Brett Gosper sits in his Manhattan office leafing through Campaign's analysis of Rupert Howell's departure from McCann Erickson when his phone rings. Now it's his turn to go under the lamp.
The tectonic plates of McCann's powerbase are shifting quickly. It's 24 hours since an all-staff e-mail pinged from John Dooner, the global McCann chief executive, confirming Gosper, the president of McCann Erickson US, as the new head of its European, Middle East, and African regions. The result is a chain of events that, to quote Gosper, has "sent shockwaves across the US and Europe".
Yet, neither is this totally unexpected. Sources suggest Dooner was in talks with Gosper for the role long before Howell's future at McCann looked uncertain. Interpublic's US network has built a strong base in New York, but still needs to assert its presence in the rest of the world. Where former colleagues described Howell as too much of a challenge for New York's iron fist and "not from the McCann Central Casting", Gosper is IPG's ideal global ambassador.
His slick Australian charm might grate with some, but combined with his energy and financially focused track record across the world's largest networks has, in a short time, won Gosper a place in corporate America. So much so, that shortly after joining McCann Erickson in 2003, he left to become the president of TBWA\New York and was still welcomed back one year later for the McCann US president role.
Since then, with Gosper at the helm, McCann has secured some of the US's largest accounts, including those of Verizon, Goodyear and Staples. Gosper has bedded down McCann's digital strategy and won the affections of staff. Colleagues still recall his first week at McCann when, on summoning the TV department to his office, he gasped: "Bloody hell, there's more producers here than in Hollywood."
Gosper also has a strong relationship with Dooner and there is an inherent trust that the global McCann chief can rely on Gosper to get things done with a wider view of the network. "People here in the US have been good to me, and have quickly got to know and trust me," Gosper says. "In Europe, though, I think I'm somewhat of an unknown quantity."
This may ring true for those at McCann's European coalface, but it certainly isn't so in London. Chatter around Soho's lunch tables last week was already hyping his return to the capital. "London will be a considerably richer place with Gosper back in town," Chris Pinnington, his former colleague at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, gushes. Another one-time colleague adds: "It needs someone of Gosper's stature, presence and charisma to challenge the likes of London's current blue-eyed wonder boy, Johnny Hornby."
Gosper was an instrumental part of the team that comprised Mark Wnek and Pinnington. Together, the three took the underwhelming London office of Euro RSCG in the mid-90s and within six years turned it into one of the most successful shops in the Havas network. "Mark and I had huge understanding and chemistry and were just complimentary in that role," Gosper recalls.
Wnek describes Gosper as "thrumming with positive energy" and one of the industry's most charismatic practitioners: "He's unquestionably one of two or three of the world's best advertising heads, and will return to London even stronger in his knowledge and abilities than last time around."
Spectators, too, remember the effect the pair had at Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. "Both worked the room and Brett had a tremendous charisma and energy that countered Mark's mercurial tendencies," a source says.
Gosper, a former international rugby player, concedes that this energy comes from a "streak of ambition" that runs through his family - his father, Kevan, is the vice-president of the International Olympic Committee and an Australian icon.
He says he has "mixed feelings" about moving to Europe, having settled in the US with his wife and children in the past four years. "There is a great sense of momentum with the amount of new business in the US and the strides we've made in digital, but I still feel like there is more that can be done." That responsibility will now fall to Michael McLaren, the worldwide director of global accounts, who replaces Gosper in the US.
But no matter how reluctant Gosper is or is not to come back, some would argue that the move enhances his chances of one day succeeding Dooner. "McCann won't appoint a new global head until he's done at least two regions," a former colleague says. "Given the choice between Europe and Asia, I imagine he'd opt for the European role."
Others argue that it's a sideways step at best for someone of Gosper's stature. "I can understand people saying that," he admits. "Actually, Europe is just as big a region as the US and has a huge multinational base, such as L'Oreal, Nestle and GM Europe. Plus, it's important that the US works well with the other regions." This, Gosper believes, is one of the key purposes of his new role.
So what legacy does he think Howell has left him? "There's no doubt that he's built a strong team and has really regenerated the region," Gosper says. "But invariably, Europe, the Middle East and Africa has a multitude of companies and regions and a lot more cultural sensitivities that you don't necessarily find in the US. The working bridge between the US and that of Europe, the Middle East and Africa regions needs to work well for the network to thrive."
Gosper's CV makes him ideal for this role, with a history of European network experience, having worked with TBWA in Paris and Frankfurt in his earlier days, as well Ogilvy & Mather in France. And having risen through the account management ranks, Gosper has also notched up a track record pf fruitful partnerships with key creatives, such as Wnek and, at McCann, Joyce King Thomas, its chief creative officer.
Sources in London say he will invariably need a partner-in-crime to flourish. Gosper has yet to name someone. "If you can access creative talent through the network, then great, but I haven't ruled out hiring someone either," he says.
It is in Gosper's nature to remain upbeat about his return. Whether it will secure him the top job once Dooner bows out is an open question. But there's no doubt that Gosper would take it: "You'd be hard pressed to find anyone that wouldn't," he retorts.
Age: 47 Born Melbourne, Australia
Family: Wife Elizabeth, children Jonathan, 16, Ella, eight, Matt, seven
Favourite current ad: Xbox "Gears of War"
Greatest achievement (professional or otherwise): Perfect score in my US driving license application
Motto that defines your working life: "Taking things seriously requires a sense of humour"
Interests outside work: I would rather not describe my family as an interest, but ...