When a chief executive leaves a company in mid-contract, it is
usually a quick killing taking about a week. Until that moment nobody is
more powerful, then in the end he has no power at all. In the past few
months some big names have had the treatment and, if the traditionally
reliable Madison Avenue jungle drums are to be believed, the latest
victim is one of London's most resilient and popular advertising old
boys - Mike Greenlees, the founder and floater of GGT, purchaser of BDDP
and, latterly, the New York-based chief executive of the Omnicom-owned
But perhaps we should not be surprised, given the politics that he had
to deal with and the inherent difficulties anyone would face in building
a cohesive agency network from the famously entrepreneurial agencies
under the TBWA name. Forced to think about TBWA's management line-up
when interviewing Greenlees for Campaign's ongoing Kings of Madison
Avenue series last summer, I came to one stark conclusion. Greenlees was
caught up in the politics of one of the most adversarial boardroom
line-ups in the business.
With Greenlees at the helm, there were then three key figures in TBWA
Worldwide's complex hierarchy: Jean-Marie Dru, the president and chief
executive international; Lee Clow, the chairman and worldwide creative
director; and Bob Kuperman, the (then) president and chief executive of
the Americas, who recently left TBWA to return to DDB.
In effect, Greenlees was charged with completing the physical merger of
the BDDP and TBWA networks while heading a new board consisting of
opposing personalities: the proud self-made Frenchman who went to hell
and back trying to keep the BDDP network intact and lost his
independence not once, but twice - first to GGT, then to Omnicom (Dru);
an American hardball creative turned agency principal with a huge US
fiefdom to protect (Kuperman); and the revered creative supremo who
didn't even report to Greenlees, but direct to the Omnicom chief
executive boss, John Wren (Clow). It was every management theorist's
dream case study, every chief executive's nightmare.
One decision that Omnicom now faces is whether to select one of its own
or an outsider to succeed Greenlees. History books show that in the
absence of a crisis it is hard to recruit an outsider without
infuriating managers who have been passed over, especially when the
business is running smoothly and the numbers are good (as with TBWA).
But if attracting global clients is the chief requirement, an
experienced insider is the obvious route.
My money's on Dru: as the saviour who helped TBWA consolidate its
largest client, Nissan, he will surely be seen as the man to make a
network, once and for all, out of TBWA's collection of agencies. TBWA's
worldwide board meeting in Rio next month should be a lively one.