Since joining Ogilvy PR in 1991, Abby Hsieh has worked at every level of the organization, managing public relations for clients including Ta Ya Electric Wire & Cable, Co., Ltd., Intel, Yageo, Costco, Wowprime, Taiwan Pay, Triumph, Diageo/Johnnie Walker, Hair O’right, MJN, SRAM, Samsung, Nestle, Cona’s, and Coca-Cola. As Managing Director of Ogilvy Group Taiwan, she’s responsible for her clients’ brand positioning, strategy development, and execution management.
Hsieh connected with TOPICS Senior Editor Julia Bergström at the Ghost Island Media recording studio to discuss brand strategy, how to best work with new technologies, and why there’s no such thing as an annoying employee. An abridged version of their conversation follows. To listen to the extended podcast version, visit topics.amcham.com.tw/listen.
You’re celebrating 30 years at Ogilvy this year, a journey you started as an intern. Did you ever envision that you would one day run the company’s Taiwan office? What changes have you seen to Ogilvy during your time with the company?
I never thought I would become the Managing Director of Ogilvy Taiwan. I believe the purpose of working is to challenge yourself and keep learning. If you’re an account executive, for example, you should focus on learning the skills needed to become a senior account executive so that when the opportunity arises, you’ll be ready to step up. I’ve always been more afraid of stopping my personal growth and learning than of not reaching a particular goal.
Over the past 30 years, Ogilvy has encountered a lot of challenges due to new technologies and changing consumer demands, and we’ve managed to overcome them. I’m grateful that we have a strong global network of professionals who work together towards one consistent goal – to make brands matter. This is our mission, and it’s something we’ll never change.
You took a break from work and studied for a master’s in international management at the University of Reading. What prompted you to make that decision, and what are some things you learned from that experience that you still use today?
I became a formal Ogilvy employee right after graduating from university. I was promoted to an Account Director when I was 29 years old and led a team of five people and worked quite independently. But I started feeling like I’d hit my ceiling and realized that I needed to improve my abilities. So I decided to take a gap year and went to the UK to study for a master’s degree. It turned out to be the right decision – I learned new management skills, strategic thinking, and how to think and behave like a CEO. I also had the opportunity to meet people from different cultures, which helped me learn how to relax and enjoy life.
After completing my studies, I was promoted to General Manager at 37 years old. I was the youngest person at Ogilvy to win this title at the time, and soon became the managing director. Now I advise young people to invest in themselves and continue learning – you are what you learn.
Did you have any mentor figures at the early stages of your career that helped you get there? And what lessons did they teach you about doing business or management that you still use today?
One piece of advice that has always stuck with me came from a regional consultant named Indi, who I met when I was new to my role as an Account Director. At that time, I was overly anxious about my business targets and very critical of my team members, which resulted in me being harsh and demanding. I was afraid to fail.
During one of our team meetings, we discussed a lost pitch. One of my teammates cried after the meeting. Indi noticed that and told me to be careful. She said: “Be tough on your business but be gentle with your people. Our people are our equity.” Her words have stayed with me, and I always keep them in mind.
Another person who has been a great influence on me is my client, Mr. Ryan Shen, the CEO of Ta Ya Wire and Cable, a 67-year-old company located in Tainan. We have been working together on their business transformation for years, and I have observed that whenever he needs to make difficult decisions, he always goes back to his value system and asks whether it aligns with the company’s vision or not. His approach serves as a reminder to me not to forget who we are and where we come from.
What’s your approach to management? Is there a particular philosophy that you follow?
Our founder, David Ogilvy, was famous for his insightful management philosophy, which included the famous Russian doll management model. He believed that if we only hire people who are smaller than us, we will become a company of dwarfs. But if we hire people who are bigger and more capable than we are, we become a company of giants.
This philosophy is a reminder to always strive for excellence in our team members and to prioritize their growth and development. As a manager, it’s my duty to coach and mentor my staff to be stronger than me so that they can contribute to the long-term success of Ogilvy even when I’m no longer with them. Talent is our most valuable asset, and we place a high value on people, knowledge, and creativity as the key pillars of our organization.
You’ve said that “we must learn from the young in terms of technology and skills, but in terms of strategy, we still need to obtain and withhold.” Why is this important?
Developing a brand strategy is crucial for any brand’s existence, and we need senior leadership to create a plan that can withstand the test of time. But technology is different. Unlike brand strategy, technology evolves rapidly, and platforms like Facebook, which was popular a decade ago, are now considered outdated by the younger generation.
We can learn a lot from our younger talent when it comes to designing effective campaigns and channels to deliver brand messages. They’ve grown up in a digital environment and have valuable insights into the latest technology trends. It’s our responsibility to work together and appreciate each other’s strengths to come up with innovative solutions that can impact our clients’ businesses positively.
We also need to invest time in learning new technology to remain relevant in today’s fast-paced world. We should always stay ahead of the curve and create higher value for our clients. For example, I’ve been interacting with Chat GPT lately. I found that while it can help us write simple news releases, it can’t replace human creativity and emotional intelligence. When it comes to raising important issues like ESG, we still need to rely on human expertise. But we can use tools like Chat GPT to enhance our work if we learn how to use it effectively.
What advice would you give companies that want to strengthen their brand?
Firstly, it’s important to understand and question why your brand exists, and what impact it has on the consumer and the world.
Secondly, use creativity and technology to communicate effectively with your target audience and stakeholders. This allows you to create something that resonates with them, and they will become loyal customers or influencers for your brand and company.
Finally, in this day and age, all brands have to prioritize ESG (environmental, social, and governance concerns. This is not only important for the planet, but it’s also becoming increasingly important for businesses. ESG will soon be a business barrier that all companies will have to overcome to remain profitable and successful in the long run.
You’ve set clear boundaries about 6-10 pm being your family time. How can others who are not managing directors set up those types of boundaries with their colleagues and managers? Is it possible?
I have different roles in my life, just like everyone else. I’m an employee in the company, a mother, and a daughter to my own mother, and I need to balance those roles. I believe we can support each other at work without impeding on personal time.
In my opinion, there’s no such thing as an annoying employee – there are only annoying bosses. Most employees want to enjoy their personal time without being bothered by their bosses after work or during holidays. It’s the manager’s job to have self-control and avoid disturbing employees during their off-duty hours.
When it comes to client crises, it’s a different story. But non-urgent matters can be managed effectively in advance, especially when it comes to meetings. Meetings should be organized to be as efficient as possible.
What do you like to do to relax and recharge?
I like going to the movies and working out at the gym. I recently tried something new, though – I took a hip-hop dance class with some girlfriends. It was amazing and so much fun! I felt a surge of new energy throughout my body.
Another new experience I dared to try was participating in a three-day cycling event on the Southern Cross-Island Highway last November. It was a huge challenge, but I’m happy I did it and plan to go on another long ride this year. I really like taking on new challenges and pushing myself outside my comfort zone.