After nearly 25 years in the business, Tim Davis has done it all.
He’s run the P&G account at Young & Rubicam, been made chairman of the
same agency at the age of 35, founded his own start-up, sold out to
Omnicom for mega-bucks and last week added to this long list of
accomplishments by becoming non-executive chairman of J. Walter Thompson
London (Campaign, 8 October).
JWT has been looking for someone to fill a chairman’s role since
November last year. Outside candidates have been considered, but Davis
is said to have been the front runner for the past three months.
Stephen Carter, JWT’s chief executive, was hoping to announce the hiring
at the annual all-staff meeting next month. Carter has found it
difficult to fulfil all the internal and external demands on him as sole
leader of the London agency. ’Stephen could do with having someone else
around,’ Davis says. ’He has a serious diary management problem.’
So is that all Davis’s appointment is about - attending a few B-list
dinners that Carter is too busy to make? ’There is not an awful lot that
has to be done,’ Davis insists. ’There is no problem to fix.
I need to build on what is already working pretty well and fill in some
of the gaps. I will be taking part in internal management meetings and
offering my point of view. No one is being prescriptive about my
Carter shares his thinking. ’It’s a case of suck it and see,’ he
’I need a sounding board. This is a big business and it’s getting a lot
bigger. It’s all about scale.’
Both are keen to give the impression that Davis’s new role is entirely
Carter’s doing, but - thanks to the fact that he will continue to run
the Shell Oil and Unilever accounts globally - Davis will report direct
to Chris Jones, the network’s chief executive, while Carter reports to
the European president, Michael Madel.
Rupert Howell, chairman of HHCL & Partners, who was hired by Davis as an
account director at Y&R in 1983, says that JWT was looking for someone
who would not get in Carter’s way - thoughts that Carter echoes: ’Tim
has an ability to give rather than impose advice,’ he says.
Davis will devote one day a week to his chairman’s duties. ’That is the
level of involvement that Stephen says he needs from me,’ he says
Martin Jones, the managing director of the AAR who worked at JWT for 12
years, thinks that Davis’s appointment is a good one. ’His depth of
experience will be a huge advantage. Carter is not good at the touchy,
feely side of the business. They will complement each other.’
’And then there’s the age thing,’ another ex-JWT employee says. ’Carter
is 36, and doesn’t even look that old. Some clients can’t believe that
he’s up to the job.’
Davis, 55, also understands the concerns that have been raised about
Carter’s age. ’It is sometimes hard to relate to someone of a different
generation, you naturally have less in common with them - but that will
be one of the pluses of appointing me.’
Davis joined Young & Rubicam in 1967 as a graduate trainee. Twelve
months later he became an account executive on P&G’s Daz - the business
he ’grew up on’.
He became a board account director on P&G in 1977 before progressing to
head of client services and then, in 1980, to managing director. Two
years later he was appointed chairman.
Clive Holland, now executive vice-president at Grey International,
recalls: ’We were young fledgling chaps on P&G together. Tim was always
his own man. He was very tough and if you were a sensitive little
flower, Tim was not a good person to work with.’
Holland explains how Davis was referred to as ’dead eye’ at Y&R because
of the fear one of his looks could provoke and elaborates on the two
very different aspects of his personality.
’One side of Tim was very potent and committed to delivering the best
possible service to his clients, but he had another side which loved to
relax and have some fun. If he was in the mood and, especially if there
were some nice ladies from the agency around, he wouldn’t mind spending
that extra hour at lunch. But if he was back from lunch by 2.15 and in
work mode he would be striding down the corridors of the agency like the
local sheriff, demanding to know where everyone was.’
In 1983 Y&R resigned P&G globally to make way for Colgate Palmolive.
This had a dramatic effect on Davis’s career. ’It was a lunatic
decision,’ Davis says,’and I mouthed off about it at length. It took
away a major piece of my power base.’
Howell remembers the day Davis heard about the P&G decision: ’I saw Tim
in his office that day in tears and he was never the same again. Shortly
afterwards John Banks was bought in from Ogilvy & Mather and he won the
power struggle with Tim.’
The following year Davis quit to set up his own agency with Y&R’s
creative director, Chris Wilkins. BMP DDB took a 25 per cent stake in
Davis admits now that the entire premise of the agency was a bad
’It was the consequence of a major falling out,’ he says.
’Tim ran the company very hard and Chris liked a more relaxed
lifestyle,’ Holland recalls. ’They had very different thoughts on how it
should be done.’
But, although they never won that seminal piece of business, things went
relatively well for a while and at its best the business was billing
pounds 20 million. However, after six years of independence it sold to
Omnicom which merged the agency with BMP Business and Davis was bought
He bought a holiday cottage in Dorset with some of the ’huge amount of
money’ he made from the sale of Davis Wilkins. His London home, which he
shares with his wife (they have two adult children), is in Notting
At this point Davis also took himself off on a long holiday and on his
return received two separate job offers from JWT.
’I met Miles Colebrook and Chris Jones separately,’ Davis says. ’Chris
was offering me a senior client services position and Miles was offering
me the chance to run Unilever internationally. We all decided that
Miles’s offer was the one that I should take.’
’A lot of people thought that I had copped out,’ Davis continues, ’but
that’s what a lot of people in London say when someone takes on an
Eight years later Davis says he is still viewed as a newcomer at JWT and
does not see himself as a member of the agency’s ’boot room’ culture
which tends to promote from within.
Davis admits it would have been ’a big bold thing’ if Carter had filled
the chairman’s post from outside the agency.
’A lot of people here have never worked at other agencies and I am still
seen as a little bit of an outsider. In that sense, my appointment as
chairman is slightly an admission of failure,’ he says.