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Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus of Ogilvy, on Aligning Values and Career

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

January 4, 2021 - Washington, DC

Last month, Pallas Foundation for National Security Leadership, in partnership with #NatSecGirlSquad, hosted a conversation with Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus and former worldwide CEO of Ogilvy. Shelly discussed how she navigated her career journey, how to foster diversity initiatives in the workplace, and offered seasoned advice for those embarking on their careers in national security and business.

For more than four decades, Shelly Lazarus has been trailblazing through, as she would say it, “the business I love,” rising through the ranks of Ogilvy to eventually become the worldwide CEO in 1996. Alongside her advertising and marketing career, Shelly’s expertise in strategic communications has positioned her to advise young leaders and institutions across all intersections of industry. Currently, she serves on several boards including The Blackstone Group, New York Presbyterian Hospital, and previously the Defense Business Board.

Reflecting on a long and successful career, Shelly shared her personal and professional advice on how to find meaning and fulfillment in your work. She urged young professionals to find work that they loved, to surround themselves with people they believed in, and to embrace their authenticity, noting that with these key factors, she was able to find passion in her work--which drove her career forward.

Shelly also discussed how being the only woman to “have a seat at the table” enabled her to take on new daunting experiences, and that there is power that can be found in being a unique or minority perspective at a table of decision-makers. By accepting and leveraging her status as the only female perspective in the boardroom, Shelly ensured that a woman’s voice was heard, contributing to the dismantlement of legacy perceptions of females in the workplace--and preventing the company from making choices that would not resonate with female consumers.

From her experience stemming beyond her career at Ogilvy (including her time at the Defense Business Board), Shelly also talked about the importance of communication, both internally and externally. Even when working on very complicated topics--like national security--it is critical to be able to boil down and communicate ideas about both topics and organizational initiatives. When it comes to ESG programs, Shelly emphasized that internally, senior management needs to express the organization’s goals in a clear and concise manner so that people can take action. Doing an objective brand audit of an organization is also an effective tool, Shelly argued, as an organization can then see how it is perceived by minorities who are trying to enter the industry and interrupt those perceptions at key junctures.

Shelly closed the discussion by advising young leaders that if they want systemic change in their workplace, they must insist on it--but that she thinks the private sector is ready for the impact of a new generation.


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