Today’s Monday Morning Mojo is a tribute to a man who has been very influential in my life. His name is TB Song, he was my boss for more than 30 years, and he retired earlier this month as Chairman of Ogilvy Greater China. TB was one of the people who brought me to Taiwan in the early 1990’s, and he was the person who gave me the opportunity to open Ogilvy Public Relations in China in 1995.
The best way to describe TB’s leadership style was Laissez-faire. He hired you into a job and let you get on with it. I only remember TB telling me what to do once in my career. Most of the time he would come to find me with a cigarette in one hand, a beer in the other, and he wanted to chat about the direction we were taking the company.
One of the greatest lessons he taught me was how to treat people who left the company. After I joined Ogilvy Taiwan in 1991, two years later a very senior member of the team was going to leave the company. I wrote up a contract preventing her from taking staff or clients upon her departure. I shared it with TB, he thanked me and ripped it up. He said, “that’s not the way we do things here.” TB believed part of being a leader is training people to be the very best, and to let them leave and seed the industry. We might endure short-term pain from the change, but the long-term impact was the goal. By doing this we were able to influence the industry, and in turn we attracted more high-quality talent, clients followed, and eventually the staff would return. In this particular case, that was what had happened.
I like to think most people who spent time with us considered their experience at Ogilvy as career defining. At least I choose to believe that. TB started me on this path, and today I delight in meeting with many of my team members who have become giants in their work and life pursuits. As a tribute to TB upon his retirement, more than 100 former Ogilvy staffers showed up in Beijing voluntarily from all around China to celebrate his career.
“Culture Eats Strategy For Lunch”
TB was a person who knew “culture eats strategy for lunch”, and creating, building, and living the culture of Ogilvy was his life’s pursuit. It was the reason he formed the joint venture with Ogilvy in the mid 80’s. David Ogilvy, the original Founder of Ogilvy & Mather, once described the agency as a “teaching hospital” – a place where young professionals simultaneously learned and practiced their craft. During my early days in Taiwan, I remember TB would buy books for the entire staff and hold “book club” meetings to stretch their minds. We worked six days a week during that period, and TB was always present. Trainings on the weekends were a must, and he attended and participated in all of them, of course with plenty of Heinekens to go around.
Public Relations As Equal and Central Discipline
During his retirement party I thanked him for staying awake during my first business planning meeting with him. The other 29 years he slept through most of my presentations! What TB did, however, was promote the public relations business as an equal and central part of a company’s business and marketing strategy, which has been, and still is, my career obsession. TB was the CEO who treated everyone as equal, fair partners. In my thirty years I never saw him raise his voice or argue, he had a kind of invisible way to lead the firm. Under his leadership Ogilvy became the overwhelming leader in China, and he was the central figure in making that happen.
Lessons Provided By Bad Bosses
Throughout my career I have always impressed upon my kids and staff the gift of having a really, bad boss. Bad bosses teach you what you don’t like and how “not” to treat people early in your career. I had a few, but I celebrate them because they let me know who truly fortunate I was in having TB as my boss for 30+ years. There is always a silver lining to every situation.
A Bit More On TB
The Ogilvy China team has created a great series of mini documentaries as an oral history and tribute to TB. You can find those here.
I have also included an article featuring TB and Shenan Chuang, another great boss of mine from Ogilvy, that appeared in 2011. If you want to know more about what made TB such a fantastic boss, this is instructive.
Thank you TB for all you have done for me and everyone who enjoyed their Ogilvy experience so much.
Have a great week everyone and I hope you, too, have the chance to work for such a visionary.