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Slow and steady: It took 25 years at Grey ad agency for Yashaswini Samat to become its first female CEO

She considers herself lucky enough to get there at her own pace

Yashaswini Samat, or Yash as she is fondly called by those in the business, is the new woman in charge at Grey Group—in fact, she is the first woman CEO at the advertising giant. Samat started her career in the early ’90s and changed a bunch of jobs in the first few years before joining Grey, on the prestigious P&G account. Over the last 25 years, she’s been driving the brand account and overseeing it across APAC and globally, in markets including Malaysia, Singapore, UK, India and USA. After a stint in New York, Yash returned to India in 2014. Well-respected within the industry for her drive and incredible instinct, she acknowledges that the advertising game is changing, and keeping up with the dynamic market is a new challenge altogether. Here, she shares insights from her long, successful journey, even though she says the new generation is more financially secure, has more options, and a whole new set of priorities:

ELLE: You’ve spent 25 years at Grey, and you are the company’s first woman CEO. Why did it take so long?

Yashaswini Samat: It was a choice. I was offered this role eight years ago, but I turned it down. I have loved my job and the career path I’ve had with Grey because I was able to make certain choices, and balance them with my life goals. Grey let me do that without me feeling like I was missing out, or without treating me with less respect, and I give them credit for that. You need a balanced life. It’s important for me to succeed, but I do have a life beyond work.

ELLE: What were some of the career choices you made in order to achieve that work-life balance?

YS: For 10 years, I followed my husband around and I had a job I loved. Was I growing at the kind of pace I wanted to? Probably not. But that was fair. Once my son
went to college, I took up a role in New York and went there on my own. My husband was busy with his start-up here. We both were entering an exciting phase. It was the
right financial stage to go to New York. I was doing well, and so, I really enjoyed my time there. I’ve been able to choose, and that’s very important for women.

ELLE: Would the same opportunities apply to women across the board, at Grey?

YS: In my case, it was an individual choice. My bosses were supportive of me. Companies are becoming more forward-thinking, and we do need to institutionalise these systems and be supportive, so smart women don’t fall off-track when they have kids. And I think women can have it all, but not necessarily at the same time. We need to make different choices at different stages, and having that choice is important. I would say, stay on at a company, build your equity, and fight for your due.

yashaswini samat

ELLE: Do you believe a more diverse company culture is beneficial to a business?

YS: A good gender ratio is representative of different points of view, different thinking. As the CEO, there is always an impulse to hire people like yourself, in whom you recognise a drive. But you need a mix of genders, personalities and religious beliefs in your team.

ELLE: What’s the gender ratio at Grey?

YS: Thirty per cent of our workforce comprises women right now. That’s below average for the advertising industry, and we do have a problem retaining women at higher positions. I’m hoping to change that, but it will take time. At the same time, I wouldn’t give a senior position to someone just on the basis of their gender. I would ensure that I interview enough women for the job, but the system also needs to be meritocratic. I have a lot of competent men in the company as well.

ELLE: What is your advice to young women?

YS: Don’t overthink your choices. There are no permanent life decisions. Your views will change, our world is ever evolving. You can learn so much when you move out of your comfort zone. Try new things and work with new platforms. It will help you grow.

ELLE: What do you do in your spare time?

YS: I love shopping—it’s a great stress buster! And I always look forward to catching up with my husband over a glass of wine.

Photograph: Sahil Behal

Sittings editor: Akshita Singh

Hair and Make-up: Jean-Claude Biguine