NEWSMAKER/TIM DAVIS: Ad agency veteran who is at home in the hot seat - Tim Davis brings a wealth of experience to the JWT chair, Jade Garrett writes

After nearly 25 years in the business, Tim Davis has done it all. He’s run the P&G account at Young & Rubicam, been made chairman of the same agency at the age of 35, founded his own start-up, sold out to Omnicom for mega-bucks and last week added to this long list of accomplishments by becoming non-executive chairman of J. Walter Thompson London (Campaign, 8 October).

After nearly 25 years in the business, Tim Davis has done it all.

He’s run the P&G account at Young & Rubicam, been made chairman of the

same agency at the age of 35, founded his own start-up, sold out to

Omnicom for mega-bucks and last week added to this long list of

accomplishments by becoming non-executive chairman of J. Walter Thompson

London (Campaign, 8 October).

JWT has been looking for someone to fill a chairman’s role since

November last year. Outside candidates have been considered, but Davis

is said to have been the front runner for the past three months.

Stephen Carter, JWT’s chief executive, was hoping to announce the hiring

at the annual all-staff meeting next month. Carter has found it

difficult to fulfil all the internal and external demands on him as sole

leader of the London agency. ’Stephen could do with having someone else

around,’ Davis says. ’He has a serious diary management problem.’

So is that all Davis’s appointment is about - attending a few B-list

dinners that Carter is too busy to make? ’There is not an awful lot that

has to be done,’ Davis insists. ’There is no problem to fix.

I need to build on what is already working pretty well and fill in some

of the gaps. I will be taking part in internal management meetings and

offering my point of view. No one is being prescriptive about my


Carter shares his thinking. ’It’s a case of suck it and see,’ he


’I need a sounding board. This is a big business and it’s getting a lot

bigger. It’s all about scale.’

Both are keen to give the impression that Davis’s new role is entirely

Carter’s doing, but - thanks to the fact that he will continue to run

the Shell Oil and Unilever accounts globally - Davis will report direct

to Chris Jones, the network’s chief executive, while Carter reports to

the European president, Michael Madel.

Rupert Howell, chairman of HHCL & Partners, who was hired by Davis as an

account director at Y&R in 1983, says that JWT was looking for someone

who would not get in Carter’s way - thoughts that Carter echoes: ’Tim

has an ability to give rather than impose advice,’ he says.

Davis will devote one day a week to his chairman’s duties. ’That is the

level of involvement that Stephen says he needs from me,’ he says


Martin Jones, the managing director of the AAR who worked at JWT for 12

years, thinks that Davis’s appointment is a good one. ’His depth of

experience will be a huge advantage. Carter is not good at the touchy,

feely side of the business. They will complement each other.’

’And then there’s the age thing,’ another ex-JWT employee says. ’Carter

is 36, and doesn’t even look that old. Some clients can’t believe that

he’s up to the job.’

Davis, 55, also understands the concerns that have been raised about

Carter’s age. ’It is sometimes hard to relate to someone of a different

generation, you naturally have less in common with them - but that will

be one of the pluses of appointing me.’

Davis joined Young & Rubicam in 1967 as a graduate trainee. Twelve

months later he became an account executive on P&G’s Daz - the business

he ’grew up on’.

He became a board account director on P&G in 1977 before progressing to

head of client services and then, in 1980, to managing director. Two

years later he was appointed chairman.

Clive Holland, now executive vice-president at Grey International,

recalls: ’We were young fledgling chaps on P&G together. Tim was always

his own man. He was very tough and if you were a sensitive little

flower, Tim was not a good person to work with.’

Holland explains how Davis was referred to as ’dead eye’ at Y&R because

of the fear one of his looks could provoke and elaborates on the two

very different aspects of his personality.

’One side of Tim was very potent and committed to delivering the best

possible service to his clients, but he had another side which loved to

relax and have some fun. If he was in the mood and, especially if there

were some nice ladies from the agency around, he wouldn’t mind spending

that extra hour at lunch. But if he was back from lunch by 2.15 and in

work mode he would be striding down the corridors of the agency like the

local sheriff, demanding to know where everyone was.’

In 1983 Y&R resigned P&G globally to make way for Colgate Palmolive.

This had a dramatic effect on Davis’s career. ’It was a lunatic

decision,’ Davis says,’and I mouthed off about it at length. It took

away a major piece of my power base.’

Howell remembers the day Davis heard about the P&G decision: ’I saw Tim

in his office that day in tears and he was never the same again. Shortly

afterwards John Banks was bought in from Ogilvy & Mather and he won the

power struggle with Tim.’

The following year Davis quit to set up his own agency with Y&R’s

creative director, Chris Wilkins. BMP DDB took a 25 per cent stake in

the business.

Davis admits now that the entire premise of the agency was a bad


’It was the consequence of a major falling out,’ he says.

’Tim ran the company very hard and Chris liked a more relaxed

lifestyle,’ Holland recalls. ’They had very different thoughts on how it

should be done.’

But, although they never won that seminal piece of business, things went

relatively well for a while and at its best the business was billing

pounds 20 million. However, after six years of independence it sold to

Omnicom which merged the agency with BMP Business and Davis was bought


He bought a holiday cottage in Dorset with some of the ’huge amount of

money’ he made from the sale of Davis Wilkins. His London home, which he

shares with his wife (they have two adult children), is in Notting


At this point Davis also took himself off on a long holiday and on his

return received two separate job offers from JWT.

’I met Miles Colebrook and Chris Jones separately,’ Davis says. ’Chris

was offering me a senior client services position and Miles was offering

me the chance to run Unilever internationally. We all decided that

Miles’s offer was the one that I should take.’

’A lot of people thought that I had copped out,’ Davis continues, ’but

that’s what a lot of people in London say when someone takes on an

international role.’

Eight years later Davis says he is still viewed as a newcomer at JWT and

does not see himself as a member of the agency’s ’boot room’ culture

which tends to promote from within.

Davis admits it would have been ’a big bold thing’ if Carter had filled

the chairman’s post from outside the agency.

’A lot of people here have never worked at other agencies and I am still

seen as a little bit of an outsider. In that sense, my appointment as

chairman is slightly an admission of failure,’ he says.


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