Kelly O'Dea, 49, a former Colorado rancher, gave up his branding iron for a career in advertising and branding of another sort. As a senior executive with Ogilvy & Mather Advertising, he now puts a global brand to the likes of IBM, Ford, American Express, Unilever, Shell, and Kraft.
To globalize a brand, O'Dea starts by globalizing his people. He typically gives his top performers two-to three-year assignments in a foreign country. The profile for global leadership is changing, claims O'Dea. Here's what he looks for:
You must be a fearless opportunist.
"There's precious little time in today's global economy to assess opportunities — take too much time, and opportunities will pass you by. When one of our international media directors had the chance to secure pan-European sponsorship of the European Soccer Union, he didn't have enough time to reach Ford, the client, for approval. So he made the deal on his own — a multimillion-dollar decision that proved a big success. I want people who rely on their intuition as much as they rely on their analytical skills."
But real change doesn't happen overnight, and considerable resistance awaits those who try to lead the way.
"Before Ford could launch a new line in Europe, we had to make 15 separate presentations to various governments so we could get the campaign approved. It was an emotionally draining ordeal. When opportunities don't work out, you need to be an optimistic realist — tireless in pursuit of new goals and passionately committed to getting there."
Live life with pencils, not pens.
"There are no indelible rules in today's marketplace. A few months ago, Unilever went from a highly centralized to a decentralized global organization. We had to adjust right along with them. I look for flexible folks who roll with the changes."
You need to be comfortable with change and confident in chaos.
"People who deliver on an overseas assignment prefer uncharted territory. Here's an extreme example: when a terrorist's bomb went off next to our building in London, one of our international account executives stayed at his desk, busily typing email on his laptop. I screamed at him to evacuate. His reply: 'That was nothing. You should have seen the explosion we had in Sri Lanka last month.'"
You've got to be cybersavvy.
"I started an informal electronic community with three other global executives. We share resources and insights on international organizations and marketing trends. We named our little network 'GloBees' — it's since grown to more than 100 members. I think of technology as a network integrator that enables me to operate as if my partners — scattered across the globe — are in the same office. The hallways are just a little longer."
Change can't come through technology alone.
"You've always got to be on the move, face to face with local partners around the world. Once I flew from London to Tokyo for a two-hour meeting in the airport. I flew back on the same plane I came in on — in the same seat! If you don't fly, don't apply."
Coordinates: G. Kelly O'Dea, firstname.lastname@example.org
A version of this article appeared in the April/May 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.