MEDIA: HEADLINER - MGM's bright young thing sets out his five-year agency plan. Matt James is living up to his potential as a face to watch, Anna Griffiths says

Manning Gottlieb Media may appear to have lost its grip on its prized Nike account, but having undergone substantial growth in the past year and doubled in size, there has been a reordering of the management chairs leading to the creation of a new post for a managing director.

Manning Gottlieb Media may appear to have lost its grip on its prized Nike account, but having undergone substantial growth in the past year and doubled in size, there has been a reordering of the management chairs leading to the creation of a new post for a managing director.

Taking on the mantle of this new role is Matt James, a board director at MGM, who has already held a pretty vociferous post and been projected as one of the agency's bright young things. A former Campaign face to watch (in 1997), James has taken on a lot of responsibility at the tender age of 28.

Looking ever-so-slightly like a younger, slimmer version of founding partner Colin Gottlieb, James is frighteningly evangelical about MGM and his future there, and at times sounds a bit like a McKinsey text book.

He pronounces: 'To me, MGM - and I genuinely mean this - is the best opportunity in London. We are absolutely poised to be the agency of the year. We have the people and the structure.'

While the partners' board, which includes the founders Gottlieb and Nick Manning, focuses on MGM's external presence, James will be there to hone the agency's operations, sharpen its new-business credentials and, ultimately, to be part of the succession management. Gottlieb says: 'He can see that if at some time we do want to move on, then there is a massive opportunity because it is an autonomous company.'

James is hungry to make an impact on MGM and to fulfil the managing partners' expectations. When asked where he would like to take the company in five years' time, he takes up the mantra of MGM being the best. 'In five years' time, as well as being in a leadership position, I want us to be on every major new-business list in terms of the premier league of clients.'

Some industry observers have suggested that as MGM has grown rapidly, there have been staff who have felt too removed from the managing partners who have had to concentrate on the company's external positioning. The placement of a new managing director could be a salvo to try and prevent such feelings, as James will be expected to listen to the staff and get them to help him shape the agency's future. James acknowledges this: 'The structure is there to ensure that people do not feel their contribution is removed from the business. It's about ensuring that we can strengthen that MGM culture. It's about drawing people back in with a feeling of empowerment. We have a massively open-door policy here.' Slipping into McKinsey speak, James is evidently keen to have the troops behind him.

The suggestion that there are some within MGM who may have had their noses put out of joint with his appointment seems to unsettle James. 'I would be distraught to go into a position where people wouldn't see it as a natural transition,' he says, frowning. Gottlieb is confident that there will be no such resentment. 'When it's announced to everyone, they will say 'I can completely see that'.'

James, who has spent ten years in the media industry, started his working life as a draughtsman in the engineering industry. After six months of working on the Eurotunnel, however, he abruptly decided to change career paths. 'I hated it,' says James, uttering some of his only negative words during the interview. 'I love people and energy in an office and it didn't have that.'

He became a junior TV buyer at Ogilvy & Mather but wanted to do more planning so he moved on to CIA, where he became a senior planner and buyer.

He worked his way up the CIA career path but by 1997 the company's embroilment in a TV trading dispute and low morale made James turn to pastures new.

James explains: 'I was emotionally expired by 1997. CIA was turning into a media factory and six of us left from the board within six to nine months.'

With a pretty lengthy career still ahead of him, James is insistent that he will have a long tenure at MGM. 'I'm young and have a long way to go. But for the next ten years, it's MGM - I want to move MGM on,' he says.

If MGM were to lose Nike, which accounts for around pounds 12.3 million in billings, it would be a bruise but not a bloody gash. However, with Nike's known fixation on the strength of global agency networks, the implications for MGM and its tapping into the OMD network (through Omnicom's majority stake) suggests there could be underlying frustrations with the strength of that network. James may, in time, see some fundamental changes in the shape of MGM's business, although at present there are no indications that the agency's ownership will be altering drastically.



THE JAMES FILE

1990 Ogilvy & Mather, junior TV buyer

1992 CIA Billett & Co, senior planner and buyer

1994 CIA Medianetwork UK, group manager, rising to board director in 1996

1997 Manning Gottlieb Media, board director

2000 Manning Gottlieb Media, managing director.