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