There was a time when, to get agency chiefs to talk to him, David Jones had to resort to posing as the marketing director of Coca-Cola. Now, the 38-year-old has just landed one of the most talked-about jobs in the industry. having been appointed as the worldwide chief of Euro RSCG.
Although Havas, Euro's parent, has moved fast to replace the outgoing chief Jim Heekin, who left the company two weeks ago, there had been much rumour and speculation about Heekin's role and Jones' ascendancy within the network. Despite the speedy turnaround, most believe that Jones is a well-considered and first-rate appointment.
Jones, a Brit, knows the Euro network well, having worked in its Australian, London and New York offices over the past seven years. He also has a broad range of experience for a relative youngster, and has run both local agencies and global pieces of business.
He has a French wife and is fluent in both French and German, all factors that boost his standing with his bosses in France. And the golden-boy reputation he has built in the US will certainly help Havas in its bid to make Euro famous in this market. "He is the perfect bridge between Paris, London and New York," Chris Pinnington, Euro RSCG's UK chief executive, says.
Jones will be based in New York, where he is very much at home. As the chief executive of Euro there, he pulled in both the global Jaguar account and the Charles Schwab US business. For a network better at losing accounts than winning them, this combined £108 million gain was a coup, and all the more surprising in that Euro saw off WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell and his JWT (Jaguar) and Young & Rubicam (Charles Schwab) networks.
Jones is very much aware of the importance of his standing in the US; somewhat unusually, he employs a PR agency to raise his personal profile in the country.
And it seems to have worked its magic. Jones talks in a rehearsed and polished way, toeing the party line while managing to remain personable and distinctly human at the same time. He admits, like anyone, that he'd like to spend more time with his two young children or playing sport.
Once something of a tennis pro, his interest in sport has fallen victim to his business ambitions. "It used to be all about tennis," Jones says; his claim to fame is that he was thrashed by the US star Michael Chang at tournament level.
Presented as an all-rounder with the Midas touch, Jones can sound too good to be true. Michael Baulk, the chairman and chief executive of the Abbott Mead Vickers group, employed Jones in the early 90s and he concurs. "There's no dirt on David in his appearance or character," he says.
Pinnington adds: "He's an extremely bright, charming, enthusiastic guy with an 'anything's possible' mentality. You'd find it hard to find anyone who doesn't like him."
The obvious comparison is with Andrew Robertson, BBDO's worldwide chief executive. Baulk says: "Like Andrew, David was always destined to run an international network. There are certain people you come across who have that curious cocktail of abilities that makes them able to run a business of that size. David has all the equipment and talent to do the job."
But, despite all his credentials, 38 is still very young to be running a network. Jones has faced this criticism before and argues: "I've always been too young for the job. I was too young for the New York job and we won Jaguar. At 32, I was too young to be the chief executive of the Australia office and we won agency of the year two years running. Even on placement at 20, I was too young to be pitching for Henkel, but we won it."
But the Euro job will call on all his talents. The network was hit by the $300 million loss of Intel earlier this year and it has failed to get a foothold in any of the global pitches, including HSBC and Samsung. The crucial London office is also in trouble and is currently defending its £35 million Argos business and the £10 million Matalan account.
Growth is at the heart of his strategy. He says: "I'm setting out to deliver for our clients and to grow. We don't want to be the biggest. It's about getting better people and better ideas." But he adds: "In the words of David Abbott: 'It's amazing how big you can get when you don't care how big you get.'"
Despite previous comments to the contrary, Jones says there is no massive acquisition strategy. With the Havas chairman, Vincent Bollore, in place, there is plenty of money for acquisition, but Jones says this isn't the primary focus: "If we make acquisitions, they will be strategic and about adding key disciplines. We're not going off to see what we can buy now though."
In new-business terms, Jones is unruffled about the network's failure to get on the big lists. "We will not appeal to all. We have to get on the pitchlists that are right for us and that's not going to be every pitch, everywhere," he says.
But Baulk thinks Jones has to face up to the fact that Euro is losing ground. "He will be running a network in an industry that sees the majority of power concentrated on four holding companies. The choice for large, international clients is narrowing and Euro needs to become a player," he warns.
Of course, the Jaguar win goes some way to boost the network's reputation but it could create as many problems as it solves. Jones is going to have to juggle to manage the relationship he's forged with Jaguar's parent company, Ford, plus the crucial relationships with Euro's biggest clients, Peugeot and Citroen.
Other areas of immediate importance are the struggling London office and Euro's interests in Asia. In Havas' half-year results, out last week, the UK posted a flat performance and Asia saw organic growth down by 8.6 per cent.
"Asia is really important but it would be premature to say I have a plan all worked out here," Jones says. And in London it's all about "realising potential", he hedges.
One source suggests the UK chairman, Ben Langdon, is the biggest issue facing Jones in London, saying: "He has a personality to deal with here. It (Jones and Langdon) is not a marriage blessed by God. But Jones will act quickly and decisively and get what needs to be done, done."
Everything points to Jones being the shot in the arm that Havas and Euro need. Perhaps the only real issue is how long he will stay in the job. Jones has already been headhunted by Sorrell and this new move propels him on to the international stage. Havas will have to work hard to hold on to him.
THE LOWDOWN Age: 38 Lives: New York Family: My wonderful wife Karine and two children, Alphonse (two) and Agathe (four months) Favourite ad: The Evian three-minute "waterboy" music video Describe yourself in three words: Energetic, optimistic, competitive Greatest extravagance: The new Jaguar XK coupe I'll be buying when it comes out next year - a stunning car Interests outside work: Rugby, tennis, surfing, wine Living person you most admire: Steve Jobs, chief executive and co-founder, Apple Alternative career: Tennis coach Book you last read: Watching the English by Kate Fox - true and funny.