CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - JWT's gentle giant pledges to boost international fortunes

Michael Maedel feels sure he can accelerate growth at JWT.

J. Walter Thompson's decision to promote the calm and collected Austrian Michael Maedel to the position of worldwide president as part of a senior management restructure last week will not have surprised many.

The 53-year-old, formerly the network's head of Europe, will be thought of by many as the natural successor to the exiting Miles Colebrook. And in time-honoured fashion, characteristic of the well-oiled machine that is a WPP network, he will undoubtedly slip into the more highly powered role with minimum disruption.

For Maedel's style is not to rule with an iron fist. He may have an impressive physical presence but he is not your classic larger-than-life adman, but rather a gentle giant who never drops his guard.

His critics will question whether this means he can still create ripples and force improvements through his partnership with JWT's new chief executive officer, Bob Jeffrey.

Under the new streamlined leadership structure, which takes effect from January, Maedel will continue to lead JWT in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with added responsibility for Asia-Pacific. Colebrook, meanwhile, is expected to retire at the end of the year.

Jeffrey, who replaces Peter Schweitzer, will work closely with Maedel, while also overseeing JWT North America and Latin America. There is no doubt in Jeffrey's mind that Maedel is up to the task.

He says: "Michael brings a depth and breadth of experience leading the efforts of global marketers that is second to none in our industry. Based on his track record, we are confident he will ensure that JWT's international operations are positioned to achieve new levels of growth and development."

It is a job Maedel has been more or less groomed for since joining the network as the chairman and chief executive of Germany in 1990.

He began his career as a trainee at Y&R Frankfurt in 1972, rising to become an executive director and general manager. In 1985, he was hired by Ted Bates Werbeagentur, Frankfurt as its chairman. He has been the European president of JWT since 1997.

Maedel is certain about what needs to be done to accelerate JWT's international growth and profitability: "I will be concentrating on how we can further develop integrated communications solutions," he says. "By that, I don't mean being able to offer clients 15 different group companies but rather how we can truly define what is the right communication channel to solve the relevant problem."

On paper, the geographical area he presides over appears in a robust state. Maedel has been involved in some of the network's most significant account wins, including last year's acquisition of Vodafone and JWT's addition as one of two agencies on the global £500 million Reckitt-Benckiser business.

The Vodafone success almost single-handedly elevated the London office to third place in Nielsen Media Research's billings rankings. Meanwhile, in Italy it comes fourth and in Spain and Germany it is ranked eighth.

Elsewhere, however, the story is less triumphant. The network has failed to dominate the Austrian or Czech Republic markets, while in France and Denmark it is hovering outside of the top ten.

But overall it has built a solid platform in Europe throughout Maedel's time at the helm, thanks to the loyalty of long-term clients and multi-national pieces of business, including Diageo, Ford, Kellogg's and Shell, that would be on the wishlist of many rivals.

The network's venerability need not be questioned, but there's a fair argument that it is not the force it used to be. JWT is rarely involved in pan-European pitches (although conflict issues do restrict its growth potential to a certain extent). Sir Martin Sorrell, as the group chief executive of its WPP parent, may be on hand to fight its battles, but the truth is that some no longer regard the network as the potent global power it once was.

This is particularly true in the creative arena. Eight or nine years ago, JWT was winning handfuls of awards at Cannes for work on Persil, Philadelphia, Smarties and Polo, among others. But latterly there has been a distinct lack of JWT representatives climbing onto the podium to collect any Lions.

Maedel admits he would like to see the agency win more awards, but insists it is not his main priority. "Creative awards are very important because an agency's creative work is the vehicle by which it achieves its targets.

But my first and foremost concern is to make sure our clients benefit from the work we do. Are our brands successful and is our market share growing?"

The health of the network outside of the US pivots on the success of JWT in London. This year saw the signing of the creative director Nick Bell from Leo Burnett by the chief executive, Simon Bolton. "Nick coming in was a big and important move forward," Maedel says. "I think Nick will create a team around him according to his ideas and move the agency forward."

He offers a vote of confidence for Bolton: "I believe in London we have a really good team working together. The challenge of the future is to work this way in an intelligent manner and that is what Simon Bolton is doing."

Maedel's confidence in the London office is unfaltering. It has won Axa and B&Q - with combined billings of more than £50 million - this year and has been bolstered by the arrival of Bates' clients after WPP's acquisition of Cordiant.

Despite his quiet manner and softly, softly approach, it's easy to believe that there will be further growth under Maedel.

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