CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - JONATHAN RIGBY. Banks gambles on unproven Rigby to revive BHO

Rigby is confident that he is ready for the challenge at BHO, Mark Sweney says.

The appointment of Jonathan Rigby as the managing director of Banks Hoggins O'Shea/FCB has raised some industry eyebrows.

After the management implosion at BHO two weeks ago - which saw the managing partners, Steve Hastings and Paul Houlding, along with the creative directors, Rob Fletcher and Dave Alexander, quit - the chief executive and chairman, John Banks, waxed lyrical on the subject of the perfect candidate for the role.

Johnny Hornby, a co-founder of Clemmow Hornby Inge, was held up by Banks as the yardstick he had used in seeking the perfect candidate to turn the fortunes of the agency around.

But Rigby is no Hornby. He lacks his profile and, as the head of account management at Lowe, has no managing director experience. The parting shot of Tim Lindsay, the president of Lowe & Partners Worldwide, voiced the view of many when he described Banks' choice of Rigby as "drawing from the ranks of our middle managers".

However, Banks argues he was deliberately seeking new blood. "Why I picked him is a very difficult question to answer. I looked at a range of people in the 48-year-old age bracket and most had done it all before. So I concentrated on those who needed to prove they could create and run something."

This tactic is a little risky. In what some term the most difficult market conditions in advertising history, now might not be the best time to get in a new guy with a point to prove and see how it goes. Many would argue that experience is what is called for to steady the ship. However, it would be a mistake to underestimate Banks' ability to spot talent - he was, after all, the man who plucked Rupert Howell from the ranks at Young & Rubicam, spying his potential.

Banks readily admits the agency is having a tough time of it. FCB network losses including Clairol and Compaq have taken their toll and there have been widespread redundancies at the London office, and the agency lacks the USP required to recover such losses in the competitive London market.

Rigby believes he has spent enough time in the wings at Lowe and is ready to make his mark. "I haven't done a managing director job before but I'm not the kind of person to take it on if I wasn't ready. I've handled new business, been head of account management and am at the top of my game."

He may not have accrued the column inches of his peers but many former colleagues think he has the pedigree to make the step up.

A double stint at WCRS gave him his name as a fun-loving, ambitious character, good with people and not shy of socialising. During his time there, described by a contemporary as "like a boys' locker room with the lights turned down", he ran the First Direct and Caffrey's accounts and pitched successfully for Camelot, Anchor and Buzz.

Jeremy Bowles, Lowe's managing director, says: "If he does fail, it won't be for lack of trying - he has bags of enthusiasm and ambition."

Three years at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO saw him gain experience with clients such as Yellow Pages, Alpen, Ready Brek and Gillette. But it is Rigby's time in Lowe's corporate atmosphere - a period that has seen his management style mature - that is the best indication of his potential.

His work in turning around the creative of Nestle Rowntree and his skill at running the Unilever account has been impressive. Andrew Harrison, the director of marketing for Nestle Rowntree, testifies: "He has a sustained track record of success on our business and now has the opportunity to prove himself at the next level."

But running several large accounts may not necessarily have prepared him for the task at BHO. "He's never had a job of this kind of pressure.

It's a big step up in class - it will be the make or break of him," a Lowe insider says. "He has to make heavyweight hirings, define a new culture, win business and deal with the old guard."

In fact, the under-performance of BHO over the past few months is said to have inspired Harry Reid, the international president of FCB, to seek a more heavyweight solution. He is understood to have approached successful independent agencies about acquiring their complete management teams as well as their client lists. Reid was unavailable for comment, so it remains unclear if he has called off such plans now that Banks has hired Rigby.

The level of Banks' control over Rigby and the agency is a key issue.

While Banks will have to provide a degree of support, some have suggested he may have chosen the inexperienced Rigby to maintain a grip over running the agency.

Banks says of Rigby: "His experience means he is well grounded. While he hasn't had fiscal responsibility, I'm around. I'm not leaving tomorrow. If things are going completely loopy, we will have a conversation but I mean to give him and the new team freedom."

Crucially, Banks says Rigby will take the lead in choosing his senior management team. "The best way of building is to get the managing director in place first - it is the bedrock position. I will have a huge say as well but we are singing from the same song sheet," he says.

Rigby is a popular manager and has many fans. Former colleagues have faith in his ability to run an agency. The problem is Rigby is not inheriting a healthy ship. More experienced managers than him have failed less difficult tasks.

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