James Hall is not a man to be pinned down easily. This much is evident when arranging a time to interview him about his new role as the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi's London office. Both are tough jobs.
Hall comes to London after a nine-month spell as the chief executive of the network's New Zealand operation. His arrival is part of a wider restructure which sees the existing chief executive, Tamara Ingram, hoisted to the position of executive chairman, following a year of running Saatchis on her own.
Saatchis' former joint chief executive Adam Crozier left the agency a year ago for the Football Association, and while Ingram has continued the stabilising process started by Crozier, it has been no secret that the agency needed to sort out its succession strategy.
New-business wins have been hard-fought and the agency has had to cope with losses from Hewlett-Packard, which was consolidated into Publicis following its buyout of Saatchis in June, and a new payment system from its key client Procter & Gamble.
Enter, stage left, Hall. Although a newcomer to London, he is no stranger to Saatchis, and comes with a fast-track record through the agency ranks.
After quitting college in 1979 for a marketing job at the New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board, Hall continued on the client side for the household products manufacturer SC Johnson. He joined the BBO Group's Colenso Communications in 1985 as an account executive before moving to Saatchis in 1991, then becoming the managing director of the Wellington office in 1993.
Hall has only been in the New Zealand chief executive seat for nine months, but fends off suggestions that a move to London could be too big a step.
Certainly, the worldwide chief executive, Kevin Roberts, who was based in New Zealand for some years, seems to have no qualms.
Hall says that a career spanning just two agencies has enabled him to hone his flat, non-hierarchical management style. Hall is credited with sorting out Saatchis' ailing Auckland office and bringing it into line with the now creatively acclaimed Wellington branch.
He will use the same tactics in London, working alongside - not above - the planning director, Kevin Dundas, and the executive creative director, Dave Droga. All three will report to Ingram.
'This way of working is the best - you get a small team of people able to make decisions very quickly. It means you can put the focus on the work rather than the individuals and beauracracy,' he says.
Although Saatchis prides itself on hiring from within, and the on-the-record vibes are nothing but happy ones, Hall's no-nonsense approach could soon be making waves around the top floor at Charlotte Street. After all, he's bypassed some senior colleagues to take the job, and his position will be strengthened by his long friendship with fellow-antipodean Droga.
'It's not about me,' he stresses. 'It's about what I can do there. I'm a home-grown part of the network. Dave's very similar.'
So just how will this home-grown boy cope with the sheer enormity of running an office of 600 people?
'That's going to be a tough role - coming from the Wellington office, which has only 150,' Hall admits. But he salutes the existing structure, which Saatchis claims allows the cream to rise to the top, even if it does mean getting to grips with large offices crammed full of people.
Droga was another antipodean parachuted into London, in his case from Saatchis' Far East arm. Hall puts his countryman's assignment to revive London's creative department down to Roberts' influence in integrating Saatchis' worldwide operations.
'Six or seven years ago, I would not have had a clue what was going on outside New Zealand,' Hall says. 'Now I do.'
He feels that his ten-year career in New Zealand has also put him in a prime position to source good staff for London, but denies that bringing in antipodean talent is an immediate task on the 'to do' list.
'Hiring was a crucial part of my job in New Zealand and that's not going to change. Agencies are only as good as the people who work in them,' he says, without being drawn further on the possibility of hiring a side-kick or deputy.
But if he's a caring, sharing boss who's keen to import his charm to Soho, there's also no doubt that Hall has a firm grip on the business end of advertising. This is the man who fired dollars 16 million worth of business and six clients from Saatchis in Wellington in 1998 because he feared the agency was expanding too rapidly.
'I decided we were compromising our clients by taking on more new business than was practical. It was hard, but I'd do it again,' he says. Does that mean smaller clients in London will face the chop, while the big ones, such as P&G, get all the attention? Hall is firm: 'That won't happen - it was a decision based entirely on the resources we had. My job is to get this agency pitch-fit.'