MEDIA HEADLINER: Universal McCann has a new chief with a talent for charm - Resting on his laurels isn't one of Kent's objectives in his new job

Someone was moving the deck chairs at Universal McCann Worldwide last week and its president, Robin Kent, has been placed in prime position.

Kent has taken on the role of chairman and chief executive of Universal McCann Worldwide from Ira Carlin, who has become the worldwide chairman of its media negotiation unit, Magna Global.

This is a job that Kent has been groomed for since leaving the agency's London headquarters, where he was the regional director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The US recession and terrorist attacks meant that the transition from Carlin's stewardship to Kent's was delayed, but finally the Englishman is in the top job.

Universal McCann intends spreading Kent's talents thinly for the time being, and he will continue in his job as the regional director for the agency in North America until at least the end of the year. Depending on who you are talking to, Kent's ascendancy is either down to good fortune or natural talent.

"He's discovered and believes in the art of delegation. In fact, he's so successful that he has someone to delegate for him,

one rival jokes.

A former colleague adds: "He's not the brightest or the hardest working man, but he's got a remarkable talent for finding people to do the job for him. That said, he's an exceptionally nice bloke."

By and large it is acknowledged that Kent's time in Europe was marked by something of a velvet revolution for the network, and he acquired a reputation as a good operator. His brief period in the US has been equally successful, with notable wins including Sony, American Airlines and Nestle Purina.

Whether this was by design or accident is a moot point, but those who know Kent suggest that his charisma and charm is an asset to Universal.

Optimedia's former managing director and a friend of Kent's, Simon Mathews, says: "In this industry, you're meant to be a prima donna if you want to prove you're an intellectual. Robin keeps his own counsel but he's certainly bright - he's just not the sort of person to boast about it. It's a common mistake to underestimate his ability."

Questions of Kent's intellect and modesty aside, he will surely be judged by the results he achieves and how he manages his network of offices in 130 countries.

Kent thinks that Universal McCann is in pretty good shape, although he acknowledges that ensuring it remains that way is "a bit like painting the Forth Bridge".

Of course, like all networks, Universal McCann is better in some parts than in others, but Kent is pleased that they are all supplied with the same resources and should have a consistent approach.

Europe is the jewel in Universal McCann's crown and generates the most revenue for the network - an achievement that Kent is largely given credit for.

He will not be drawn on any changes that he may or may not be introducing, but critics question whether his good work in Europe is now being undone by senior McCann's executives.

While Universal McCann seems to be enjoying something of a resurgence at the moment, critics can always use the old chestnut that it is flawed because of its close ties to McCann-Erickson.

Until this ends, the argument goes, and the agency becomes autonomous, Universal McCann cannot stand up and shout in the media world.

The other school of thought is that the Universal McCann/McCann-Erickson axis is just another agency model that could in fact differentiate it from its competitors.

"I'm proud that we are part of the McCann-Erickson Worldwide group," Kent says. "Having worked in a media independent, I truly believe this is the best model. If you look closely at our rivals, like MindShare and Ogilvy & Mather, the links will run closer than you think."

For the time being, at least, Kent is very much the Brit abroad, and some believe that establishing and asserting his authority could be an issue for him.

"Unlike the creative scene, the US media industry is very hostile to outsiders,

one source says.

But any resentment of his background will surely be tempered while Universal McCann is riding high in the US. Should things change, Kent will need all his charm and grace to convince them of his talent. Failing that he can always play his "Look what I achieved in Europe" card.

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