How CEOs make an company artistic

We chat to CEOs Chris Kay at Saatchi & Saatchi and Ajaz Ahmed at AKQA about what it means to drive forward creativity at top agencies — and how they balance that with the ‘business’ side  

There’s a familiar cliché that the higher someone progresses up the ranks in a creative business, the less ‘creative’ their job actually becomes. By that logic, then, the CEO of a creative agency doesn’t have much ‘creative’ work at all in their day to day job. However, as well as ensuring the business side of the company is thriving, the most important function of agency CEOs is accelerating, fostering and cultivating creativity.

But how does a CEO actually go about fostering creativity when they’re at the helm of an agency with hundreds even thousands of employees? When Chris Kay took over as CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi in late 2021, he faced the not-insignificant challenge of running what’s probably the world’s most famous ad agency, and driving a renewed focus on making world-class creative work.

With Saatchi & Saatchi now a 51-year-old company, Kay feels it’s up to him and “anyone else who works here” to help define what the next 50 years look like taking what the agency has been known for and re-articulating its creative values for today’s world. His job, he says, is about “restating that intellectual creativity, which is what Saatchi has been known for” to unlock the ways in which brands and consumers can work together in the coming years.

Chris Kay, Saatchi & Saatchi CEO

“If you’re going to run a creative organisation, you should have a perspective on how you can help your people unlock the best of their creativity,” says Kay. “That doesn’t mean you need to be an inherently creative person you don’t need to be an art director or a copywriter or designer by trade it just means you need to understand that personal self expression and creative opportunity comes from people truly being themselves.”

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