Sharma will stay on as a strategic advisor until July 2014. Varma, currently regional chief strategy officer of Leo Burnett Asia Pacific, takes over from Sharma on 1 November. Varma will report directly to Jarek Ziebinski, president, Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific.
Nitish Mukherjee, director on the board of the company, will also play a key role in the transition as a strategic consultant, working closely with local and regional leaders.
Varma’s international experience and his understanding of the Indian market, a strategically important one for Leo Burnett, helped him clinch the job, said Tom Bernardin, chairman and CEO, Leo Burnett Worldwide. “Saurabh’s task will be to curate a Leo Burnett India that is not only in line with the changing dynamics in our industry but also an integrated communications company, digitized and rooted in ‘HumanKind’ thinking,” said Bernardin who is in Mumbai today for the announcement.
As chief strategy officer, the Singapore-based Varma oversees all heads of strategy and planning directors in the region. In 2013, he launched the Leo Burnett Institute of Behaviour (LBIB), a Singapore-based consulting, innovation and research division. He also presides over the APAC Effectiveness Council and is part of Leo Burnett’s global HumanKind Counsel.
Varma began his career with DDB India and was made head of account management of TBWA India within four years.
Sharma is considered one of the longest-serving CEOs in the Indian advertising industry. He is currently president of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) until his tenure runs out in July 2014. He began his career in 1977 as assistant sales manager with Voltas and moved to Leo Burnett in 1983.