Industry, staff shocked at Joe George’s exit announcement

18 Jul,2017


By A Correspondent


It looked like any other day. A rainy one indeed. And while it’s been raining several top-level changes in the industry over the last fortnight, this one was very big. Very, very big. In fact given the scenario, bigger than a Sonal Dabral joining Ogilvy and Rajiv Rao leaving the creative major.


First the news that has been carried by most media already. Joseph George (better known as Joe), Group Chairman and CEO, MullenLoweLintas Group, India and Regional President, MullenLowe Group South & Southeast Asia, has called it quits. He will move on from the agency network at the end of September 2017.


George is no rolling stone. He has had an uninterrupted stint of over 26 years with the company, where he played numerous growth, brand management, client management and leadership roles locally, regionally and globally, he now plans to pursue what he calls “his big dream”. The staff at the agencies were in a state of shock one learns, some even sobbing as they have had much love and admiration for George.


First, let’s be done with the communique that was sent out earlier.

Alex Leikikh, Global CEO, MullenLowe Group, is quoted in a statement: “Joe has made such a huge contribution to the MullenLowe Group network during his 26 years within the organisation that it really is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to him. During his recent tenure, Joe has led MullenLoweLintas Group to huge success within India, across the APAC region and on a global stage. The agency has been credited with many firsts for India including, the best new business performer for four years in a row, the number one Creative Agency in the World by WARC 100 (twice), consecutive double-wins at 4A’s Jay Chiat Awards and runner up for AdAge International Agency of the Year 2015. On behalf of the entire MullenLowe Group network I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank Joe who has built and led our business in India and South and Southeast Asia so successfully. He leaves behind a great team, legacy and business poised for even greater future growth.”


George joined Lintas India in 1991, and has been with the company through its journey of evolution – from Lintas India to the MullenLoweLintas Group of today. George was appointed India CEO in 2011 and while continuing to be based in Mumbai, took on the additional responsibility of running the South Asia & Southeast Asia region for MullenLowe Group in 2016. He also serves on the Global Executive Committee of the MullenLowe Group network.


During his six-year leadership, Mullen Lowe Lintas Group grew into one of the most powerful agency groups in India. Outperforming the industry right through this period, on business growth, organizational reputation as well as on creative output. It was also during this period that MullenLoweLintas Group emerged as the most consistently dominant performer in Market Effectiveness across the world. He was also the chief architect of the launch of the two new Indian agencies from the MullenLoweLintas Group – Mullen Lintas in August 2015 and the recently launched Point Nine Lintas.


Speaking of this development, George said in a statement: “MullenLoweLintas Group in India today is in the best shape it’s been in for a very long time. I couldn’t be moving on at a better time, and any happier or prouder with what the 1000 of us have managed to achieve these past years. Alex and I have worked closely over the past 8 months on the transition plan; and with the road map and the leadership in place for all three agencies of MullenLoweLintas Group, I am confident that our agency network in India is ready to author its next chapter of success.”


On the India transition planning, Leikikh added: “One of Joe’s greatest strengths has been his ability to develop world class business and creative leaders. Those people will now step up to continue our progress and evolution in one of the world’s most dynamic and important markets.”


In his 18-month leadership of the South Asia & Southeast Asia markets, George focused on creating stronger and tighter management structures across the offices. He led IPG’s agency-acquisition in Sri Lanka and subsequently its overall transformation; the re-structuring of the MullenLowe Thailand and Vietnam operations, as well as putting in place the leadership and brand and business strategy for the MullenLowe Singapore office. Succession plans for Joe’s Southeast Asia responsibilities are in advanced stages of finalization, and will be announced by global CEO Alex Leikikh in the coming weeks.


George concludes on a personal note: “This agency has given me everything. Probably more than I deserve! Twenty-six years can be a lifetime, but there’s an impatient excitement in me today to want to start all over again. Ironically and a tad illogically though, this urge to do so is because I have enjoyed every single day of my quarter century in this fabulous network”


Hmmm. So the question is who’ll take charge of the mother ship after George exits in end-September. All the other captains – ArunIyer, Amer Jaleel, Raj Gupta, Virat Tandon and Vikas Mehta are now handling their own key functions. They’ve assumed fresh charge over the last two years and have their tasks cut out for them.


So will it be an outsider – but part of the global/regional MullenLowe fold who will come here? Remember Charles Cadell was CEO for three years from 2008 to 2011. So since all the captains are busy with their own kingdoms, perhaps an expat may help ensure that all’s well and well-oiled.


The Mullen Lowe Lintas Group has also also been doing very well on the effectiveness and strategy awards circuit, and while the next next Effies will happen in December 2017 and the preparation would’ve started under George’s leadership, what the direction of the agency on the effectiveness and creative awards front will be interesting to see.


Will the new MLLG boss reverse the R Balki-Joseph George policy on not participating in creative awards, only time will tell. Until then, here’s hoping for a happy transition at the Mullen Lowe Lintas Group. One is also looking forward to what George’s dream project is all about. There are two bits in the communique that hint at what it could be: one it’s a big dream and second, he’s going “to start all over again”. So a start-up for sure. And unlikely to be another agency. So what next?


Watch this space. Meanwhile, let’s hope there are no more announcements in adland. We’ve had enough.


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