When Annette King, chief executive of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather UK, went on maternity leave in 2007, she told colleagues with confidence she would get a better job on her return, and she did.
“When I went, I remember saying to people, ‘Don’t worry, just give my jobs to other people, because when I come back, you’re going to give me a better job, a higher up job’,” says Ms King, who was then running new business, client services and digital. “After both my maternity leaves, I was promoted”.
The first time, she came back to be Managing Director of global marketing division OgilvyOne. The second time, she was made chief executive.
Ms King is no less assertive in her everyday life. After her mother died of a brain aneurysm 10 years ago, she discovered she had one too. She decided to have it treated then even though her surgeon said she could have waited.
“Before the operation, I said goodbye to my husband and baby, just in case. It was all very emotional,” she says.
She adds: “It didn’t leave me any less ambitious or less keen to have a successful career balanced with a happy family life, but it did make it a lot easier to take the knocks, which are inevitable in any business.”
Though these stories may sound charmlessly pushy, she does not come across like that. Instead, she combines straight talking with warmth and a sense of self-deprecation. Perhaps it is her slight build, clad in a lacy dress and high heels, that helps to temper any aggression.
Perhaps it is also because, as she says, she took to heart advice given to her about six years ago: “Darling, you’re going to be just fine, all you need to do is to learn to move like honey.”
Charlotte Beers, the Texas-born former global head of Ogilvy & Mather who ran a senior management mentoring and development scheme for female executives, gave her the advice.
The scheme, called the X Factor, selects senior female executives from across the WPP Group, led by Martin Sorrell, which owns the advertising company.
“I knew what Charlotte meant and it’s in my mind every day. What she meant was just smooth it out a bit. Just glide a bit more. Don’t knee-jerk, smooth it out,” she says. “It was fantastic advice and was very well timed because I’d just become chief executive of OgilvyOne.”
Ms King, 45, calls herself a working-class girl from Swindon who had the chance to go to art school but instead went to Oxford Brookes Polytechnic (now a university) for a degree in business studies. “I opted for the route which had a more obvious job at the end of it, where I could start to earn a wage.”
After graduating in 1991 she eventually landed her first job at a small agency.
“I firmly believe you create your own luck,” she quips.
She then joined Wunderman, now part of the WPP Group, and spent four years in New York while in her twenties.
It was there she learnt to accept feedback after having a rather terse reaction to it the first time around. “I seem to remember telling the person offering it to f**k off,” she says, adding: “They persisted, and the feedback was helpful. I learnt swiftly that getting it and giving it is usually very helpful.”
By 2000, she wanted a change and left New York to join Ogilvy & Mather in London. She attributes her rapid rise through the company in part to her boss, Paul O’Donnell, who now heads the business across Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“I’ve had the same boss for 14 years. As he moved up, I moved into his job,” she says, but insists she has a strong wider support network too.
Ms King is frustratingly upbeat. She says she has done “loads wrong” but her only example, the New York outburst, fails to chip the flawlessly polished exterior she presents.
Even her biggest current challenge, which she says is Ogilvy’s move from two London locations to a single site on the south bank of the river Thames, seems rather benign for a chief executive.
As I end my interview, I come to the realisation that Ms King is after all an award-winning advertising executive and that this time her well-packaged product was herself.
Article written by Sharmila Devi and is reproduced here from the Financial Times.