Matt Adams has quit as UK and Ireland chief executive of Havas Media Group to become global managing director of digital marketing agency Brainlabs.
Daniel Gilbert, chief executive of Brainlabs, who founded the business in January 2012, said Adams has an "exceptional" record as a media agency leader.
"He is what I would describe as hungry but humble and has a level of ambition that matches what we have for the business, which is to grow exponentially," Gilbert said.
Adams has spent nearly three-and-a-half years at Havas and previously worked at Dentsu Aegis Network’s iProspect and WPP’s MEC, now known as Wavemaker.
He helped to turn around Havas' media division after a period of instability in the UK and Havas Media topped Campaign’s media new-business league table in 2019 with £95m in new billings, including Homebase, Starbucks and Dreams.
Gilbert said: "We’re bringing in someone with the experience of leading 1,000-plus-person businesses because we’ll try and get there shortly [in terms of size]."
Brainlabs has more than 280 staff in London, New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. Clients include Formula One, Which? and TUI.
"The business has already grown to the extent that we needed more experience in the management team," Gilbert said, explaining why he has recruited Adams. "There are multiple parts of the business where we feel we can step up another level."
Adams has known Gilbert for a number of years and also worked with Jim Brigden, currently Brainlabs' global managing director, at affiliate marketing business Tradedoubler.
Brigden, a serial entrepreneur who ran The Seach Works and I Spy, is to become executive director of Brainlabs with a focus partly on M&A.
Gilbert, a former Google executive, has been bullish about his hopes to turn Brainlabs into the world’s biggest marketing services company and sold a minority stake to private-equity group Livingbridge to fuel expansion in March 2019.
"Clearly, we’re a very small business and early on in our journey to becoming the best and biggest in the world – we’re still 30-odd years away from [achieving] that," Gilbert, who is 34, said.
"We’re still focused on digital marketing. Through acquisitions, the plan is to expand our capability and become a truly integrated full-service offering for clients that is driven by experimentation."
Adams’ decision to leave the top UK media job at Havas, one of the "big six" global agency groups, for one of the new breed of fast-growing digital marketing shops carries symbolic importance at a time when the traditional holding company model is under pressure.
Brainlabs, Jellyfish and Croud are among this group of London-based performance agencies that have sold stakes to investors or private equity in the past 12 months.
The trio of agencies all have close links to Google and are specialists in data-driven performance marketing.
They also offer training and technology consulting advice to clients that are looking at in-housing.
Adams, who turns 42 this month, joined Havas in 2016 as UK chief executive of Havas Media, one of several agencies within the group, and took charge of all of the UK and Ireland media operation in October 2017.
He was previously UK managing director of iProspect and a managing partner for global solutions at MEC. He also had spells at media owners including Yahoo, Maiden Outdoor and IPC Media (now TI Media).
Peter Mears, global chief executive of Havas Group Media, praised Adams for his "outstanding leadership", "challenger attitude" and "constant drive for improvement" that "helped transform the agency".
Havas has begun a search for a replacement for Adams.