You know how some bosses feel like the boss? They carry that aura
of power around with them; staff change their demeanour when approaching
- hushed tones, apologetic body language.
Michael Baulk has it. So does Chris Powell. Simon Bolton doesn't. Not
yet anyway. It is difficult to imagine the junior account handler
throwing himself against a corridor wall to clear space for a rapidly
advancing Bolton. But give him a chance, he only moved into Berkeley
Square four days ago.
Come to think of it, the fact that Bolton, starting this week as the new
chief executive at J. Walter Thompson, doesn't smother you with that
distinctive but intangible quality of the boss may work to his
JWT needs a nice man after Stephen Carter (Bolton's predecessor). One
source confides: 'Stephen made the numbers but was harsh.'
First impressions are that Bolton is approachable, friendly, seemingly
honest and, well, human. It's all new to him and he doesn't mind
Refreshingly, he qualifies many of his responses to Campaign with
statements such as 'I simply don't know enough about that yet'. As he
walks around the agency he looks lost and a little unsure of himself.
Just like the new boy, in fact.
It's no secret that JWT had difficulty filling the void left when Carter
was appointed the chief operating officer of ntl. The agency spent six
months looking for a replacement and there were rumours that the
interviewee chair hardly got a chance to cool between each
It shouldn't have been a surprise when JWT brought in someone from
The network has been doing it for years, with the former chief
executive, Chris Jones, overhauling the top management in New York, San
Francisco, Brazil, Paris, Spain and Germany - all with outsiders.
Only the London agency stayed with tradition and that was because, until
Carter left last October, it had not faced a succession problem. The
torch passed from Michael Cooper-Evans to Miles Colebrook to Jones to
Dominic Proctor - all home-grown talents.
Even though he doesn't fit the usual public school mould, Bolton's
credentials look good. He arrives fresh from his position as the chief
executive and president of Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco. He
began his career at Ogilvy & Mather London as a graduate trainee and
advanced to the position of international management supervisor on
American Express for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. From there he
moved to Asia with O&M, working in Thailand and Singapore, before
joining FCB as the managing director of their agency in Malaysia. He
rose to the post of regional director of FCB Asia before moving to San
Francisco to become the managing director of the flagship agency. Not
So he's got the CV. But has he got what it takes to turn around the
flagging reputation of JWT London?
'I've known Simon since he was the bubble-gum kid running a gum account
for Rowntree in 1983,' Mike Walsh, O&M's chairman for Europe,
'Tremendous energy. A great leader of people. He would arrange client
versus agency baseball games in the park.'
'His biggest challenge will be that he is not the best known person in
the market,' Walsh admits. 'That and not knowing the village.'
Bolton agrees that this will be tricky. 'I'm going to be in a hurry to
meet a lot of people. I'll have to try and stop my waistline exploding,'
There are other challenges though, some far more serious. 'I think
you'll get the red cells rejecting the white cells syndrome at JWT,' one
'Implementing changes will be hard. JWT is still living off its creative
reputation from six years ago.'
Jones' vision for turning the agency around was to focus and build on
creative, to move from a reliance on commission to fee-based payment and
to embrace a total communication service. Bolton wants to carry this
'Creatively, JWT has a good reputation,' Bolton offers. 'Maybe it's not
the fashion house but it's always done great work. Creative is the
product and is part of the mission here. You've got to look to raise the
bar - it's part of my mandate.'
He has shown support for good creative before - hiring Rooney Carruthers
in San Francisco is a good example. Bolton does admit there is work to
be done, however: 'We've got to be tougher on ourselves and push harder
to get a higher standard of creative.' He balances this with the view
that JWT's creative work, in his opinion, has had a tough reception:
'The agency hasn't had recognition for some of the good work it has
done. Kit Kat, for example. I don't know if it is a gold at Cannes but
they had a creative leap and moved the brand on.'
He also feels that this drive to raise creative standards will not
affect the agency's profitability, something it is very proud of: 'It's
no coincidence that some of the most creative agencies are the most
profitable. FCB San Francisco has great creative standards and it was
one of the most profitable agencies in the group - more profitable than
some of the larger North American agencies - and we've driven that
through creative standards; there is a model there.'
