WORLD: Analysis - How new chief of Burnett Asia acquired a taste for the Orient

Richard Pinder thinks that his replacement is perfect for Asia, Richard Lord says.

Being a regional agency boss can involve an awful lot of getting on and off aeroplanes, sitting in meeting rooms and pressing the flesh.

But the last two, at least, don't worry Michelle Kristula-Green, the newly appointed regional managing director of Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific. After all, she's had good training, working in Japan for the past 15 years.

"I've been in Japan a long time, so I have a high tolerance for meetings," she says. "There are a lot of skills one learns in Japan. I've been trained by the Japanese to listen."

Before taking over the helm of Burnett Asia, Kristula-Green was the president of Beacon Communications, the agency originally formed from the Japan operations of Burnett and D'Arcy, along with the unit of Dentsu that dealt with Procter & Gamble business.

With Kristula-Green's appointment, Beacon formally joins the Burnett fold, reporting directly into the agency, rather than into the parent company Publicis.

Her new job, which officially started on 1 March, is Hong Kong-based, but moving to China after 15 years in Japan isn't going to be too much of a culture shock; she majored in East Asian Languages and Civilisations at the University of Chicago, speaks fluent Chinese, and even worked as a tour guide in China in the late 70s. Her first job in Asia was as an account director in Burnett's Taipei office, which she joined in 1986 before moving to Tokyo three years later. Her biggest client during her time in Asia has been P&G; she's also worked extensively on Coca-Cola, Fiat and United Distillers.

The greatest challenge in her new job appears to be the transition from managing a single, homogenous market to managing a massive region stretching from India to Japan to Australia. "The first thing is learning about the client issues, the office issues, the market issues that people are facing - I'm very much information-gathering right now," she says.

But taking control of such a diversity of different offices and markets doesn't seem to daunt her.

"In many ways, the principles are similar," she claims. "You have to have good managers, and you can't go in and do their jobs for them. It's a very collaborative region, and there are a lot of synergistic opportunities. My job is helping to drive the vision."

She admits that she will "need to build good relationships with the managing directors", adding that "the people-related stuff is probably 60 to 70 per cent of the job", and characterising her management style as consensual: "I tend to manage very much by trying to agree objectives with people."

Kristula-Green adds that she's lucky to inherit the legacy of her predecessor, Richard Pinder: "Richard's put a lot of good people in place. We've always been in the top three in terms of business wins, but the creative has really improved, and now we're in the top two creatively in the key markets."

Pinder, who takes over as Burnett's regional president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, says Kristula-Green's background makes her perfect for the job.

"Her experience is extraordinary," he comments. "She has 20 years in the agency, most of it in Asia, and she speaks two languages and knows the two biggest markets. It humbles me - I had none of it when I took over. When you see her in action, she's absolutely perfect for Asia."

As a foreign agency head in Japan, she's had unique insights into the workings of the country's domestic mega-agencies (Dentsu and Hakuhodo alone have 40 per cent of the market), thanks to Dentsu's involvement in Beacon. "Japan is so different, because it's so dominated by Dentsu and Hakuhodo," she says. "There are people in agencies and clients who have known each other since they first joined their companies.

"I've gained a unique perspective from working with Dentsu, from the senior management down. Bringing Dentsu resources, including Dentsu people, into Beacon has been one of the big challenges in recent years."

She was the first woman to head a multinational agency in Japan, but found that less of an issue than the country's ultra-traditionalist reputation had led her to believe it would be. "I was concerned about being a woman working in Japan, but what I soon found was that being foreign trumps being female."

The 47-year-old American has lived overseas most of her life. The daughter of a diplomat, she spent most of her childhood in Latin America and Europe, before deciding that Asia was for her.

"The whole idea of studying Chinese was that it was the language of the future," she says. "I always felt that somehow I would make a career in Asia. Once you get bitten by the Asian bug, you tend to stay here. I didn't plan to stay in Japan for 15 years, but there were always opportunities there - the agency was always growing."

The extensive travelling, she says, is the worst thing about her new role. "Everyone dreads the travel, but it goes with the job. It's important to have a feeling for the personality of each office. It's definitely a big change, and I expect to be seeing a lot of hotel rooms."

KRISTULA-GREEN'S CV

1982: Leo Burnett Chicago, trainee

1986: Leo Burnett Taipei, account director

1989: Leo Burnett Tokyo, account director

2001: Beacon Communications, Tokyo, joint managing director

2002: Beacon Communications, Tokyo, president and representative

director

2004: Leo Burnett Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong, regional managing director

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