Singaporean Tham Khai Meng fired from chief creative officer role at ad giant Ogilvy over alleged misconduct

Singaporean advertising veteran Tham Khai Meng, who was also co-chairman of Ogilvy's board, joined the ad giant in 1999.
Singaporean advertising veteran Tham Khai Meng, who was also co-chairman of Ogilvy's board, joined the ad giant in 1999.PHOTO: OGILVY & MATHER

SINGAPORE - Singaporean advertising veteran Tham Khai Meng was on Thursday (July 12) fired from his long-time position as worldwide chief creative officer of The Ogilvy Group.

The global advertising agency's chief executive officer John Seifert told employees in a memo that this followed an internal investigation into complaints over Mr Tham's behaviour.

According to trade publication Adweek, the memo said that the complaints surfaced two weeks ago and were serious enough that an external legal counsel was appointed to investigate the matter.

"After carefully reviewing the investigation's findings with several of my partners, we concluded that Khai's behaviour was a clear breach of our company values and code of conduct," Mr Seifert wrote.

"I have decided to terminate Khai's employment with the company with immediate effect."

Mr Tham, who is in his 60s and married, joined the ad giant in 1999. He was also co-chairman of Ogilvy's board.

In 2009, he became the first Asian and Singaporean to take on the role of worldwide chief creative officer.

 
 

As the company's creative spokesman, he was a prominent player in the industry who spoke frequently at advertising conferences around the world.

At Ogilvy, he played a role in shaping the identities of brands such as Coca-Cola, IBM, Unilever and Louis Vuitton.

He also led Ogilvy to win the prestigious Cannes Lions Network of the Year award five years in a row from 2012.

He was also one of four recipients of the Designer of the Year award at the 2009 President's Design Award in Singapore.

In his previous roles at Leo Burnett and Batey Ads, his work included advertisements for Singapore Airlines and Raffles Hotel.

Ogilvy's former worldwide creative director Tuan Ching, who worked with Mr Tham for about nine years before leaving the company in 2017, told The Straits Times on Thursday that he was shocked by the news of Mr Tham's termination.

"In my experience working with him, he was always very professional and kind to me," he said. "I was only told about the news this morning and I haven't had the chance to speak to him yet. This came as a surprise to me. I have no words."

Mr Tuan, who is now based in Singapore, added that Mr Tham strived for high standards at work and expected only the best from the team.

"As a friend, he was very generous and kind," he said, adding that the pair shared a close friendship while he was in New York. "As a friend to me, he could do no wrong."

Ogilvy is a subisidiary of London-based WPP, said to be the world’s largest advertising and PR group. It was founded by David Ogilvy in 1948, and now boasts 132 offices in 83 countries, according to its profile on WPP's website.

Mr Tham's termination comes closely on the back of other agency chiefs who have lost their jobs in recent months due to misconduct. 

They include WPP chief executive and founder Martin Sorrell who quit suddenly in April following an allegation of personal misconduct through the misuse of company's assets.

WPP had said in early April that it had appointed lawyers to investigate the matter. But less than two weeks later, Mr Sorell, 73, announced his resignation, saying that the disruption was putting too much strain on the company.

In January, New York City-based ad agency Droga5 fired its chief creative officer Ted Royer, two days after he was put on leave, pending an internal investigation.

In the memo, Mr Seifert called Mr Tham's termination "an important moment to reaffirm that no individual in this company is too senior or too important not to be held accountable for their actions".

He also thanked employees for their support.