Bolton addresses the other two parts of the JWT vision: 'There are few
places in the world where commission is operating at the good old 15 to
17 per cent. You have to look at new ways to handle the client
Contract negotiations are more important than ever. A total
communication service? Well, that's inarguable. I was a pioneer of this
at O&M - it was called orchestration, an awful metaphor. This is already
happening at JWT. I've got to preside over this.' He's referring to
digital@JWT and the new knowledge centres being set up which will offer
consultancy as well as advertising skills.
'I would add culture to Jones' list. Certain agencies have an incredible
culture and it can become a weapon. This agency has a famous culture but
how can you bring that to bear on the market? How can you make it
potent, to help the agency perform?'
One problem with making the culture 'potent' may be that the agency has
been without a chief executive now for more than six months. Leaderless,
if you like. Bolton is not concerned about this and plans to revitalise
JWT through developing the brand.
'We've got to ignite the brand in London again. It is associated with
great intelligence. It's a brand that looks after its clients and the
brands that are entrusted to it. We'll be looking to show the industry
that this is an amazing brand that has got its lustre back and is at the
cutting edge,' he enthuses. Very nice, but how will he do this? 'We will
get very active and dramatic again in new business. We will look to be
competing against our peer group in London rather than celebrating the
next win that has come in through the network.'
Bolton would be foolish not to call on the expertise already in-house to
help him in his quest, and this is exactly what he plans to do. 'I've
already asked Tim (Davis) to retain his chairman title. I'm hoping he'll
be a sage. He's passionate for the JWT brand so there's a lot I can get
out of him. We will work together closely - particularly at the
He can call on Martin Sorrell as well, who is literally just around the
corner. Some could argue this to be a little too close for comfort, but
Bolton seems positive: 'Martin is an incredible asset for JWT London. He
can help JWT not hinder it. And he can definitely help me.'
This is an interesting standpoint for Bolton. He 'fell out' with WPP
when O&M tried to move him to New York. How does he feel about working
for it now? 'I feel great. I'm keen to be in a holding company that has
a clear future. It's not much of a secret that the future of True North
is definitely uncertain,' he says just days before True North was
acquired by Interpublic. 'I learnt a lot at FCB, but I'm ready to come
back to WPP.'
'I've learnt about how to run a large operation,' he continues. FCB San
Francisco has 450 staff. 'I've learnt about creative, how to judge it
and hire it.'
Ah, back to Carruthers. Does he have any plans to bring his colleague
back to the UK? 'No. Rooney hasn't finished there yet. In the future -
one day, maybe. I'd love to work with him again. He's a fantastic
talent. But there's no plan to bring him to JWT.'
What about JWT's creative director, Jasper Shelbourne? 'He's very
thoughtful and positive. Very considered when it comes to clients. He
also chooses great restaurants for lunch!' Bolton comments, having only
had the briefest of meetings with him. But unlike his description of
Carruthers, Bolton doesn't mention anything about talent.
As he starts in London, Bolton is clear on what he'll be doing for the
first few months. 'I have set myself challenges. Get to know the people,
get to know the culture and, most importantly, get to know the clients,'
he says. Bolton has big ideas. He wants to turn the London office back
into the flagship of the network: 'I definitely see that as one of my
goals. JWT is not a hotshop, it never will be. I want it to be a
Bolton will miss life on the West Coast though. He's already on his
third skiing trip this year. But with his family in the UK, he's looking
forward to life in London. He knows he has some adjusting to do though:
'How will I re-assimilate? I will go to see my team, Chelsea. I will
definitely be a season ticket holder!'
He's got a trick up his sleeve too. Feng shui. He's used it since his
days in Malaysia, moving his office furniture around to bring balance
and harmony. His feng shui consultant advised that he should grow his
hair (Bolton used to have a ponytail), saying it would bring him
success. And it did. Afterwards, FCB won 12 pieces of business out of 14
In London, apparently, elephants will be the things. They will ensure
success and the return of JWT to its former glory. Two elephants,
ornaments of course, will take pride of place on his desk.
Things are definitely going to change for JWT London, even if it is just
its location, moving from Berkeley Square to Knightsbridge. And Bolton
seems up for it. On how he feels about taking on his former workmates at
O&M, he states: 'There's a strategy in WPP called 'kiss and punch'. I am
looking forward to doing both.'