THE RETURN OF THE BOLTON WANDERER: Simon Bolton, the new chief executive of JWT London and a devotee of feng shui, talks to Jeremy White about his plans to reposition the London agency as the hub of the JWT network

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

admitting it.

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,'

he grins.

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

source says.

'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

creative innovator.'

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.'


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