CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: DECISION MAKER - BRUNO WIDMAR. Widmar leads Y&R back to the creative frontline. Passion and the entrepreneurial spirit are the weapons he brings to bear, as Emma Hall discovers

With the punctuality of a Swiss timepiece, Bruno Widmar, the chairman and chief executive of Young & Rubicam Europe, calls the Campaign offices, as arranged, at 4pm on the dot.

With the punctuality of a Swiss timepiece, Bruno Widmar, the

chairman and chief executive of Young & Rubicam Europe, calls the

Campaign offices, as arranged, at 4pm on the dot.

Widmar, who is 57, has spent the last five days in his home town of

Zurich working on agency strategy. Although it has been a ’killing

process’, it doesn’t seem to have dented his good humour. After all, Y&R

Europe is familiar territory for Widmar, who has been an important

member of the European operation since 1989, the year his agency,

Advico, sold to Y&R.

Since those early days, he has gained a wealth of experience, which last

month he brought to bear on Y&R’s purchase of Rainey Kelly Campbell

Roalfe in London. ’To me it was important we came to a philosophical

entente,’ he says. ’We liked each other and we quickly found common

ground. From then on, I was only involved when we were stuck. Sometimes

with these things people get emotional, but this time everyone proved to

be an adult.’

Once London was sorted, he moved his priorities straight to the German

office, where a similar acquisition appears to be in the pipeline. He

reveals: ’Germany is a major concern. We have to strengthen the

leadership.’ Already, Widmar has taken action - this month Hans Lange, a

former chairman of Ogilvy & Mather who Widmar describes as a ’big icon’,

was named non-executive chairman of Y&R Germany.

Strengthening Y&R’s offering across Europe, Widmar says, ’ is not about

numbers or size. The aim is to be a key player in the most important


Since he was appointed chairman and chief executive of Y&R Europe in

1998, Widmar’s goals have been clear-cut: ’I really try to be a leader

for the company. I want to get back what I feel we’ve lost a bit - the

creative track. The UK work for the past few years has been good but we

want it to be better.’

Widmar does not have a base in London and stays in hotels for the two or

three days a week he is here. His homes are in Zurich and Florence,

where he has a wine business. Three thriving Tuscan vineyards are a

testament to his entrepreneurial spirit, which he says is in his blood,

despite his family’s conventional banking background.

Widmar has applied this spirit to his career in advertising. When he

took the helm of Advico in 1972, eight years after he joined, Widmar

began to build the agency into a communications group. One of his

secrets, he says, is to hire good people spontaneously and find the

right job for them later.

In 1989, at the time of the deal, Advico was number three in the


’We doubled the size of Y&R in Switzerland,’ he recalls. Widmar was

immediately drafted in to help out Y&R on a pan-European level.

Advico’s early struggles to become a European force in the 60s - when

the agency opened offices in Germany, Italy and France - taught Widmar

how not to do it. The mistake was to centralise all the creative work

from Zurich. ’With hindsight, it’s a crazy idea,’ says Widmar. ’We did

some outstanding work but you’re not close enough to the pulse of the


So when Widmar took control in 1972 he inherited an agency in


But under his leadership there followed nearly two decades of steady

expansion,working with blue-chip clients including UBS, Kodak and

General Motors.

This year, Widmar was voted Switzerland’s advertising man of the


Although work kept him away from the awards ceremony, it’s an accolade

he takes seriously. ’In Switzerland, I have responsibility. Advertising

should be a respected part of the business community, but ad people are

low on the social level here. What I can try to do is give advertising

respectability by establishing a clear link with business.’ To this end,

Widmar sits on the boards of various companies in Switzerland and


His real satisfaction, though, is still derived from advertising. He

concludes: ’As long as I have passion left, I will stick with Y&R. And I

have lots of passion left.’


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