Close-Up: Profile - Ramzan Golant brings back drive to faded AMV

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 12 November 2004 12:00AM

The new chief executive wants to buck up the creative and restore the agency to former glories. Rachel Gardner reports.

Less than a decade ago, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO was riding a wave.Under its chief executive, Michael Baulk, the agency was producing acclaimed creative work and had an impressive new-business record that, in 1996, toppled Saatchi & Saatchi from the top of the billings league.

Fast forward eight years to 2004 and AMV may still be top of the league, but it is struggling to cling on to the market-leading status it carved out for itself in the 90s. Last week, Baulk stepped down as chairman, although he does retain a group role. In the ensuing management reshuffle, the managing director, Farah Ramzan Golant, was promoted to the post of chief executive, replacing Cilla Snowball, who now becomes chairman.

At AMV, the belief seems to be that there is no reason to spread its net outside and bring in new blood. That being so, the elevation of Ramzan Golant to chief executive of the UK's biggest agency is the most significant factor in an otherwise predictable reshuffle.

Her appointment underscores the importance of AMV's seamless management evolution policy, but it also sends out a clear signal that the agency is planning a harder management approach.

Despite a 17-year history within AMV, Ramzan Golant is considered a slightly different breed from the AMV management norm and tougher than her predecessor.

Her ruthlessness is somewhat notorious, and has earned her some unfavourable nicknames from staff.

Jeremy Miles, the chairman of Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy and a former AMV vice-president, worked with Ramzan Golant on Sainsbury's. He says: "Farah is an agent for change. She is not afraid to grasp the nettle. She's extremely bright, very opinionated and does not shirk difficult decisions."

A tough negotiator and an expert with clients, Ramzan Golant has become a bastion of AMV. Her new-business skills have proved valuable, persuading Norwich Union, Royal Mail and Maltesers to enter the fold. In her new role, she will continue to have a sizeable input in client relationships, overseeing the RSPCA, Yellow Pages and Dulux accounts, among other other international clients.

The Fallon managing partner, Robert Senior, one of her oldest friends in the industry, believes her creative empathy, energy and drive are exactly what the agency needs right now. He says: "Farah will worry less about whether AMV is number one and more about whether it deserves to be."

The chief executive's role is one that Ramzan Golant, a Cambridge modern languages graduate, has effectively been groomed for since she joined the agency from Burkitt Weinreich Bryant & Partners in 1990. Five years after joining AMV, she was named a Campaign Face to Watch and promoted to board account director. In 2000 she co-founded BBDO's telecoms hub, which uses the agency's telecoms, retail and financial expertise to assist other BBDO agencies. She went on to replace Snowball - who was promoted to managing director after Andrew Robertson left to become the president of BBDO North America - as the head of client services.

Just two years later, coinciding with the agency's 25th birthday celebrations, Ramzan Golant finally became the managing director, countering rumours that Robertson had lined up a job for her working alongside him in the US.

Baulk is convinced Ramzan Golant is the right choice. He comments: "Farah's intelligence, energy and passion for success will bring a formidable drive to the agency's agenda."

But what of the agency that she has inherited? AMV has lost some of its sparkle. Once a brand leader with a legacy of creative prowess, it was the industry darling - the Bartle Bogle Hegarty of its time. But its reel is now more comparable to that of McCann Erickson.

A true successor to Guinness' "surfer" has eluded AMV, and its ability to persuade large clients to back ground-breaking work appears diminished when you look at its recent work for Camelot, Royal Mail and Norwich Union.

Meanwhile, the likes of Mother and Clemmow Hornby Inge are snapping up new business that would once have seemed to be AMV's by divine right.

Moreover, it faces a stark challenge if it is to stop Sainsbury's following WH Smith and Halfords out the door.

Baulk concedes the creative work is not what it could be. "The heritage and traditions of AMV are there, but we want to focus on doing better creative work," he says. And Ramzan Golant is also aware of the challenge that faces her. "The truth is that all creativity and all agencies go in cycles," she says. " No agency can perform year after year without experiencing difficulties, but I would not be here if I did not think AMV could once again become the brightest shining star out there."

She has strong ideas of what the next generation of creativity should be about and believes that nurturing gifted youngsters is the key. "AMV stands for creative ideas that change everything. My challenge is to bring forward the talent that makes this happen."

The implication is that she will shake up the departments and introduce new faces - particularly in the creative department, which continues to be run by David Abbott's anointed heir, Peter Souter.

Her ambition and drive are unarguable. And they will be needed in abundance if she is to make AMV as successful as it once was.

Ramzan Golant is a protege of BBDO's now global chief Robertson. He'll be looking to her to apply her tough streak to enable the agency to grow, because while rivals have put on billings, AMV has struggled to make headway.

Indeed, J. Walter Thompson only trails AMV's biggest billing shop status by £16 million.

She says: "I want us to grow and do a bigger share of the best ads out there. Every day I see people who want to do great work and clients who want to buy it. I also see tough market conditions but I am a problem-solver so we will find ways to get through them."

However, some argue that the key to AMV's future will emerge when the agency stops obsessing about its glorious past, and instead devises a new strategy for the future. Its founders Abbott, Peter Mead and Adrian Vickers have long since departed. Ramzan Golant needs to demonstrate that that doesn't matter.

The new management team may not be that new, it's simply a slight reshuffling of the decks. However, Ramzan Golant's toughness sets her apart from her predecessors. This characteristic may be just the medicine the new AMV requires.

IN 60 SECONDS

Age: 40

Lives: Highbury Fields, London

Family: Husband Ben, academic, daughter Ishtar, 7, son Zachary, 3

Favourite ad: The Economist, "my husband doesn't understand me"

Describe yourself in three words: Optimistic, impatient, boundaryless

Motto: Be true to who you really are

What are your passions? Shoes, New Yorker cartoons, French cinema

Where next for you? To go where no man has gone before

Living person you most admire: My mother

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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