Dr M assumes some bright spark must have then spoken up, saying something like: “Let’s put together a celebratory listicle.” Sheer genius.

Former Ogilvy worldwide chief creative officer Tham Khai Meng

So come enter the twilight zone with Dr M and just take a look at the seven subheadings they came up with, so surreal they could have featured in an Andy Warhol artwork (but more on that later):

  • After university, he landed his first job in advertising
  • He joined Ogilvy in 1999, rising through the ranks
  • He believed that creativity was every employee’s responsibility
  • Some of the world’s most influential brands are in his portfolio
  • Bitten by the creative bug from an early age
  • He served on numerous boards, including at three Temasek group companies
  • Home is a 19th century firehouse, where Andy Warhol once lived

Now to the body content of the article.

The tribute starts with his university life at Central Saint Martins in London no less, where he was studying for a bachelor of arts degree. This apparently led to a scholarship to pursue a master of arts degree in film at the Royal College of Art London. Truly fascinating.

We learn how Tham Khai Meng worked his way up the agency ladder at Leo Burnett in Chicago and London as well as Batey in Singapore and then finally Ogilvy in New York.

“Through Batey’s work, the kebaya-clad Singapore Girl became an internationally recognised icon of SIA’s in-flight service,” the article gushes.

“And till today, it remains widely regarded in the industry as a textbook case on brand building. He continued to contribute to his alma maters by teaching several master classes.”

But the praise doesn’t end there, oh no. Check this out: “In 2009, he became the first Asian and Singaporean to assume the role of worldwide creative director. He oversaw the ad giant’s worldwide network, including all of its global offices. That year, he also received the Designer of the Year award at the 2009 President’s Design Award in Singapore.

“In his career spanning more than 30 years, Mr Tham has worked with some of the world’s greatest brands including American Express, Cadbury’s, China Mobile, Coca-Cola, H. J. Heinz, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, Mercedes-Benz, McDonald’s, Philips, Toyota, Unilever, among others. In January 2012, he was named film and jury president at the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.”

And then we learn: “His brother is Singapore Press Holdings’ [publisher of The Straits Times] former senior executive vice-president of marketing, Mr Tham Khai Wor. He retired in 2005 at age 60, after 21 years in SPH marketing.”

Thanks ST, you’ve answered all of the questions people might have had in relation to what happened at Ogilvy. Job done.

Nothing to see here folks, move along.


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