Media Headliner: Intense Beaven focused on Initiative turnaround

Not one to shirk responsibilities, Richard Beaven is now pouring energy into Initiative outside the US, Ian Darby writes.

Despite being based in the US for the past seven years, Richard Beaven missed experiencing last week's Obama mania first hand. He was back in Europe, visiting Paris and London, when the president was inaugurated.

It's not unusual for Beaven to be travelling: since taking on the worldwide chief executive role at Initiative a year ago, he's consciously attempted to see as much of the network and its clients as possible.

He is a marked contrast to his predecessor Alec Gerster, who seemed to show an aversion to leaving the shores of the US. Beaven's elevation to the worldwide role followed a successful stint as the chief executive of Initiative in North America (which he had joined from MediaVest USA in 2006), which saw the agency's fortunes transformed on the back of some significant new-business wins such as Hyundai/Kia.

Before this, Beaven had helped to create the UK arm of Starcom out of the Leo Burnett media department in 1999. Beaven and his fellow director, David Connolly, then went through the merger of Starcom with Bartle Bogle Hegarty's media department to create Starcom Motive. He left two years later to join MediaVest USA, where he headed planning on Coca-Cola and then Procter & Gamble before taking the leap to Initiative in late 2006 to link up with his former Leo Burnett boss Nick Brien, who, at the time, ran Universal McCann.

"I went there mainly because I have always loved to transform things. I was attracted by Initiative's entrepreneurial approach, and, at the time, it was a brand that was underleveraged and had so much promise," Beaven says.

Brien, now the chief executive of Interpublic's media unit, Mediabrands, says: "Richard achieved tremendous success in reinventing the US business in 2007 - that demonstrated his leadership skills and ability to take tough decisions.

"Initiative was pretty rudderless for many years; Richard started the job in early 2008, and what he has achieved has been remarkable. He has put in place everything it needs to operate as a dynamic and flexible network."

Most who know Beaven say he is unfussy and no-nonsense. Connolly, now the commercial director at STV, says: "His views on advertising don't stop at media. He's a lot more considered than many media people. He's a very calm guy and doesn't show his emotions at all. He's also a real family guy and had no interest in 'naughty' media behaviour. You never used to find him at Soho House at 3am."

Beaven has introduced a new planning approach and investment in digital, and focused on detail such as unifying Initiative's branding and marketing materials across regions. Brien adds: "He's demonstrated he's a great chief executive and a man of action, of teamwork and collaboration. He has everything we were looking for - integrity but also the necessary intensity. Intensity is what we needed at Initiative - to grab it by the scruff of the neck and drive the agenda."

Just two members of the Initiative Worldwide board Beaven inherited (himself and the chief strategic officer, Janet Fitzpatrick) remain in place. Beaven says he has "changed every regional leader" and made sure each member of the worldwide board has client responsibilities.

But, given the travails of Initiative's parent company IPG over the years and that its future is by no means certain, has Beaven found it a good place to work? He says: "IPG's job was to create an environment to succeed in and, right up to Michael Roth (its chief executive), it's been very supportive and the dialogue has been there. The creation of Mediabrands has re-emphasised the strategic importance of what we do."

Beaven says the IPG mantra is to build two strong media networks in Universal McCann and Initiative. The role of Mediabrands is to help in co-ordinating investment in technology, human resources, financial and in "brand managing" the two networks so that they don't compete against each other.

Part of Beaven's focus has been on trying to differentiate Initiative. He says the opportunity lies in building a "fleet of foot, highly relevant, locally driven network". Yet, despite success in markets including the US, Australia, Thailand and Chile - all of which he says are "going gangbusters" - there is much work to do in turning around Initiative's poor reputation in Europe and, notably, the UK.

Beaven is supportive of the UK management team and argues the agency has a future now it has the network's support and investment. Despite some damaging losses, he says retaining the Tesco business was a big move in the right direction: "There have been difficult times and a few knocks, but I'd also say there have been some unlucky bounces. Having said that, it's not an excuse. We know what we have to do. The team here had an extremely good start to 2008 and I encourage people to not forget that."

For his part, Beaven sounds more than capable of taking the brickbats that come Initiative's way. As Connolly says of his approach: "He's confident in himself and not too bothered about what people think or say about him."

This comes through in his steadfast approach of ignoring the blows that have rained down on Initiative in recent years: "There's no value to me in what has happened historically to this company. What we have got to do is move forward and I am trying to set a very clear tone of what we need to do in terms of there being clarity and accountability of leadership."

Age: 42
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Family: Wife, Mimi; daughters, Martha and Meg
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Last book you read: Catch A Fire: The Life Of Bob Marley
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