If you think you're someone in this business and you've never heard
of or met Brian Brooks, you're a nobody. You certainly won't have read
about him in Campaign. As one of the few power brokers in advertising
who remains in the shadows - hence his nickname, the Prince of Darkness
- Brooks wields enormous influence with a PR profile close to zero. He
is a member of an exclusive breed at the big communications groups: the
human resources supremo.
While Interpublic's Kent Kroeber gets the credit for inventing the
specialism, Brooks, at 46, is the hottest thing in HR that the modern
advertising world has to offer. Appropriately enough, he is to succeed
Kroeber as soon as he can extricate himself from WPP.
A patrician figure, Kroeber is retiring at 62 after more than 30 years.
He had a huge influence in growing IPG as a holding company under Marion
Harper in the 60s and as a public company in the 70s. His expertise?
Devising incentive and remuneration programmes that inspired people to
work for or sell their agencies to IPG.
Unfortunately, Brooks is unable to confirm Campaign's exclusive story
that he has accepted a similar post with a rival. As a WPP main board
member, he is tied up in legal red tape concerning his notice period.
The fact that he has given 12 months' notice of his decision to step
down suggests that he will not be joining IPG soon. On the other hand,
how long will WPP want him around?
Born in 1955 in the US, Brooks subsequently lived in Sweden and Canada.
He was educated at the University of Wisconsin where he read economics
and he went on the read law at Vanderbilt University Law School. His
first job was at a benefits and compensation consultant called Hewitt
Associates in Chicago. Three years later he joined the HR and executive
reward specialist, Towers Perrin, in New York. As the principal of the
company, he moved to Towers Perrin in London in 1989.
It was at Towers Perrin that he first came to Sir Martin Sorrell's
The group chief executive of WPP liked what Brooks had to offer so much
that, in 1992, he asked him to join WPP in order to start a HR function
at its centre. Sorrell's aim was to move away from the model of a purely
financial holding company to a more strategic positioning committed to
promoting inter-company collaboration and managing talent. It was a
statement of its importance that the job was a board-level one, based in
New York where the group's three main advertising networks are
Brooks' role changed the longer he spent at WPP. As a consultant to the
company and in his early days there, his main purpose was to put in
place clear, consistent and competitive incentive schemes at a company
that until then had been little more than Sorrell's personal acquisition
The latest of these - WPP's five-year Leadership Equity Acquisition
Plan, introduced in September 1999 - is unique for two reasons. First,
because it measures WPP's performance against its competitors in terms
of total shareholder return. Second, because participants have to invest
at least the equivalent of one year's salary of their own money in the
Brooks is one of the 15 people who invested a major part of his personal
net wealth in WPP shares to join LEAP when WPP was trading at more than
£13 a share (today it is at £7.38).
But if the performance targets are met and the market revives, everyone
will be laughing: Sorrell's $10 million personal investment, for
example, could turn into $50 million - or $108 million
when teamed with his current incentive plan.
It wasn't until later in his tenure that Brooks evolved into the
Kroeber-type figure, dealing with senior and promising people within WPP
to help develop individuals and organisations and identifying talent
outside the group. Thus Brooks played a role in luring Paul Simons to
run Ogilvy & Mather in the UK.
The second part of Brooks' role plays to his workaholic tendancies for
it involves endless criss-crossing of the globe in order to fill his
Rolodex with senior people who someone somewhere has a good word for.
Like Sorrell, Brooks is on call 18 or 20 hours a day. Like Sorrell, he
is fantatical about checking his e-mails, phone messages and faxes. The
role also taps into his skills as a listener and a politician, for much
of what Brooks heard from senior people would be inevitably passed back
Of course, none of this is relevant to Brooks' brief from IPG's chief
executive John Dooner, directly. But if he has a moment to turn his gaze
in Dooner's direction, Brooks will find some meaty HR issues at WPP's
Who runs what in the muddle of IPG's four principal worldwide divisions?
How to support the new Lowe network chief, Jerry Judge, who recently
took over from Frank Lowe? How to accommodate the ambitions of Donny
Deutsche? What to do structurally to bring IPG's stock price back
towards the level of its peers? How to restock the senior talent pool
when thousands of jobs have been lost in an effort to cut costs? And all
this is underscored with a global advertising boom that has come to a
shuddering halt. Brooks could be forgiven for feeling apprehensive about
the challenges ahead.