Close-Up: Live Issue - Do global shops need domestic CEOs?

Is the power of local chief executives being diluted by the needs of global clients, Kunal Dutta asks.

Last week Steve Gatfield, the Lowe Worldwide chief executive, defended his decision not to replace Amanda Walsh by arguing Lowe was developing as a multinational network where "a London-facing chief executive wouldn't work".

His vision is a local agency streamlined to serve global business with an in-house UK management team (overseen by himself and Tony Wright, the Lowe Worldwide chairman) to fill the vacuum.

So, with global business vital to a network agency's income, the dynamics of these agencies are certainly under scrutiny. Is the local market being overlooked as a result? And where does this leave a local chief executive in terms of power and autonomy?

The key to answering this is to assess the relationship of global account directors, or barons, and the responsibilities of a local chief.

One insider at Y&R asserts that as long as there is no "underlying politics" at work, ultimate power still rests with a local chief: "While the account baron represents his client's global interests within the agency, the chief executive is front-facing and ultimately accountable for the agency and its performance. There may be standoffs, but these are often exchanges of interests and should not be confused with exchanges of power."

But Tamara Ingram, the executive vice-president of Grey Global and the network's Procter & Gamble supremo, argues that the prominence of global account directors means the local chief executive role is no longer about autonomy.

"Just as global businesses have become more transparent, the chief executive role has too. Rather than craving power, local offices need leaders that are not afraid to relinquish control. Fostering an environment where global account teams feel empowered to serve global clients is a local leadership skill in itself," she says.

But one source argues that this is romanticising the chief executive role: "If you're ambitious and entrepreneurial as most chief executives are, there is only so far you can go before you find you're answerable to those above. The number of people that have become frustrated in network agencies and left to start their own shops over the past few years is no surprise."

Meanwhile, many leaders argue that global account servicing is not enough, and for agencies to truly thrive, they have to be producing strong work at home and abroad.

"Most international business needs strong and dynamic local agencies, particularly in the London market, which is in the lead for increasing numbers of global clients," Stephen Woodford, the chief executive of DDB, says.

"In my experience, a local chief executive gets a high degree of responsibility and accountability in running the agency, so global and local business is best served."

However, there still remains the spectre of global interference.

"There's always been a debate about whether domestic chief executives get pissed off with the amount of global tampering, but those who are interfered with only usually have themselves to blame," Matt Shepherd-Smith, the chief executive of TBWA\London, says.

One observer sums it up by insisting that local and global responsibilities are just two sides of the same coin: "Lowe's isn't a strategic decision to define itself as a global network, it's a response to a global recognition that the local agency has collapsed."

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AGENCY CHIEF - Robert Senior, chief executive, SSF

"There's no doubt that the local chief executive job has become more complex, particularly with the gravitational forces of global holding companies and the monetary implications that come with it. But that makes it harder, not worse. If account handling is about elasticity and the gearing of individuals intellectually and creatively, the role should present a mouth-watering opportunity, not an eye-watering migraine.

"Those jobs are still very much in demand and require different skillsets and a gearing that should come into its own when confronted by problems.

"Besides, if an agency thinks it's any good, but can't sell its own chief executive position, it clearly has deeper issues to contend with."

GLOBAL ACCOUNT HEAD - Tamara Ingram, executive vice-president, Grey Global

"While it is true that there's more value and acknowledgement of the role global business plays in the world, there is no doubt that you need a fantastic local chief executive to nurture those roles.

"You also need to have a strong agency structure that facilitates those roles. Part of our advance into the globalised world is about learning to lead in a way that is more open and expressive.

"People are as hungry as ever and desperate for those jobs. But what's tough is finding the talent and people with a passionate sense of vision, purpose, clarity and focus. This is a universal search for talent that extends beyond advertising agencies."

NETWORK HEAD - Andrew Robertson, president and chief executive, BBDO Worldwide

"You're simply not going to get strong local work without strong local operations and management.

"That means a management team that is brilliantly led and can win new clients on its own as well as being capable of working with network partners.

"Our view is that in order to serve global clients as best we can, we need to have very strong local agencies. That means investing in the best chief executives, planning and account directors.

"That said, there is no question that the role of global account directors has become more important. But they should be there to lead the brand in their market, not control it."

REGIONAL CHIEF - Toby Hoare, chief executive, JWT Europe

"For an agency to thrive, it needs a mixture of both local and global clients. For me, JWT is about having strong local management teams that can compete for local business individually and can come together collectively to pitch for international business.

"Part of the skill of a local chief executive is to foster this culture, but also ensure an agency forges its own sense of local identity.

"One way to ensure that can be done is by not having too many people working solely on one account. The other important reason to have local clients is that many of the most talented people want to work on brands where their work is going to be seen locally."