Creating “A Company Of Giants.” Why It’s So Hard.

Creating a company of leadership

David Ogilvy was one of the advertising industry’s original 1960s Madison Avenue “Mad Men.” Founder of the international agency Ogilvy and Mather, he is regarded as one of the most influential advertising executives of all time, and is credited with being a pioneer in matching scientific methods of research and polling with the traditional creative elements of the communications craft.

Today, Ogilvy and Mather has more than 450 offices in 169 cities, and a reputation as one of the best-run agencies in the world. David Ogilvy famously built the business by “sharing” the secrets of how the ad business works in his 1963 book, “Confessions Of An Advertising Man,” which also served to make him celebrated as an industry expert. Over the years, the “Ogilvyisms” in his book have been quoted as management maxims across many different disciplines.

One of these relates to hiring good people. “Hire people bigger than yourself, and you become a company of giants.” Good advice—if you add more and more talented people, you put your organization into a position to grow and create.

Or do you?

Ogilvy’s advice works well—if your group can handle the changes in traditional thought that it requires.


Where Does Your Leadership Come From?

Energetic, motivated employees are a blessing—they’re willing to take on new challenges, adapt to change, and explore new ideas. For many organizations this is how they stay dynamic—there’s always something new happening.

But for others, this energy can be more curse than blessing, because it takes focus away from core missions and competencies. Ambitious, motivated employees are willing to challenge authority and direction (again, sometimes a plus), which can be disruptive for an organization that leads from the top down. If your management structure works like a pyramid, it may not put a lot of leadership motivation at the bottom.


Where Do You Need Your Giants?

But just because you don’t need leaders doesn’t necessarily mean that you can benefit from Ogilvy’s giant suggestion. What is the core competency of your company? Could you benefit from giants in research? Or marketing? Or management? What are your company strengths and weaknesses? It certainly seems to make sense to hire larger in areas where you need the most help to improve. Your “giants” may be relatively small at first—but they can still offer big benefits.


Can Your People Check Their Egos At The Door?

The ultimate issue, however, is whether or not existing employees can handle the influx of new talent without feeling so threatened that they become adversaries, or perhaps leave altogether. In some instances, the latter resolution may be acceptable, if there’s enough continuity through systems and records to turnover doesn’t cause disruption. Another solution that can resolve conflicts is to allow existing staff members to give up duties where they have less capability and concentrate on the areas where they excel, leaving other tasks to the new people who have specific talents in those areas. In this case, it becomes a win-win for your people and your company.

Bringing in new talent requires strategic planning and a willingness to change organization, structure, and sometimes even company culture. Done properly, hiring better and better people offers a giant opportunity. But done without the right preparation and commitment to continuous improvement, it could be a giant problem.

What do you want to build today?