Laurie Young on her retirement from Ogilvy

After a remarkable 30-plus years at Ogilvy, the last two as CEO, Laurie Young is retiring on March 27.

“Laurie Young has been a magnificent contributor to Ogilvy and the Canadian advertising industry,” said Ogilvy in a statement to The Message. “In a career spanning three decades, Laurie was a courageous brand builder, industry leader and advocate for our people. Laurie set down the foundations for a new, more unified Ogilvy operation in Canada. We all thank her for her stellar contributions over the years and wish her huge happiness and success as she enters her own next chapter.”

Ogilvy said a replacement will be announced prior to her departure, and that executive group heads Aviva Groll, Zemina Moosa and Jo Palmiero “will partner with Laurie through the transition.”

“Laurie is Ogilvy,” said Nancy Vonk, a long-time colleague of Young’s at what was then Ogilvy & Mather, starting in the 1990s up until 2011, when Vonk and creative partner Janet Kestin left the agency. “[She was] always in ‘can-do’ mode, exuding positivity. She had the superpower of lifting me—and others—up when the chips were down.

“She showed from the start that this is a place where women succeed and do so by being exactly who they are—not clones of the male leaders.”

The Message spoke with Young about her time at Ogilvy.

How did you spend more than 30 years at a single agency?

“I had great bosses and I think when you have people who give you the opportunity and the coaching to succeed, there is no reason to leave,” she said, giving special mention to the late Judy Elder, Brian Fetherstonhaugh (who ran Ogilvy & Mather in the mid 1990s) and Dennis Stief, who preceded Young as Ogilvy Canada CEO. She also felt comfortable with the Ogilvy culture, she said. “It is about professionalism, integrity, always searching for great ideas… It is a very ideas-driven culture.”

What is she proudest of? 

“I am so proud of the body of work that Ogilvy has produced over the years,” she said. “I am very proud, too, how women have grown and succeeded during my time here” she added, pointing to Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk as just two examples.

Why now?

There are both personal and business reasons behind her decision, she said. First, Ogilvy is moving from its long-time home on Yonge Street in the next two weeks. “Putting a new face in a new place from the get-go felt like a smart thing to do,” she said. Aside from that, Young said it was time to “shelve the 9-to-9 job, to do some other things.”

Why is Ogilvy moving?

“It’s for very practical reasons,” she said. Ogilvy’s lease on the Yonge Street office was expiring, while the Wunderman space on Wellington Avenue became available following its recent merger with JWT. Plus, the agency needed a temporary home before all of the WPP offices are brought together in Toronto’s Waterfront Innovation Centre—where WPP will be the anchor tenant—beginning in 2021. About 100 Ogilvy staff will move to the vacated Wunderman offices, with Ogilvy Commonhealth moving to 60 Bloor Street and shopper marketing group Geometry moving to 46 Spadina Ave.

What other things will she be working on?

She’s joining the board of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, so she can spend more time working to improve gender equality—an issue that’s particularly important to her. She has also been taking courses on gerontology through the University of Western Ontario. “I am really struck by the notion of aging gracefully, from an emotional standpoint and a physical standpoint,” she said. She’s hoping to explore new ways and structures to help others take care of themselves in order to live longer, fuller lives.

And her retirement had nothing to do with larger WPP changes or those rumours about merging with John St.?

“No, it does not,” she said. “I hear the same rumours; I’ll reiterate what [Olgivy’s worldwide CEO] John Seifert has said. Toronto is the first Ogilvy office that David Ogilvy opened internationally in 1960, and there is no plan whatsoever to merge Ogilvy and John St.”


David Brown