Close-Up: Howell fulfils a captain's role for McCann EMEA

McCann's EMEA regional director must be wary of stepping on the toes of McCann's influential old guard.

Taking over as the head of a large chunk of the McCann Erickson global empire has Rupert Howell recalling his days in the school cricket team. "I wasn't the best player but I was a bloody good captain. I know how to get teams working well together," he says.

Howell, as those who know him will testify, has never been good at being modest. But he has always done charm rather well. Just as well, really - he'll need it in abundance as the regional directorship of McCann WorldGroup for Europe, the Middle East and Africa brings him into direct contact with the network's powerful old guard. Giuseppi Usuelli, McCann's head in Italy, who will be Howell's right-hand man in the new set-up, is one.

Felix Vicente, Helmut Sendlmeier and Gerard Charbit, who head Spain, Germany and France respectively, are the others.

Their combined service to McCann totals more than half a century, they are steeped in the company culture, head successful agencies and enjoy power and influence that extends well beyond their own markets. And they do not take kindly to what they deem to be unwarranted interference.

Their alliance is said to have helped seal the fate of Howell's predecessor, Ben Langdon, and they are unlikely to be overawed by the fact that Howell's reputation was built as the founder of HHCL & Partners, which did so much to push creative boundaries in the UK during the 90s. He has to earn their respect and support.

David Warden, who retires in December from the role Howell will fill, understood the subtle dynamics of the EMEA region, which has representation in 74 countries, is thought to have billings of about £5.6 billion, almost 6,000 staff and is bound by blue-chip clients such as Unilever, L'Oreal, Nestle, Coca-Cola and Mastercard.

"Warden went about the job very quietly but has been an effective manager," a former senior manager says. But Warden too was a long-time McCann man who accepted that if the region would never be a creative trailblazer, it was good at delivering work that worked. Not only has Howell been with the group less than two years, but has never done the worldwide account director role normally regarded as a prerequisite for such a job.

As might be expected, he is not daunted by the task, mainly because he does not want to change what the region's power-brokers do well, only ensure that they pull together to win a greater share of business from McCann's international clients. "I don't want them being suspicious of me," he says.

Moreover, he's keen to point out the problems at McCann in London were not replicated elsewhere. He says: "When I arrived, the London agency was broken. Things had to change and they have. It's not like that in Europe."

Is Howell, an entrepreneur by inclination, learning to march to a different beat at McCann? Lee Daley, the former chief strategic officer for McCann EMEA and now the Saatchi & Saatchi group chairman and chief executive in London, says: "The best of Rupert can bring out the best in McCann."