CLOSE-UP PERSPECTIVE: Succession policy is a distinguishing mark of greatness

The news that BMP DDB’s chief executive, Chris Powell, has done himself out of a job by promoting his joint managing directors (Campaign, last week) reminds me of a David Ogilvy edict: ’If you hire people who are bigger than you are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a company of giants. If you hire people who are less than you are, we shall become a company of dwarves.’

The news that BMP DDB’s chief executive, Chris Powell, has done

himself out of a job by promoting his joint managing directors

(Campaign, last week) reminds me of a David Ogilvy edict: ’If you hire

people who are bigger than you are, Ogilvy & Mather will become a

company of giants. If you hire people who are less than you are, we

shall become a company of dwarves.’



It’s true that there are two types of manager in the business: those who

hire to avoid any threat to themselves and those who hire putting the

future of the company first. The former encourages virulent sibling

rivalry in the ranks and has to look outside the company for senior

talent.



The latter - whose management principles are based on a kind of

Darwinian evolution theory, underpinned by a certain decency - does

not.



Sadly, the former seems all too prevalent in advertising: the

larger-than-life agency manager who has protected his own position from

all comers and become a sort of non-playing captain. Such people never

forget that they started agencies precisely because their bosses allowed

them to get very close to clients - and they walked off with them. When

senior managers leave these agencies, it takes ages to find replacements

and it costs a king’s ransom.



Then there is succession by Darwinian evolution - as at BMP - where

youngsters such as Chris Powell, Martin Boase and John Webster fade

gently into the background, Cheshire-Cat style, where they are always

ready to offer a treasured word of commendation or to swoop into action

if a problem arises. Their place is gradually assumed by younger talent;

in BMP’s case the 27-year veterans, Chris Cowpe and Ross Barr, aided by

Larry Barker. Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO - with the Andrew Robertson/Peter

Souter team in place - has a similar approach.



In a business characterised by company Ferraris, big pay-offs, high

staff turnover and rising stars who have an irritating habit of leaving

agencies, starting their own and buggering up the most carefully laid

plans, it is not easy to do things as smoothly as BMP or AMV.



Witness O&M’s continuing search for a chairman for its London agency,

Grey’s lengthy quest for a managing director to replace Nigel Sharrocks,

and the seemingly continuous changes at Ammirati Puris Lintas where no

management team lasts long enough to put its ideas into effect (come to

think of it, isn’t it about time for a new one, chaps?).



That was a rhetorical question; here’s one that isn’t.



Is it an accident that the two agencies I offer as models of succession

management are currently regarded as the best in town?



Have your say in CampaignLive’s forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com.



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