Close-Up: Do pan-regional roles still appeal?

Is the role still an essential stepping-stone for anyone wanting to run a network, John Tylee asks.

Tumbling out of bed at dawn to catch an early morning flight to Lithuania is nobody's idea of fun. Not even for Jaime Prieto, Young & Rubicam's newly appointed EMEA president with a reported EUR1 million salary to compensate for a punishing and relentless travel schedule.

Pan-regional roles are frequently unglamorous and often thankless. Yet they remain an essential rite of passage for any senior manager with ambition to become boss of the network.

Richard Pinder, a one-time president of Leo Burnett EMEA and now the Publicis chief operating officer, admits: "I could never have done the job I do now without that experience."

Nevertheless, gaining such experience comes at a price - and it's not just the perpetual plane-hopping needed to sort out a client problem in any part of your territory.

And Prieto's territory is a huge one, spanning 38 countries from Ireland in the West and Russia in the East and from the north of Norway to Africa's southern tip. What's more, it accounts for more than a third of the network's revenue.

For those thrust into such a job, the culture shock can be equally huge. "You tend to be the recipient of everybody's complaints and problems."

Tim Lindsay, the former Lowe Worldwide president and managing director of Y&R London, says. "As a result, you become a rather overpaid HR person."

Not surprisingly, such jobs aren't every aspiring manager's cup of tea. One senior executive says he turned his back on a pan-regional role because the aggravation just didn't seem to be worth the fat pay cheque.

But another claims it's only his young family that currently prevents him from putting his name in the frame.

"A pan-regional job has become an increasingly important stepping-stone to the top job," Lindsay says. In fact, he predicts that it won't be long before no major network will appoint a chief executive who hasn't spent some time in the fast-growing Asian market.

However, many agree it's not a job anybody wants to be doing much beyond their early forties. But this is only partly because of the physical toll it can exact.

William Eccleshare says he thoroughly enjoyed his spells as the head of both the Y&R and BBDO European networks, but he adds: "These roles tend to have life- cycles. You can make some significant changes in how your network operates. But unless you have a very specific brief, you can start to feel that what you're doing is history repeating itself."

How a network is structured - as well as the spread of its clients - may well determine how fulfilling a pan-regional role becomes. "The way in which clients work with networks has changed a lot," a regional chairman explains. "A lot of this has been driven by the procurement people, which has resulted in much more centralisation."

This may go some way to explaining why Prieto, born in Colombia and raised in the US, has emerged from relative obscurity - one senior Y&R manager claimed never to have heard of him until last week - to take such a pivotal role.

Could it have anything to do with the fact that Y&R's two biggest clients, Colgate-Palmolive (on which Prieto has been international managing director) and Danone, both use Paris as their "hub"?

One former Y&R senior manager thinks so. "Prieto is clearly a 'baron'," he says. "He doesn't seem like somebody they can afford to piss off."

REGIONAL HEAD - William Eccleshare, ex-European chairman, Young & Rubicam; ex-EMEA chief executive, BBDO

"If I was the chief executive of a UK agency, I'd only take a pan-regional job if I had clear P&L and client responsibilities and if the reporting lines of my key people were crystal clear. It won't be satisfying if half of them are reporting directly to the global chief executive in New York and not to you.

"In the right circumstances, the job can be a lot of fun. In the wrong circumstances, you just become an ambassador, with no real ability to make change."

GLOBAL HEAD - David Jones, global chief executive, Euro RSCG Worldwide

"The role of a regional head is vitally important. We have 320 offices worldwide and there's no way I can get across all of them.

"But these jobs have to be attractive and rewarding if you're going to attract the best talent into them. They must be more than just operational and administrative roles.

"Ricardo Monteiro has transformed our fortunes in Latin America where our Brazilian agency was a train wreck. What's more, there's still a lot of good regional business around.

"I don't necessarily think the job is a stepping-stone to the very top - but it certainly helps."

GLOBAL HEAD - Tim Lindsay, ex-president, Lowe Worldwide

"Running a region is an important job because you become the rallying point. Local managers need somebody they feel is fighting their corner at head office level.

"What's more, all big networks have big clients with regional headquarters that need your attention. Meanwhile, you need to be involved in business development and major pitches as well as making sure your people are hitting their financial targets.

"It's a tough job not helped by the fact that you spend so much of your time doing one-day plane hops. And at the end of it, you sometimes wonder what you've actually achieved."

GLOBAL HEAD - Richard Pinder, chief operating officer, Publicis

"Without having had the experience of running a region, I would not have been able to do the job I have now. Working in other parts of the world has given me not only the confidence to run my own business but the confidence to coach other people on how to run successful businesses of their own.

"The extent to which networks need pan-regional heads varies. We at Publicis don't have a head of Europe because Europe is where we're based. Networks have to organise themselves around their most logical needs if they are to keep their overheads under control."

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