CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER/FERNAN MONTERO; Company man rises above jokes to rescue Y&R

Emma Hall discovers that Y&R’s new London chief is well-rehearsed in his role

Emma Hall discovers that Y&R’s new London chief is well-rehearsed in his

role



It is Valentine’s day, 1996, and a tall, handsome and powerful man

strides confidently into the piano bar of a top London hotel.



The man with the film-star looks is instantly recognisable as Fernan

Montero, who, as well as being the chairman and chief executive of Young

and Rubicam Europe, is the new chairman of Y&R’s London office

(Campaign, last week). But the movie for which he is preparing himself

is less obvious. Is he angling for the lead in Interview with the

Vampire, or a bit part in Fantasy Island?



One thing is certain - the script is written by Y&R, and Montero will do

whatever his New York agency bosses ask of him. He orders a ginger ale,

raises his glass, says ‘Chin chin’, and starts to recite his lines.



His career began 25 years ago when he graduated from college in Chicago

and was offered a job by 24 different advertising agencies on the East

Coast of America. He remembers: ‘I chose the right place for the wrong

reasons,’ meaning that Y&R was paying the highest salary at the time.



Since then, he has remained faithful to his first employer, helped, he

says, by bosses he could look up to, and by finding a new job to do

within the company roughly every three years. Montero stresses that

agency-hopping for the purpose of career advancement is less common

across the Atlantic than it is here in the UK.



He runs earnestly through the past 25 years of his professional life,

barely stopping for a sip of ginger ale or a nibble of the Bombay mix.

Montero speaks using the corporate ‘we’ when describing his own various

moves around the globe, and is full of helpful hints about how his

Campaign profile should be constructed.



Nothing he says or does contradicts his detractors’ most frequent

criticisms - that he has no sense of humour and instead oozes a shallow,

manufactured charm. One former employee says: ‘That approach may work in

the US, but in the UK we like to see at least a hint that there is

something interesting lurking behind the facade.’



He has been running Europe and living in London for three years, but can

speak only a little French and German, on top of his native Spanish. He

does not mix with his peers more than is necessary, and, as one observer

notes: ‘His first hiring was a ‘spin doctor’, Bernard Barnett, Y&R’s

director of corporate affairs, which shows where his priorities lie.’



Is Montero as shallow as his critics suggest? Mike Cozens, Y&R’s

creative director, insists: ‘He is a great problem solver and good at

creating an environment where people can get on with what they do best.’

Montero himself admits that he is a fixer rather than a maintenance man.



He has already started fixing Y&R’s Ford problem and played an important

role in gaining a slice of the car company’s business for the London

agency, which bore fruit with the successful launch campaign for the

Ford Galaxy last year. Ford’s main account is with Ogilvy and Mather in

the UK, but Y&R holds a lot of Ford business around the world, and has

been fighting to get a grip on the local account for a long time.



Does he know that his colleagues call him Ford Mondeo? Obviously not, as

his reply is confused. He says: ‘I expect they call me a lot of things,’

then: ‘It is hard to keep a sense of humour in this business, sometimes

you just feel like hanging up your hat,’ and next he veers into: ‘I was

nearly going to buy a Mitsubishi Montero but I decided to stick with a

Ford.’



The unrehearsed and uneasy reply exposes Montero’s inability to laugh at

himself. He is shot through with Y&R corporate values and is not

prepared for any personal questions.



What he gives away about his private life is couched in sentimental

terms and platitudes. ‘I am just a poor boy from Chicago,’ he says - in

fact, he was born in Argentina, where he spent the first four years of

his life, but he likes to gloss over that detail - and he refers to his

wife as ‘an Oklahoma girl’.



He has been married for 18 years, and the couple’s family consists of

the six cats living on their ranch in Pennsylvania, which Mr and Mrs

Montero are renovating as ‘a labour of love’. In their spare time they

do a lot of travelling and collect antiques.



Announcing that he is paraphrasing Cervantes, he says: ‘Taking me away

from London would be like tearing a fingernail from the flesh.’ Montero

continues: ‘There is a thick and rich layer of civilisation here, it is

a wonderful canvas to paint on.’



Despite this, it appears as though most of his time is devoted to Y&R,

jetting around Europe and keeping up with the network.



Jerry Judge, the former Y&R chief executive now in the same role at Lowe

Howard-Spink, certifies: ‘He exemplifies the multinational US approach

to life, but he is a decent bloke and tries to be sensitive to things

European.’



Some industry observers doubt that Montero has the credentials to run

Europe, pointing out that he had never run a major office before he was

sent to London. Most of Montero’s previous experience was gained in

South America and he admits that over the years he has taken his share

of jobs that no-one else wanted.



His first two years were spent as an assistant account executive in New

York, after which his international career took off, leading to jobs

including director of client services at Y&R Mexico, president of Y&R

Argentina, and deputy area director of Y&R Latin America.



In 1987, he went back to New York to lead the agency’s worldwide

relationships with Kraft General Foods and Eastman Kodak. At the same

time, he was appointed corporate director of business development.



By 1991, he was the area director of Y&R Latin America, which he

describes as ‘a wild and crazy place’, where he learned from ‘the school

of hard knocks’. Montero expands: ‘When I was in Brazil, the country had

a contagious energy, a blind confidence and a strong entrepreneurial

instinct.’



The European scene was very different. When he arrived in London in May

1993, he found an operation which he euphemistically says ‘needed re-

tooling for the 90s’. The London shop was in crisis and seemed unable to

hang on to top management or clients.



Kentucky Fried Chicken and Blockbuster Video walked out the door, as did

Jerry Judge and Tim Lindsay, the managing director and chief executive,

who decamped to Lowe Howard-Spink in December 1993. In March 1994

roughly 20 redundancies were made across all departments, soon after

protracted merger talks with GGT broke down.



Montero had no doubts about the solution. ‘I asked the group to believe

in itself and move forward - I knew that I had to bring the Y&R

corporate culture back to the London agency.’



Although Y&R is still only the UK’s number 18 agency, Montero is

satisfied with the way things are going. He is happy with what he calls

the ‘new-age team’ now managing the London shop. He generously

attributes the recent turnaround to its managing director, Toby Hoare,

the executive director, Stevie Spring, the planning director, Tim

Broadbent, and Cozens.



Montero claims Y&R is now recognised as a hot agency: ‘You can smell it

when you walk in the door, and I have never seen a more consistently

good creative department. The London agency has the best Y&R reel

worldwide.’



Outside the agency, observers speculate that Montero is just paying lip-

service to the creative product, and is only really concerned with being

seen at the right board meetings. ‘He is a ruthless, macho, killer

shark, with an unquenchable ambition to become the worldwide head of

Y&R,’ one typical commentator says.



This is the role that Montero has chosen to play and no-one has ever

heard him fluff a line. In the words of Simon Mathews, a former Y&R

media director, and now the managing director of Equinox: ‘Montero will

continue to do good things at Y&R, but he will never get to heaven.’



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