Close-Up: Pearman takes centre stage in AMV's evolution

The new chief executive has given up the hard partying, but Ian Pearman says he has no career gameplan, John Tylee writes.

As the newly appointed chief executive of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Ian Pearman might be said to be the embodiment of the slogan that the UK's biggest agency devised for Guinness: good things come to those who wait.

Having been marked out as one to watch from the moment he joined as a graduate trainee in 1996, Pearman now finds himself a key figure in the smooth managerial evolution that has always been the AMV hallmark.

So smooth that some wonder if the restructure that sees Pearman, the managing director, replace Farah Ramzan Golant, who becomes the agency's executive chairman, alters very much, at all.

"What exactly is going to change?" a former AMV senior manager asks. "Nothing, really."

Not true, according to Pearman, whose new role not only includes broader account responsibilities but also overseeing the agency's P&L and maintaining and growing its talent pool while leaving Ramzan Golant to concentrate on strategic issues.

Some insiders believe the reason Pearman has been propelled into his new role after just three years in his previous one stems mainly from the agency's need to lock in its top management by bestowing status with the aim of avoiding any future vacuum at the top.

They say the driving factor has been the need to reconcile the relentless ambition of Ramzan Golant - she has long coveted the job at the very top of the agency hierarchy and is tipped to be on track for a big regional job within the BBDO network - while also keeping Pearman content.

"There's no question that if AMV hadn't done something like this, they would have lost him," an industry source says. "Pearman isn't the type to be constantly updating his CV but he would have been a prime candidate to start his own place."

Pearman's high regard within AMV is in direct contrast with his low profile outside it. This may seem odd given his capacity to party and a reputation as a bon viveur enhanced by a frame that's become a little less Falstaffian since he was first chosen to don the Santa Claus costume at the agency's children's Christmas party.

Today, the "two-bottle lunches" are a thing of the past. Well, almost. "But I can select most of my new clothes from the middle of the rack rather than the extreme left of it!" he jokes.

Shedding the pounds was tied partly to the responsibilities of raising a young family, he says. It was also the result of what he describes as "corporate boot camp" otherwise known as the Harvard Advanced Management Programme, on which he spent three months earlier this year in preparation for a promotion that he says was first discussed a year ago.

The gruelling schedule allowed participants only Sunday afternoons to themselves with each day beginning at 5.30am in the gym. "It was an invaluable experience," he says. "A real eye-opener."

Pearman was born in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, to parents who were both teachers. During his three years at Clare College, Cambridge, he flirted with the idea of journalism. In the end, not only did advertising win out but he got to join the agency he'd set his heart on and whose values he's always shared. "They are baked into the place," he declares. "People always do better if they feel happy, encouraged and comfortable."

Michael Baulk, the former AMV group chairman who hired Pearman, reckons there is something barrister-like in the way he constructs and communicates an argument. But he smiles when he recalls his protege's "immediate impact on the agency".

Like the time during his early days as a trainee at an agency party when Baulk and David Abbott found Pearman in the loo inspecting the enormous rip in his trousers caused by high-energy dancing.

Jeremy Miles, the MCBD founding partner, was the AMV board director responsible for its BT business on which Pearman was the account manager. "Ian is a man with intense stamina who parties hard," he says. "But beneath that exterior there's a very sharp mind."

However, the catapulting of Pearman into his new role begs the question of whether AMV is becoming a bit crowded at the top and whether it can accommodate two such muscle-flexing big players.

The upside is that the partnership between Pearman and Ramzan Golant has worked well because of the way they complement each other. "Farah has many skills - she's very sharp, is a great strategic thinker and has some excellent client relationships - but she isn't the touchy-feely type," an ex-AMV manager points out. "Ian is very much a man of the people."

Pearman adds: "Farah and I think in the same way. I can count on the fingers of one hand the times in the past eight years that we've reached different conclusions in isolation."

However, some who know AMV well say a clear definition of the respective responsibilities of the pair is essential, particularly now that Cilla Snowball, the AMV Group chairman, no longer has direct involvement with the agency.

"Having the group chairman firmly anchored in the agency has always been an essential ingredient in its success," an insider says. "What's more, it gives encouragement to the rest of the group.

"Pearman and Ramzan Golant have always had a good working relationship and I'm sure they can make the new arrangement work. But the process will need managing. There has to be a very clear demarcation line. The staff need it and clients expect it."

What's clear is that Pearman has a big future ahead of him. Baulk identifies the same confidence and charisma in him that he saw in David Jones, once an AMV staffer, now global boss of the Euro RSCG network. "Ian and David are very different people, but I'd put them in the same category," Baulk says.

For his part, Pearman denies he has a career gameplan. "I love managing talent and contributing to the success of our clients' business," he says. "But the means to these ends are not something I've presented to myself on a Post-it note. I think it best not to count your chickens."

What's more, he claims, doing a start-up has never crossed his mind. "I like to see the effect of scale on clients' business - and I'm in a big agency that never feels like one. Thirty per cent of our clients spend less than £1 million a year."

Whether or not Pearman is being road tested as a possible long-term successor to Snowball, 52, or whether Andrew Robertson, a one-time AMV chief executive and now BBDO's global chief, might have other plans for him, remains to be seen. What's clear, as one source puts it, is that "BBDO has spotted a star".

Age: 36
Family: Wife Lindsay and sons James, five, Finn, one
Lives: Henley-on-Thames
Drives: Silver Mercedes
Most treasured possession: My son's Lego collection
Favourite TV programme: Come Dine With Me
Favourite ad: Blackcurrant Tango "St George"
Describe yourself in three words: Calm, straightforward, interested
Personal mantra: Pay it forward. By that I mean pass on the good fortune
you've had to others


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