Jon Claydon used to control the diets of millions in third world countries. As a commodities trader in the late 80s, he ran the City company Cargill's rice trading division from Geneva. If he got things wrong a lot of people went without dinner.
In comparison, running a direct marketing agency may seem like small fry but, as last week's deal with Agency.com shows, Claydon Heeley Jones Mason has serious ambitions.
The agency has teamed up with its fellow Omnicom operation to launch Agency Republic, which will run as a separate entity offering on- and offline solutions. Claydon goes to great lengths to stress the scale of the deal: 'We didn't want to bring in two or three interactive people to launch a department or do a deal with web builders. We can link our consumer insights into Agency.com's resources of 1,500 people.'
The Agency.com deal is the latest in a series of developments that has turned the original Claydon Heeley operation from the archetypal sales promotion agency into a serious player with top planning and creative credentials employing 206 people and an income of pounds 17 million. Much of this credit must go to Claydon, who at heart is still a trader. As he puts it: 'I launch lifeboats and see what happens.'
Claydon, 39, is well aware of his reputation as a City wide-boy who is not interested in creative product. He defends himself by likening his role to that of a football manager who employs star defenders and centre-forwards to do the good work.
Since launching Claydon Heeley in 1991, Claydon and his management team have succeeded in transforming the agency far beyond its original focus.
The catalyst for change came with its sale to Omnicom in March 1998, a move that allowed Claydon Heeley to work closely with other Omnicom agencies.
The founders have just finished their earnout, pocketing several million pounds each.
A working relationship with BMP DDB was formalised with the launch of Jones Mason Barton Antenen, a direct marketing agency originally backed by Claydon Heeley and BMP and then merged into the former to create Claydon Heeley Jones Mason. Cynics suggest that folding the standalone agency into his own was always Claydon's aim, since the merger brought an influx of BMP talent into the agency, including the chief executive, Nigel Jones, and the deputy chairman, Mark Rapley.
Michael Birkin, the president of DAS Worldwide, comments: 'Jon is one of the few people who could persuade somebody of Nigel Jones' quality to come into the firm. It needed Jon's vision and energy to persuade Nigel.'
The relationship with BMP is still strong through several shared clients including Reuters and Credit Suisse.
James Best, the chairman of BMP DDB, says: 'Jon is brilliantly effective.
He's a business machine but combines this with being a lovely bloke. He's worked with us in a very helpful way and really put himself about. He cares a lot for the culture of his agency. At first we thought they just had this macho reputation but it has a great spirit and Jon does fret and worry about keeping this going.'
Some who know Claydon say that he is a good leader but not passionate about communications. This may have been true in the early days, when Durham University chum Mark Heeley persuaded Claydon to join him in launching the agency, but it is not necessarily the whole picture.
Fellow Australian Bill Muirhead, a founding partner at M&C Saatchi and a non-executive director of Claydon Heeley, says: 'Jon is a very driven guy. He's very interested in communications and has developed a really good understanding of the business. He's proactive and has built up a very good business.'
Claydon seems happy driving Claydon Heeley forward. Heeley and fellow founding partner Ed Mason have both departed with their loot but Claydon is still around. 'I'm still enjoying it and can see vistas to take us to,' he says.
But there is also the possibility that these vistas might include larger personal responsibility within Omnicom. 'There are no firm plans whatsoever but Jon's an ambitious guy and it's my job to find things for him to do,' Birkin says. 'I expect him to play an increasingly important role in our world but we also have other very senior people to look after. I don't see him coming in and managing a WWAV Rapp Collins or anything like that.'
So it looks like Claydon has been identified as a hot prospect in the Omnicom hierarchy. For the time being, however, he has more pressing problems.