Michael Hockney, the recently installed chief executive of D&AD, has always been interested in art. He and his wife are serious collectors and personally know many of the top dealers and experts in the business.
When he decided to spread his wings beyond the advertising business ten years ago, his first stop was Christies, which sent him to Shanghai to set up an operation to develop relationships with the art community of China. He cites an 18th-century desk as his greatest ever extravagance.
He demurs from saying how much it cost but, for an art-collecting ex-agency principal and management consultant whose previous cars include a rare Ferrari 412, it seems a pretty safe bet that he didn't pay for it on Switch (which is more than can be said for the steel-legged melamine contraption that adorns the centre of his office at D&AD's spartan Vauxhall headquarters).
In large part, it is this love of art that has brought Hockney back into the fold after his extended sojourn in the non-executional world of consultancy. He was "hankering after doing something with a more creative angle to it". And although opportunities for involvement in actual executions might be limited, he couldn't have chosen a greater paragon of creativity in which to make his home than D&AD. Now in its fifth decade of operation, it is the leading standard-bearer for creative excellence both in the UK and abroad. Its independent, not-for-profit status, combined with its standing in the creative community, gives it the edge over most other award schemes.
As Hockney puts it: "Anybody who has worked in design or advertising is in awe of the Book and the Pencil, and you're a bloody fool if you're not." These are the awards that creative people really care about because they designate a genuine place at the high table of the world's finest creative talent.
But Hockney is keen to emphasise that D&AD is about much more than just prizes. He acknowledges that, like most others, his primary association with the organisation before joining it was "Book, Pencil, dinner". In fact, by far the greatest chunk of D&AD's effort is invested in the area of education. Each year, more than £2 million is spent supporting students and tutors in colleges, helping young talent bridge the gap between graduation to first job, and running on-going professional development for creative people.
Hockney sees the awards as a separate strand but as much more than just a congratulations ceremony: "We're talking about excellence. The standard is there to be achieved. We're there to help the creative and business communities communicate the contribution of outstanding creativity to business success." And showing, debating and the setting of standards segues into the third strand of D&AD's activity: evangelising the commercial value of the best creative work to the client community.
As an ex-planner who spent ten years chairing the IPA Advertising Effectiveness Awards committee, Hockney is ideally suited to this third challenge of evaluating, discussing and publicising the impact of creativity on the bottom line. Not that he regards the client community as some sort of churlish opposition to be vanquished.
"It's about bringing the two communities together - the community of clients and the community of design companies and advertising agencies - and pointing everyone in the same direction." He believes collusion is more constructive than confrontation, and that the most profitable relationships are the equal ones that allow for clients to make positive contributions.
He is careful not to trespass on agency territory here. Hockney doesn't see it as an indictment of agencies and the way they manage their client relationships that D&AD is taking the initiative of promoting the creative cause to the business world, and he certainly doesn't want to tread on any toes: "I think having someone at arm's length speaking for the whole community instead of just an individual agency must be a great help."
This reluctance to seem bombastic pervades much of Hockney's approach.
Several times he goes out of his way to emphasise his reverence for what D&AD has achieved in the past and his high regard for the calibre of the staff there. He talks of progress as a continuation and change as an evolution: "D&AD must constantly revisit what it does and must continue to innovate. We regularly revisit the categories, because we have to reflect the changing nature of what's going on out there such as new media and integrated campaigns." While being careful not to try fixing anything that isn't broken, he is determined to increase the profile of what D&AD does beyond the Pencil and Book, and to extend its international footprint.
This quietist approach doesn't mean that he's shy of bold measures, and this week he has announced a change to the awards ceremony. Out goes the judging down in Brighton, the interim for those who have made it into the Book to be informed, and the dinner in the Earls Court hangar. In comes a 22-day creative jamboree on the banks of the Thames in central London at Old Billingsgate, the original fish-market recently refurbished by Richard Rogers.
Once more, Hockney plays down the drama, pointing out that plans to move the dinner and judging together to a new venue were already under consideration when he arrived, and that he simply saw the opportunity to extend this to incorporate more of what D&AD does: "I'm not here as Mr Hatchet Man. It is rather about bringing D&AD's work together in a more holistic way, which is why the first big thing I am putting in place is D&AD's Congress 2004."
The event has been conceived with eight different target audiences in mind: agency staff from account handlers to finance directors, the marketing community, business leaders, government, the CBI, schools within the M25, the international creative communities and the media. Although the judging and awards ceremonies remain focused on the professional creative community and those in education, there will also be a series of exhibitions, showcases, lectures, seminars and workshops.
The four rounds of judging will stay the same, as will the calibre of the juries and the exacting standards. But there won't be any delay between judging and the results coming out, for the entrants themselves to find out whether they have made the Book. An exhibition of the successful work will be put together there and then at Old Billingsgate for all to see.
Hockney's approach is pragmatic. Creative excellence is not some self-serving indulgence, but needs to be pursued relentlessly because it is the most effective way for design companies and advertising agencies to contribute to the business objectives of their clients. He remains realistic but optimistic about the future.
"I hope that over the next decade we're going to be able to work with the client community to increase our understanding of the contribution of creativity to business success," he says. "Equally, there's a very interesting job to do to make sure that the creative industries are responding in the right way to what clients need."
For all that he has achieved in various fields, Hockney is neither complacent nor arrogant and is approaching his latest role with the vigour and enthusiasm that has served him well in the past.
He nominates his personal motto as: "It's not who you are, but what you do that matters." It is no coincidence that his ethos fits so well with what D&AD has always stood for and stands as a reassurance that this valued institution is in safe hands.
Lives: Twickenham and Dorset
Family: Wife, Elizabeth
Favourite ad: First of the Smash Martians ads
Describe yourself in three words: Enthusiastic, committed, tireless
Greatest extravagance: An 18th-century desk
Most treasured possession: My family
Most admired agency: BMP from the late 60s
Living person you most admire: Kofi Anan
One to watch: China
Motto: It's not who you are but what you do that matters