CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - Golden boy Pinder returns to Europe to run Burnett

Working in Asia has helped Pinder to develop his people skills, Mark Sweney reports.

Richard Pinder, the head of Asia-Pacific at Leo Burnett, doesn't want to come back to Europe. He loves the vibrancy of Hong Kong, his home for the past four years.

"I am going to miss it desperately, that is no secret," he says. "I will miss every aspect, but perhaps the business side most - there is a passion, an energy, a can-do, make-it-happen-tonight attitude. It reminds me of my early years at Grey. I love it."

So why is the former managing director of Ogilvy & Mather in London returning?

No doubt the job title (Pinder will become the president of Leo Burnett EMEA) has cachet. He also won't have had too much say in the matter.

His boss, Linda Wolf, felt Europe needed a regional head and that he was the best man for the job. Pinder says: "I love new things to do. This probably comes of being an Army child: constantly having to move home and meet new people."

Europe is a bigger job than Asia and, at only 39, Pinder has a lot of working life left in him. Those who know him say he would relish both the prestige of the European title and the fresh challenge that it involves. A former colleague, David Muir, the group development director at O&M, says: "He is never daunted by a big challenge and that is why he has taken the new role. Most guys with a role as a golden boy in Asia would say 'thanks, but I'm happy here'."

"Golden boy" is the correct term. He has raised the status of Burnett in the region and pulled in impressive new business including the consolidation of the McDonald's business across most of the region and the global Malaysia Airlines System account. Campaign's sister Asian title, Media, named Burnett its regional agency of the year in 2001, one year after Pinder arrived, and gave it two runner-up awards in subsequent years.

Pinder is keen to give credit to Steve Gatfield, his predecessor and the network's former worldwide chief operating officer, for handing over a healthy Asian operation. "Gatfield lived through the Asian crisis and addressed the issues that popped up with it. He gave me a business in fantastic shape."

Pinder threw himself into the Asia-Pacific job heart and soul, working all hours and always keeping a high profile in the local, as well as international, press. His enthusiasm is electric; you can sense it down a phone line from the other side of the world. "I'm an optimist. I'm more of a Tigger than an Eeyore," he says.

If it's a challenge that Pinder wants, he's definitely got one. As one source points out: "The low-growth environment here is very different from the high-growth region of Asia-Pacific. The European economy has major flaws. It is sclerotic.

There are major structural and growth problems that are not just cyclical.

"He has done an outstanding job out there but it is much harder to replicate that here."

Nevertheless, some people who worked with Pinder in the UK are surprised to see him return in such an exalted position - when he left the UK in 2000, it was under a cloud. Although at O&M his relationship with key clients was strong, he had lost a political struggle with the agency's chief executive, Paul Simons, whose jeans and T-shirt style was at odds with Pinder's pin-stripe approach. Later, Simons' own managerial abilities were condemned when he was removed from the agency, but few were sorry to see Pinder leave.

Internal nicknames for him ranged from Mr Burns to Alan Partridge, and one former colleague says he was the type who "hasn't listened to popular music since the 60s". However, most testify that by the time he left the agency, his management style had begun to evolve and he was gaining in popularity. Pinder looked older than he actually was, a factor that those around him believed led him to be promoted quickly. Roger Edwards, the former chief executive of Grey and Pinder's first agency boss, says: "He was always older than his years. This was one of his problems."

Pinder admits: "I was never really happy at O&M." Nevertheless, the experience taught him invaluable lessons about the harsh realities of senior management life. "I would never ever have been able to do the job in Asia without that experience," he says.

The experience appears to have been built on in Asia. Edwards adds: "He was very driven in the early days and was slightly soulless, maybe a little mechanical. At the time, he was impatient with people who weren't as good as him. I think he thought the only way to succeed was to be better than anyone else."

However, he adds: "He's a much better people person now. He has a terrific manner with the people who work for him. He's become more rounded by moving."

Pinder is incredibly hard working and expects as much from the people who work for him, but he's uncomplicated. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get manner makes him a fair boss.

So what about his task in Europe? His can-do attitude will be a welcome addition to a market somewhat burdened by the mental misery of a recession.

His ten-year stint at Grey, where he rose to become the client services director before quitting for O&M, saw Pinder develop an effective understanding of the needs of FMCG clients. He was close to the Procter & Gamble business, an affinity which has and will set him in good stead at Burnett.

His appointment reflects the growing importance of European regional business to networks. A point not lost on Pinder. "It is an essential role as part of the global business, not just for the region," he says.

"If I look at our global new business, we aren't as high as we would like and 35 per cent of global alignments, the business decisions, come out of Europe.

"These jobs are about clients. You take the ones you have and you make them delighted, not just happy. The aim is to build a team and a sense of camaraderie. This is essential for global business, not just regional business."

A particular focus has to be the London office (although Pinder is considering living in France or Italy). As the dominant force in Europe, it should be leading Burnett's regional business drive; instead, it is running to stand still.

Pinder is diplomatic when he is pressed on what changes he plans to make in Europe. He says: "They don't want some bloke who hasn't been here for the past four years to say 'do this, do that'." There is a hunt on for a European creative director, but Pinder is saying little more than that.

When it comes to the key Fiat account (an awkward client in recent years), he claims a lack of knowledge. All he will say is: "My understanding is the new management (at Fiat) has clear plans. There is an optimism and spirit around the account, which feels more upbeat."

Despite playing his cards close to his chest there is, perhaps, a hint of what is in store for Europe when Pinder talks of his experience of working under the dictatorial auspices of Chinese government. "One thing I did learn was that democracy isn't the only way to run the joint well."

The move to Europe is a difficult one for Pinder - he has enjoyed business success in Asia, he loves the climate there and the lifestyle it affords (he's a keen boatsman). Now he is returning to Europe's difficult economy and often inclement weather, not to mention memories of difficult times at O&M.

QUESTIONNAIRE

Age: 39

Lives: Hong Kong

Family: Charlotte (wife), Oscar, Jasper, Amber and Arthur (cats)

Favourite ad: www.bmwfilms.com

Describe yourself in three words: Positive, hungry, impatient

Greatest extravagance: Boat

Most treasured possession: Cambodian stone apsara

Most admired agency: DDB USA in the late 60s

Living person you most admire: Jack Welch

One to watch: Vietnam

Motto: Heaven is high; the Emperor far away

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