The news that BMP DDB’s chief executive, Chris Powell, has done
himself out of a job by promoting his joint managing directors
(Campaign, last week) reminds me of a David Ogilvy edict: ’If you hire
people who are bigger than you are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a
company of giants. If you hire people who are less than you are, we
shall become a company of dwarves.’
It’s true that there are two types of manager in the business: those who
hire to avoid any threat to themselves and those who hire putting the
future of the company first. The former encourages virulent sibling
rivalry in the ranks and has to look outside the company for senior
The latter - whose management principles are based on a kind of
Darwinian evolution theory, underpinned by a certain decency - does
Sadly, the former seems all too prevalent in advertising: the
larger-than-life agency manager who has protected his own position from
all comers and become a sort of non-playing captain. Such people never
forget that they started agencies precisely because their bosses allowed
them to get very close to clients - and they walked off with them. When
senior managers leave these agencies, it takes ages to find replacements
and it costs a king’s ransom.
Then there is succession by Darwinian evolution - as at BMP - where
youngsters such as Chris Powell, Martin Boase and John Webster fade
gently into the background, Cheshire-Cat style, where they are always
ready to offer a treasured word of commendation or to swoop into action
if a problem arises. Their place is gradually assumed by younger talent;
in BMP’s case the 27-year veterans, Chris Cowpe and Ross Barr, aided by
Larry Barker. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO - with the Andrew Robertson/Peter
Souter team in place - has a similar approach.
In a business characterised by company Ferraris, big pay-offs, high
staff turnover and rising stars who have an irritating habit of leaving
agencies, starting their own and buggering up the most carefully laid
plans, it is not easy to do things as smoothly as BMP or AMV.
Witness O&M’s continuing search for a chairman for its London agency,
Grey’s lengthy quest for a managing director to replace Nigel Sharrocks,
and the seemingly continuous changes at Ammirati Puris Lintas where no
management team lasts long enough to put its ideas into effect (come to
think of it, isn’t it about time for a new one, chaps?).
That was a rhetorical question; here’s one that isn’t.
Is it an accident that the two agencies I offer as models of succession
management are currently regarded as the best in town?
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