Media: Headliner - Can MediaCom's mother hen keep it at the top?

Jane Ratcliffe steps into Nick Lawson's shoes as she takes up the role of MediaCom's UK chief executive.

Favoured by royals and the occasional dictator, the balcony address certainly beats a round robin e-mail for big proclamations. Quite fitting then that Jane Ratcliffe and Nick Lawson chose the atrium balcony in the grandiloquent MediaCom building in Holborn to tell staff they were both moving up: Lawson taking the role of chief executive of MediaCom across the EMEA region, and the former managing director Ratcliffe replacing him as MediaCom's UK chief executive.

The cheering subjects compared the duo to royalty. "They were like Charles and Camilla," one said. Ratcliffe may not overly welcome the Parker Bowles comparison but, for Lawson, the Prince of Wales tag will make a nice change from being called the Prince of Darkness. "He doesn't smile very often," Ratcliffe admits, "Although he has smiled a lot lately, I notice."

The appointments, instigated by the recently installed MediaCom Worldwide chief executive, Stephen Allan (also a former MediaCom UK chief executive), take MediaCom to the next level as he seeks to replicate its UK success around the world and to expand in European markets.

Ratcliffe is left charged with keeping the WPP company in its position as the UK's top agency, with billings of more than £1 billion. No pressure, then. But she is sanguine: "The pressure on us to maintain our position comes back to all the people we have here. I think there isn't as much pressure as perhaps in other companies because we have such a broad depth of talent."

Her leadership style is set to be markedly different to Lawson's combative "lead from the front" approach. "I am less dictatorial than him and more inclusive. I like to talk to people and get lots of views and feedback before I make big decisions." But don't be fooled by her easygoing nature. "People say that, underneath it all, I'm much harder," she says.

The succession reflects MediaCom's longstanding policy of nurturing and promoting talent from within. While some argue that the agency could do with some fresh blood at the top, it's a policy that's served it well so far - you can't argue with its billings and positioning. "The expertise and talent we've got is here to home grow," Ratcliffe says, "An awful lot of the jobs I will be doing, I've been doing with Nick anyway. He was brilliant at letting me get as involved as I wanted to in running the company."

One of her first hurdles is defending the agency's £45 million Boots account, which is up for review. Defending business is an extremely rare situation for MediaCom - to the general annoyance of rivals, major MediaCom clients tend to stay a while. But Ratcliffe thinks it comes at a good time for an agency that probably needs the occasional kick up the rear to keep it on its toes. "I think it's healthy. It stops us from being complacent," she says.

What is unquestionable about Ratcliffe is her genuine love for her agency and its people. To her, MediaCom isn't just a business, it's a family. As Allan points out, she has no hidden agenda: "She's very engaging with people, very caring and very popular. She's one of those people you never hear a bad word about."

Ratcliffe's career began 25 years ago at BMP, where she joined as a temp in order to fund a trip to Egypt to stay with her then boyfriend. She never made it to Egypt (although she did get the guy in the end - he's now her husband). Instead, she quickly rose through the ranks of BMP's media department and was headhunted to MediaCom (then owned by Grey) to work as the head of client services.

She was first thrown together with Lawson in 1999 when MediaCom merged with The Media Business and they were appointed as joint managing directors beneath the chairman/chief executive duo of Allan Rich and Steve Allan. As matchmakers go, Allan makes Cupid look like an amateur. Ratcliffe's people skills coupled with Lawson's new-business zeal proved a winning combination.

Ratcliffe, who describes herself as the agency's mother hen, is formidable at getting people on side. "I did an awful lot of work on the ground with people to get them to see that actually we're putting together something that could be really special. We did achieve that," Ratcliffe says.

She does not plan on making any radical changes as chief executive, reasoning that if it's not broken don't try to fix it. But there are areas to be tackled. MediaCom has been so adept at living up to its "people first" mantra, that its staff simply don't leave. "Clearly, the fewer people that move on, the less opportunities there are for people here. I think we have to manage that," she says.

Ratcliffe will focus on expansion at MediaCom's regional offices in Manchester and Scotland and key areas for growth are the agency's search business and creative and branded sponsorship divisions. The management structure she will put into place will be announced in the coming weeks. But, first and foremost, she needs to get used to being in the limelight. "I don't want to stand on a platform waving a big flag and I don't think I will ever be that person," she says. "But I do accept that I will need to do more to raise my profile."

The new role also brings with it the fulfilment of a secret ambition: "I always wondered what it would be like to be at the top of the tree at the biggest and best agency in the country and I guess now I know."

THE LOWDOWN

Age: 45

Lives: West Hampstead

Family: Husband, John, and two children; daughter Georgie (age six) and son Ben (age four)

Most treasured possession: My weekend haven in Sussex

Favourite Book: Jane Eyre

Interests outside work: My children, socialising with friends and travel

Motto: Try your best.

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