PERSPECTIVE: When politics define a job, it's time to give something else a go

When a chief executive leaves a company in mid-contract, it is

usually a quick killing taking about a week. Until that moment nobody is

more powerful, then in the end he has no power at all. In the past few

months some big names have had the treatment and, if the traditionally

reliable Madison Avenue jungle drums are to be believed, the latest

victim is one of London's most resilient and popular advertising old

boys - Mike Greenlees, the founder and floater of GGT, purchaser of BDDP

and, latterly, the New York-based chief executive of the Omnicom-owned

TBWA Worldwide.

But perhaps we should not be surprised, given the politics that he had

to deal with and the inherent difficulties anyone would face in building

a cohesive agency network from the famously entrepreneurial agencies

under the TBWA name. Forced to think about TBWA's management line-up

when interviewing Greenlees for Campaign's ongoing Kings of Madison

Avenue series last summer, I came to one stark conclusion. Greenlees was

caught up in the politics of one of the most adversarial boardroom

line-ups in the business.

With Greenlees at the helm, there were then three key figures in TBWA

Worldwide's complex hierarchy: Jean-Marie Dru, the president and chief

executive international; Lee Clow, the chairman and worldwide creative

director; and Bob Kuperman, the (then) president and chief executive of

the Americas, who recently left TBWA to return to DDB.

In effect, Greenlees was charged with completing the physical merger of

the BDDP and TBWA networks while heading a new board consisting of

opposing personalities: the proud self-made Frenchman who went to hell

and back trying to keep the BDDP network intact and lost his

independence not once, but twice - first to GGT, then to Omnicom (Dru);

an American hardball creative turned agency principal with a huge US

fiefdom to protect (Kuperman); and the revered creative supremo who

didn't even report to Greenlees, but direct to the Omnicom chief

executive boss, John Wren (Clow). It was every management theorist's

dream case study, every chief executive's nightmare.

One decision that Omnicom now faces is whether to select one of its own

or an outsider to succeed Greenlees. History books show that in the

absence of a crisis it is hard to recruit an outsider without

infuriating managers who have been passed over, especially when the

business is running smoothly and the numbers are good (as with TBWA).

But if attracting global clients is the chief requirement, an

experienced insider is the obvious route.

My money's on Dru: as the saviour who helped TBWA consolidate its

largest client, Nissan, he will surely be seen as the man to make a

network, once and for all, out of TBWA's collection of agencies. TBWA's

worldwide board meeting in Rio next month should be a lively one.


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