CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/CHRIS THOMAS - The new Lowe chief with advertising in his genes. All eyes are watching Chris Thomas as he steps up to run Lowe

The impending departure of Paul Hammersley for the US leaves his successor, Lowe Lintas London's chief executive, Chris Thomas, with a lot to live up to.

The impending departure of Paul Hammersley for the US leaves his successor, Lowe Lintas London's chief executive, Chris Thomas, with a lot to live up to.

However, as Thomas prepares to step into the role at the age of 38, it's hard to find anything but positive vibes emanating from his agency peers.

'Extremely creatively driven. Phenomenal energy. He's a bloody hard worker,' Jeremy Miles, chairman of Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, enthuses.

'He's an extremely positive and passionate ad man. Never gets deflated by the pressures and challenges the business can throw at you,' Andrew Robertson, the chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, adds.

Thomas, who was unable to be interviewed for this piece, has advertising in his genes. His father, Tim, was the chairman of KMP, the agency that gave the world BT's Busby and Carlsberg's 'probably the best lager in the world'. Thomas himself spent a decade at AMV, starting as an account manager. In 1989 he was promoted to account director, and in 1991 joined the agency board. By 1995 he had risen to new business director, before leaving in 1997 to take the role of managing director at Ammirati Puris Lintas. By the time of the merger with Lowe Howard-Spink in 1999, he was chief executive at APL, but had to settle for the managing director role within the merged agency.

This period was a tricky time for Thomas, but Miles believes it sharpened him up. 'Given the high of AMV, to have to go to APL and have a very tough time, and then Lowe, I think he's emerged as a much better rounded chief executive.'

Miles is referring to the fallout surrounding the merger. 'He was the one who had to have all the difficult conversations. He tried to engineer the best packages. He cares a lot about people and it hurt him deeply to have to do that unpleasant side of the business that occasionally managing directors have to do,' Miles adds. 'He's a very AMV type of person. One of the cornerstones was its concern for employees' well-being and Chris embodied that.'

But could these distinctly AMV attributes prove to be an Achilles heel for Thomas? After all, Lowe is seen as distinctly less warm-hearted environment. Some might even say ruthless.

'He's going to have a huge challenge because he's not part of the Lowe culture,' one source admits. 'He will be seen as being from the wrong side of the tracks.'

Another party spoiler could be the creation of the new role of group chief executive, to which Thomas is expected to report. Sources say that as a result Thomas will have less authority than his predecessor. 'The most important part of the group is the advertising agency,' one source says. 'By bringing someone in above Thomas to run the group, they're making it uncertain who's really running the show.'

Robertson disagrees and doesn't view the new position as a safety net: 'What you see with Chris is what you get. He doesn't have a chameleon gene in him.That's his management style. Lowe has had 18 months to get to know that. There is a significant group to run. But in terms of the agency management team, that will operate as if there wasn't a group chief executive. Chris would work well with a group chief executive - but there wouldn't be any need for that person to do any of Chris's job.'

The main challenge facing Thomas is how to keep the momentum going for Lowe after such a good year. 'Chris is big on momentum management. He will have one or two things in his mind that he'll want to make significant progress on. He played a big part in Lowe's achievements last year,' Robertson continues.

Thomas will also have to establish strong working relationships with the agency's clients that he has not been personally involved with thus far. Tesco and Vauxhall are the obvious priorities here. However, Thomas' reputation on the client side is particularly strong and he enjoys an especially good relationship with Unilever.

Keeping the staff happy might prove more tricky. Rumour has it that Hammersley inspired confidence in the troops after the difficult merger. With that anchor gone, some have said there could be a return to the uncertainty that surrounded the upheaval in 1999.

'Chris has great energy but he never really has time to stop for people. He needs to perfect the art of listening,' one source says.

There's no doubting that Thomas is up for the challenge. Miles describes him as a 'terrier on speed'. However, it's equally certain that he'll need every ounce of such energy if he is to prove the doubters wrong.



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