CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: DECISION MAKER KEVIN RAMSEY - Former rugby star aims to reinvigorate JWT Asia/Kevin Ramsey is bullish about his plans to spearhead growth at the network, Francesca Newland says

Kevin Ramsey, a larger-than-life New Zealander, has just been made the chief operating officer of J. Walter Thompson East Asia-Pacific. He has weathered the economic downturn that has dominated the region for the past two years and now finds himself at the helm of an operation that is well placed to grow from the economic recovery.

Kevin Ramsey, a larger-than-life New Zealander, has just been made

the chief operating officer of J. Walter Thompson East Asia-Pacific. He

has weathered the economic downturn that has dominated the region for the

past two years and now finds himself at the helm of an operation that is

well placed to grow from the economic recovery.



Ramsey, whose relentless swearing is of Tourette’s proportions, explains

that because JWT had such a broad infrastructure in the region, it was the

most vulnerable when the crisis came. It forced the network’s regional

president, Miles Colbrook, to scrutinise the efficiency of the region and

subsequently led to ’considerable re-engineering’, according to

Ramsey.



’This has been pretty successful. 1999 was our best year in the region -

helped by the economic upturn but also by being a lot leaner and meaner

and more efficient as an organisation. We are now optimistic that the

worst is well behind the region and believe it is time to get aggressive

again. My appointment is evidence of this attitude,’ he says.



He now has ambitious plans for growth: ’I think Asia-Pacific is less than

20 per cent of JWT’s revenue. My goal is to build revenues here to

one-third of the network’s revenues within three years.’



It is the kind of bullish attitude you would expect from a former star

rugby player - Ramsey used to play for Auckland.



’I got a law degree at Auckland University. I pride myself that I managed

to combine the lowest marks possible to get through with the least amount

of work possible. I was playing rugby seriously at the time and was far

more interested in this, and the hell-raising that went with it, than

work. After university I went brick-laying but the winter was too cold so

I looked for a cozy, warm job and advertising seemed perfect.’



He began at Charles Haines, now FCB. He says he only got the job because

the agency’s boss, Ray Dalton, was a former All Black. After five years he

moved to Colenso (BBDO) but quit when he didn’t get the top job and went

to set up his own agency - Angles - with four other partners.



After five years, Angles - by then the largest independent in New Zealand

- merged with a then-slumbering JWT.



JWT must have been impressed by him. Ramsey recalls: ’Chris Jones (chief

executive of JWT Worldwide) asked me if I would consider going somewhere

else and in 1995 they bought me out and sent me to Detroit - I suppose to

have a closer look at me.’ Ramsey must have passed muster because a year

later he was running the network’s Australian and New Zealand

operations.



The nebulous meaning of the title ’chief operating officer’ makes it

appear that Ramsey is in some kind of limbo - albeit a very powerful

one.



It seems likely that he is being groomed to eventually take over the

region from Colbrook.



JWT has a fixed global strategy, according to Jones. This includes

aggressively improving its creative product, building the company’s brand

beyond straight advertising, and driving growth. Ramsey says he wants to

rejig the network’s historic reliance on packaged goods and automotive,

shifting from the old economy to the new one with more clients in

technology, telecommunications and finance.



Ramsey believes his core challenge is cultural diversity: ’Getting to

grips with different markets which, in terms of our business, cover the

wide spectrum from very mature to almost virgin and everything in

between.



Then we have to structure a business model in each place that provides the

appropriate product offering for now, but that can change as the market

develops.’



Jones has faith in Ramsey. He says: ’He loves the work, the product. He’s

keen on great work. He’s also a great businessman.’



Ramsey is positive about pulling the varied Asian outposts of the network

together: ’They’ve all got used to me. Being a New Zealander I tend to

call a spade a bloody shovel too often but we always seem to be able to

enjoy a beer afterwards.’