Industry heroes: Piyush Pandey

By living life on his own terms, Piyush Pandey has proved you don't have to leave India to make your mark on the world – just one of the things that make him the greatest leader Indian advertising has ever seen, according to Publicis India's Bobby Pawar

Ogilvy’s global chief creative officer Piyush Pandey

The year was 1995. The incessant dripping from the leaky clouds in Mumbai made ‘my first day at work shirt’ cling to my body like an unwanted lover. I stepped into the Apeejay House office of Ogilvy & Mather and made tracks for the restroom, where I tried to wring the precipitation from my shirt.

It was in this wrinkled state that I came across Piyush. I am quite sure I noticed the trademark moustache before I saw the man. Never had I seen a male lip ornament quite as glorious.  In a matter of days, I would discover that it was his least impressive characteristic.

I remember the first, second, third and thirteenth time I shared my ideas with him. I was so diffident, Piyush would unfailingly call a passerby and tell her or him, ‘If you want to see a good idea die, just watch Bobby present.’ The laughter came seconds later. The joke never got old, till it became irrelevant. In his own way, Piyush had made me confident of my work and learn how to showcase it.

The other great thing about the man was that when he trusted you, he put all his faith in you. My partner Anil Bathwal and I were just seven years in the business when we were given the responsibility to run most of Ogilvy & Mather, Mumbai.  I can’t think of another chief creative officer who would have had the balls to do it at that time. Years later, they still don’t. (I’m one of them.)

Piyush with brother and fellow Lion of St Mark winner Prasoon

Another thing I will always be beholden to the man for is this. I was in the United States looking for a job, when I won Copywriter of the Year for the last time, at a local award. Piyush took my mom to the award show, made her sit with him and handed her the trophy. It’s been nearly nineteen years since that day, but to my mother and I, it is like it happened yesterday.

Anil and I did a the job in the States. We had three offers. Instead of dissuading us — even though he had his misgivings, chief among them being that you didn’t have to leave India to make your mark on the world — Piyush persuaded us to take up the offer from Ogilvy, New York. He said that, Rick Boyko, the CCO of Ogilvy, North America was his friend and he would take care of us and mentor us.

Yeah, we went abroad. But now Piyush has made the world come to him. When Piyush was made the global chief creative officer of Ogilvy, it was a personal emotional moment to many of us who no longer work with him. And that says a lot about the man behind the legend.

In achieving all that he has, he’s given us an example, not necessarily to follow, but one we can be inspired by. He has always played it the way he wanted to. He spoke his mind, has never been politically correct, and look at where it has taken him.

Pandey: Getting better and more driven as he gets older

It tells us ‘you can be yourself, and you can still make it to the very top.’ It’s a hard thing to do, if you don’t belong to the Caucasian Club. He’s a rare exception to the rule.

Personally, I owe a helluva lot to him. He was not only the creative director, but the planner and also the greatest cheerleader of the work. I lost my father when I was 19, and he was like my professional dad.

He’s been the man I’ve turned to for advice even when I didn’t work with him anymore. And he has always been generous with his wisdom and time. When he thought I was going wrong, he told me so in no uncertain terms.

There are some people whose creativity, drive and passion is ageless. To me, he seems to get more driven with age. If anything, he gets better. And look at the team he has built around him, not just once, but across generations.  He is the greatest leader Indian advertising has ever seen.

There are a few envious naysayers who believe he is slowing down, losing interest and spending too much time in Goa. To them I say: “There’s a place where you all can sit, right on Piyush’s Lion of St Mark trophy.”


Bobby Pawar is the chief creative officer and managing director at Publicis India


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