Young talent will work hard to make his mark on UK's media

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 30 January 2003 08:00AM

Zenith Optimedia's new UK chief is great at leading by example, writes Alasdair Reid.

Once is an interesting novelty, twice is something more than coincidence. If this happens again we'll have to start calling it a trend. Last week, Zenith Optimedia revealed it had cast its net halfway round the globe in its search for a new chief executive for the London operation. As of February 5, the new boss will be the 38-year-old Antony Young, currently the chief executive of Zenith Optimedia Group, Asia, based in Hong Kong.

The news is rather sobering for those who assumed that the UK was still pre-eminent as a net exporter of media talent and ideas to the rest of the world -- coming as it does a matter of weeks after Kelly Clark arrived from MindShare in Asia to take the top job at the London office of MindShare.

Has the local pool of talent become a rather stagnant puddle or is the appointment actually a reflection of the changing status of media companies in a consolidating world? Can it be true that Zenith, once a standard bearer for media's New Wave, is the fiefdom of corporate man?

All of this tends to assume that Young is no more than corporate man. Not a good assumption in this particular case. Young, according to those whose paths he has crossed, is something special.

He has spent almost exactly half his life in media and advertising and has been at Zenith since 1996. The company's Asian network is his baby -- and its successful construction was an achievement of mind-boggling complexity, given the number of markets and the wide diversity of business cultures involved.

So the UK job could be a doddle in comparison, couldn't it? Or it could be a massive handicap that he doesn't know his way round the intricacies of the UK airtime market, with its arcane agency deals and cliquey relationships. Does it matter that he has no history with the major clients or doesn't know where all the bodies are buried?

Young certainly has no intention of being complacent. "I will have to get up to speed very quickly," he admits. "I have no knowledge of the existing team. The skill-sets are there, that's a given. But clients don't hand new business to companies just because they can do the basics. What we have to do is achieve a merger of two established companies that avoids a mix-and-match approach. We have to re-purpose the company. We have to create a new vision and get people to share that vision."

According to his fellow Kiwi, the Saatchi & Saatchi London chief executive James Hall, Young has an awesome talent for putting together teams. He says: "His great strength is that he isn't egotistical. He works bloody hard, he sets an example, he's fair and focused. He is very straightforward. He's highly intelligent and has an inclusive style. His name is also appropriate because he always seems to achieve things at an incredibly young age."

But the London job is certainly going to test that selflessness. While the senior Publicis bosses have been faffing about at holding company level, the merger of Zenith and Optimedia (just two of the many Publicis media brands these days) has been problematic in some markets, notably London.

Observers in rival networks have been genuinely astounded at the amount of drift that's been allowed in London, that unrest has been building among key talent and that the newly merged operation needs strong leadership.

Which is why the outsider, the fresh pair of eyes, might be a good idea. On the other hand, he will be surrounded by people who think they've forgotten more about the UK market than he'll ever know. They could be difficult to manage.

Many believe that Simon Marquis has a key role to play here. Currently the chief executive, Marquis will move over to become the chairman -- and Young will undoubtedly come to value his experience, not to mention his relationships with senior clients.

As is seemingly compulsory with all New Zealanders, Young is a big fan of the All Blacks. One of his favourite games of the relatively recent past was a World Cup match at Twickenham in 1999 when the Kiwis, with a rampant Jonah Lomu, rolled over England, winning 30-16.

It would be stretching a point to find symbolic meaning here -- and in any case, according to Hall, you wouldn't confuse Young for an All Black. "He's tall and thin and willowy," he explains.

However, Young does admit to taking inspiration from one particular All Blacks captain -- the quietly intelligent Graham Mourie, who inspired the All Blacks to a British tour Grand Slam in 1978 and who led very much by example from within the team.

"It's like coaches too," Young explains. "There are the ones who read the riot act, who have a plan that has to be followed to a 'T'. And there are those who look at the players they have and design a team plan that plays to their strengths. What I will say I'm good at is people."

The Young file

1995 Saatchi & Saatchi Hong Kong, regional media director

1996 Zenith Media Asia, chief executive

2001 Zenith Optimedia Group, chief executive, Asia

2003 Zenith Optimedia, UK chief executive

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This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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