By Katherine Levy, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 23 February 2012 08:00AM
A preliminary delve into Nick Emery's character, from people who know him, didn't produce the most promising results. "He is well respected but can be abrasive," according to one source.
So it was a bit of a surprise that the interview took place over a spread of sugar-dusted pastries, some fruit salad and a selection of teas, hosted by a genial Emery. It's a far cry from the man - or the context - of legend. But, as a Mindshare employee said afterwards: "He will have to do a lot more of the charming now he is the chief executive."
It turns out Emery is the first to admit that compared with Dominic Proctor, the well-loved suit who has been promoted to the newly created role of Group M president after 15 years leading Mindshare Worldwide, he is "not a natural chief executive". Emery adds: "I suppose the conventional CEO is the person who revels in the business side. The business side is important, but what is even more important to me is the people who do stuff."
The image of Proctor as the good cop and Emery as the bad cop is ingrained into the industry's psyche. Emery says: "The really annoying thing about Dominic - and I said this in a speech when he left - is that there aren't many people who are still universally popular after 15 years of running a company. In response to which, Rob Norman, the chief executive of Group M North America, interjected: 'Well, it won't happen to you, Nick.'"
Proctor points out the harsher criticisms of Emery are borne out of the fact that "he doesn't suffer fools". Proctor concedes: "He wants people to keep pace and he's demanding. Sometimes you have to decipher the Yorkshire mumbling, but he's a rare combination of being very sharp strategically but also hands on." Kelly Clark, the global chief executive of Maxus, adds: "Sometimes I think Nick could slow down and take those of us who are more slow-witted along with him, but it's a small price to pay to have someone that brilliant as a colleague."
Observers seem to suggest that Emery is possessed of a wired brilliance that borders on the autistic. He has a similar manner to the musical maestro Andrew Lloyd Webber - the same way of mumbling astute observations with his legs crossed, just like Lloyd Webber might critique a trembling, wannabe Jesus in the upcoming ITV show Jesus Christ Superstar.
Reputation aside, Emery is clearly as passionate as he was in the first hour of Mindshare's creation. Which is nice, considering no-one would blame him if, by this point, the former chief strategy officer was fed up and jaded with the whole shebang.
He remembers the good old days when it was a real coup to separate media out from the WPP creative networks Ogilvy & Mather and JWT. He remembers the day it won Kimberly-Clark as its founding client before Mindshare even had an office, and he recalls with fondness a misguided fashion sense. "I remember Dominic wearing the most awful suits," Emery says with a wry smile. "He had a wardrobe of double-breasted suits - including a cream number. When we launched the office in Greece, he wore it thinking it was a sort of 'Mediterranean look'."
A decade-and-a-half on, Emery is now in charge of a sprawling media empire of 112 offices and around 6,000 staff. But when he describes the Mindshare he knows, it seems a very different beast to what Campaign has in its mind's eye - that of a corporate machine. "I really fucking hate that impression," he says.
"We always wanted it to be a different kind of company," he explains, "which was why we felt winning Nike was such a defining thing. We wanted it to be more punky and radical, which is why it was called Mindshare - as in 'collaborative'. Because media companies are all like vanilla: Starcom MediaVest, ZenithOptimedia - they (the names) don't mean much, do they? We wanted it to be different - about planning, not just about pricing."
Emery describes Mindshare, which was launched as a hush-hush trial in Taipei in 1997, as "an Asian company". He says Mindshare contributes to 50 per cent of Group M's lifeblood in Asia, with 80 per cent of Mindshare's business being global. He adds that he wants to change the board to have greater Asian representation on it, and also argues that Mindshare has given so much resource to Group M that it has diluted the Mindshare offering. "Inevitably, the Mindshare brand has suffered a little bit because of Group M," he says.
The global network of which Emery is so proud is currently under pressure from that cyclical, ever-painful £3 billion Unilever review.
"I think we do some really good work for Unilever," he says. "I think they're a demanding client but they buy some good stuff."
And what does he think about competitors sniping that Unilever is not profitable? "Well, it might not be if they drop their trousers to win it and play a stupid commodity game for them," he says defensively. "But it is for us."
The new Mindshare boss has that dogged, if slightly precarious, mindset that his agency is the best. He says: "The stuff we're doing with data is better than anybody else, because I've got the internal Group M benchmark to tell me so. But sometimes the outside world doesn't see that."
He shows this in amusing ways, such as a tale about what Mindshare calls its meeting rooms. "I said we should call it after radical media thinkers such as Timothy Leary or Douglas Coupland." He pauses: "I mean, I don't think OMD would do that."
Emery knows he has a lot to do to turn Mindshare's image around, something his strategy background could lend itself to well. "We are going to take our marketing a lot more seriously," he says. At a recent employee conference, Emery tried to encourage staff to take individual responsibility to effect change. He says: "We're all going to die. And we're spending quite a lot of time here. So, my opinion is: why don't we try something different and take a few risks and have some fun?"
Let's hope, for his staff's sake, that Emery's fun-filled vision comes to pass.
Lives: Islington, London
Family: One boy, one girl, one wife and one dog
Pastimes: Anything to do with the family
Reading: Magnus Mills
Morning routine: Get up at 6am and walk our foxhound, Boo, and make
conference calls to Asia
Social media: My dog is on Facebook. I am not on Facebook
Mantra: It's about winning. There's no point doing it if you don't
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk