The Talent Export: The 20 most influential Brits abroad

For a small island, Britain exerts a disproportionate influence over international advertising. John Tylee profiles the names flying the flag for British talent abroad.

If the number of Britons occupying senior agency positions abroad is any yardstick, then the UK continues to exert an influence on world advertising that belies its small island status.

In many ways, the British colonisation of the global ad industry has echoes of empire. Like the early Victorian administrators who took their civilising message to distant lands, so UK advertising implanted its management talents and unique creative approach into emerging markets.

In the late 70s, advertising's only colonial power was the US; most big UK agencies were run by remote control from Madison Avenue and Collett Dickenson Pearce was Britain's solitary creative standard bearer.

However, much was changing. Upheavals in art, music and literature and the breaking down of old social barriers began producing a rich seam of original talent, from Charles Saatchi and John Hegarty to David Abbott and Dave Trott.

As their agencies were gradually absorbed into the communications supergroups, so their expertise began to be leveraged well beyond national boundaries.

Today, BBDO's Andrew Robertson and Euro RSCG's David Jones both present persuasive cases that outstanding British managers will always be strong contenders for the most senior network jobs. Indeed, it seems likely that talented executives from the UK will continue to find a welcome in the US for some time to come.

"US managers tend not to be international," a leading industry headhunter explains. "Because the UK market is quite small by comparison, its best agency managers have more of a European perspective. The US has a real shortage of international talent."

Michael Baulk, the former Abbott Mead Vickers group chairman, insists Britons, particularly those from mainstream agencies, will remain in demand in the US partly because of the sheer scale of the advertising industry, which largely remains wedded to traditional advertising.

However, in Asia-Pacific, a happy hunting ground for UK advertising ex-pats since the days of empire, the future is less assured. Not least because Brits have become too expensive.

"Agency groups are paying up to ten times as much for ex-pat managers as they would for local talent," an industry source points out. "Local managers will have to replace imported ones because business models can't support the existing system long term."

Indeed, just as the sun once set on the British Empire, some argue that UK advertising is finding that its global influence is giving way to a changing world order.

Mike Amour, Grey's Asia-Pacific chairman, says that, of the 18 offices under his control, only two are run by Brits.

"This is a growing trend, driven by the fact that certain local talent in the region is highly qualified," he explains.

Moreover, as the Brits pack their bags, it may not necessarily be just locals who fill the void. "Companies have become comfortable with the fact that the best person for a particular job may not be from your own backyard," Nigel Marsh, the UK-born chairman of Leo Burnett Australia, says.

"As markets such as China grow, its agencies will be looking to take on international business," Richard Hytner, the Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide deputy chairman, points out. "To do that, they'll need more than just UK talent. They will have to be truly multicultural."


Age: 46

Lives: US

Will Andrew Robertson one day succeed John Wren at the helm of Omnicom? Some who know him well suggest you might as well be asking if the Pope is a Catholic.

The BBDO boss may have a thunderous laugh that can be heard a mile away and a nice line in self-deprecating humour, but don't be fooled. As one friend says of him: "Nothing is an accident. Nothing is unplanned."

During his five years at BBDO's New York headquarters, Robertson has not only proved adept at adapting to US agency culture, but has set about his task of reconfiguring the network to meet changing communication demands with a combination of zeal and ruthlessness.

Under the hyper-ambitious Robertson, BBDO has worked to rid itself of its siloed structure and to move beyond its TV comfort zone.

This has not been an altogether painless experience for the agency. However, he has never been afraid to grasp the nettle and jettison those deemed too set in their ways to embrace change.

And the results have been impressive. Last year, the network hauled in more than $1 billion worth of new business, while revenue and profits reached record levels.


Age: 46

Lives: Hong Kong

Mike Cooper's background in agency management and satellite TV has armed him with impressive credentials for running an extensive media operation.

His career began in 1983 at the Saatchi & Saatchi media department in London. He later moved to Hong Kong to be the Saatchis media director and within nine months had his remit extended to cover the Asia-Pacific region.

After setting up the Saatchis office in China, he became the network's managing director in Hong Kong. He subsequently joined the satellite broadcaster CNBC to run its Asian operations for ad sales, distribution and marketing.

Cooper says he loves doing business in Hong Kong. "The locals have an incredible can-do attitude."


Age: 61

Lives: US

Tim Mellors seems an unlikely advertising export. His 30-year career looked to have ended in the summer of 2003 when he quit as Grey London's creative director.

Having been lured out of retirement the following year by his old partner Steve Blamer, then the head of Grey in North America, he is enjoying a new lease of life as the network's global creative chief.

Moving to New York was the smartest business decision he ever made, he says. "It's been a real learning experience - the scale of things, the difference in advertising itself. There's a different creative tone of voice that takes a bit of learning. Essentially, it's revitalised me."


Age: 40

Lives: US

The opportunity to take charge of BBH's New York office in September 2004 was, for Gwyn Jones, the outcome of a career spent entirely in the service of the agency.

Now his task is to ensure BBH's US success more closely matches that of the flagship London agency.

The Cheshire-born Jones has always been held in high esteem by the BBH top brass, who value his razor-sharp mind. He was the agency's first graduate trainee in 1987, rising from account director to chief executive in 13 years.


Age: 40

Lives: US

With his handsome features and dazzling smile, David Jones looks as if he ought to be advertising Gillette shavers (which he doesn't) rather than running a global network (which he does).

This, coupled with his smooth and slick manner, can lead to those meeting him for the first time into a rush to judgment that Jones is simply too good to be true.

Long-time associates, though, have learned to take his charm and enthusiasm at face value. As one says: "You'd find it hard to find anyone who doesn't like him."

From the beginning, Jones seems to have been marked out for high office; youngest board member of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO; youngest global chief executive in ad industry history. "David was always destined to run an international network," Michael Baulk, his one-time AMV boss, says.

At Euro RSCG, his record has been impressive. He successfully led the network's pitches for Reckitt Benckiser, Jaguar and Charles Schwab.

Two years ago, a journalist suggested to Jones that he had bucked the trend of UK ad stars coming to New York and seeing their career hit the buffers. "David Ogilvy didn't do so badly," he replied.


Age: 51

Lives: Hong Kong

When a leading UK headhunter describes Miles Young as having "gone native" he means no disrespect, only that he has immersed himself in the local culture.

Young's adaptation has been all the more remarkable given his solid British Establishment background. Public school educated, he read modern history at Oxford and was once the Conservative leader of Westminster Council.

Moreover, there was his hasty dispatch to Hong Kong in 1995, having worked for Ogilvy & Mather in London for 12 years. His boss gave him just 24 hours to accept the job - "not long enough to make up a list of pros and cons that would have left me indecisive".

In the event, he threw himself totally into his new role and clearly loves it. Recently he took a group of new employees to a remote farmhouse in Japan to show them there was much more to the country than they might have believed. "Miles never does anything by halves," Mike Walsh, O&M's former European chief executive, claims. "He has one of the best intellects in the business and he's passionate about what he believes."


Age: 47

Lives: US

"Blunt" and "opinionated" are among the polite public descriptions of Mark Wnek. "Arrogant" and "bastard" are the ones usually reserved for private conversations.

Wnek polarises opinion. He certainly doesn't court friendship. "I only care about being respected; I don't care about being liked," he says.

Of course, this may be no bad thing given the scale of his task in getting Lowe New York back on course and re-establishing its creative reputation after years of upheaval and client defections.

Wnek declares he is "no snooty Brit who is all 'they need me over here to show them how it's done'. I'm the opposite."


Age: 57

Lives: Hong Kong

The past decade spent running TBWA's Asia-Pacific network has paid off for Keith Smith, who was named as the group's international president last September.

Smith will continue to be based in Hong Kong, where he arrived in 1996 to set up the Asia-Pacific network. It includes 35 offices in 15 countries and boasts a turnover of more than $1.5 billion.

Now his responsibilities have been extended to cover TBWA's European, African and Middle Eastern operations. "It's going to be exhilarating to knot together these different regions and make sure they work in an integrated way," he says.


Age: 63

Lives: Singapore

Neil French is a trifle wary of accepting the prodigious number of invitations that still come his way to speak at conferences around the world.

One reason is his weariness of travel. The other, he says, is that "all too often they're hoping I'll do a rant about political correctness, about which I give less than a toss".

Indeed, it will take a long time for French to live down his comments at a Toronto dinner in October 2005, when he declared woman agency executives "crap" because they "wimp out and go suckle something".

Alas for French, the internet gave his of-the-cuff remarks a life of their own and, in the end, cost him his £1 million-a-year job as WPP's worldwide creative director.

In fact, it was just one more colourful episode in the life of the blunt-speaking Brummie who has worked as a matador, a debt collector and the manager of the rock band Judas Priest.

Despite the Canadian contretemps, he still works under the WPP umbrella, acting as a consultant to agencies that ask for his help. He divides his time between his homes in Singapore and Spain where he holds "hot-house" courses for top creative directors. "Life ain't dull," he says.


Age: 42

Lives: France

Having just been catapulted to the top of the Publicis tree, Richard Pinder's big challenge will be to keep his balance.

Not that his record to date suggests he will have vertigo problems. Although the surprise choice to take over from the Asda-bound Rick Bendel, Pinder has always coupled an ordered approach with sure-footedness and a passion for work.

He seems to have shone from the outset of his agency career that began at Grey London in 1986. His rise through the ranks was rapid, becoming the client services director at Grey, then the managing director at Oglivy & Mather. He later moved to Hong Kong with Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, ending up as the network president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

It was in that role that he came to the attention of the Publicis Groupe chairman Maurice Levy who, in October, put him in tandem with Olivier Fleurot to run the Publicis network.

It will be Pinder's biggest task to date. Not only has he moved from the US-inspired Burnett culture to a more entrepreneurial environment, but must win over those Publicis senior managers who will have seen themselves as contenders for his job.


Age: 44

Lives: US

Despite Nick Brien's familiarity with the US scene (he first moved from London to Chicago six years ago to join Starcom MediaVest), he faces a formidable challenge as the worldwide chief of Interpublic's Universal McCann.

Appointed to the job last summer, Brien has charge of a substantial operation, but also one that has been rocked by a series of significant account losses.

But Mark Rosenthal, the chairman of IPG Media and Brien's boss, is sure Brien can solve Universal's problems, describing him as "a true internationalist" with solid credentials to run a global agency.


Age: 44

Lives: Singapore

The energy with which Chris Thomas is tackling BBDO's Asian shortcomings will not surprise those who have worked with him. One former colleague calls him a "terrier on speed".

A lot rides on his successful reorganisation of the region. Not only is its growth potential huge, but the weakness in Asia of BBDO's Omnicom parent is said to have been a key reason why it lost out to WPP in the 2004 HSBC pitch.

Thomas is unlikely to be fazed by the task. "Chris never gets deflated by the pressures the business can throw at you," Andrew Robertson, the BBDO worldwide chief executive, says.


Age: 47

Lives: Japan

Michael Birkin's star has risen rapidly within the Omnicom firmament. Should it continue doing so, few doubt he will eventually vie with BBDO's Andrew Robertson as John Wren's successor to lead the group.

Much will depend on how well he manages to improve Omnicom's performance in Asia. In his favour are his rapport with Wren and his long association with the group. "I can get decisions made quickly because I know the way Omnicom thinks," he says.

A former colleague says: "Michael has an intuitive understanding of the creative business, backed by a razor-sharp financial focus."


Age: 57

Lives: US

Whether you love him or not, you can't ignore Kevin Roberts. He's a marketing guru disguised as a black-clad whirling Dervish; a natural salesman who seems to perform best when he is selling himself.

Not for nothing is he known as "Rambo", a reference to his time at Pepsi when he jolted a sales conference into life by taking a Coca-Cola vending machine on stage and firing at it with a shotgun.

Roberts, who spent his early life on a Lancaster council estate but now regards New Zealand as his spiritual home, likes to go gunning. Nowhere more so than at Saatchi & Saatchi, where he has made it his mission to reinvent a network previously synonymous with the advertising boom years of the 80s.

He holds firm and controversial views about the state of management and marketing, arguing that consulting firms "wouldn't know a consumer if one bit them in the ass".

His views are best encapsulated in his book Lovemarks, which came out in 2003 and has been published in 15 countries. In it, Roberts propounds his theory that most products have become commoditised and companies need to be loved if they are to stand out from the competition.


Age: 51

Lives: Japan

Mark Webster has spent much of his working life in the Far East. A one-time trainee at DMB&B in London, he joined JWT in Hong Kong 14 years ago as its business development director.

However, it was as the chairman of JWT Thailand that he established his reputation. The agency not only has a well-developed integrated offering, but ranks as one of the network's top creative performers. He was moved to Tokyo in November.

Michael Maedel, the JWT Worldwide president, says: "Mark is well equipped to assume this important role in Japan."


Age: 47

Lives: US

The former TBWA\London chief executive founded Anomaly, a New York-based communications company, in the summer of 2004.

The company has worked on Coke's Dasani and, to some, its unique structure makes it the agency model of the future.

It's all a sharp contrast to Johnson's previous career, in which he helped set up Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow Johnson and went on to become the chief operating officer of TWBA\Worldwide.

"We don't want to own services, but intellectual property," Johnson explains. "We charge on the basis of ideas. We're not in the ad business."


Age: 46

Lives: US

It is a measure of progress in the advertising industry that Rob Norman - an early advocate of new media - now leads MEC Interaction, the New York-based unit that unites all Mediaedge:cia's online and offline lead-generation activities under a single banner.

And it's certainly a world away from his early days as a media assistant at the former Colman RSCG, where he was instrumental in persuading the agency to buy its first personal computer.


Age: 48

Lives: US

Mark Tutssel's career seems to have been one long preparation for the global creative role he now holds, overseeing the output of 94 network offices.

A 15-year stint at Leo Burnett in London; a Cannes Grand Prix and seven gold Lions; joint creative command of the agency in tandem with Nick Bell (now at JWT), during which time he assumed an increasingly significant international role; worldwide deputy chief creative officer from 2001; chief creative officer from May 2006.

Tom Bernardin, the Burnett chairman, says: "When I joined the company, I identified Mark as our creative leader of the future."


Age: 48

Lives: US

Parachuted into Lowe ten months ago by Interpublic to sort out its problem child, Steve Gatfield has set about his task with urgency. Less than a month after his arrival, Lowe announced it was halving in size and morphing into a micro network.

A successful turnaround at Lowe could be a passport to the eventual leadership of IPG for the one-time Saatchi & Saatchi account man who rose to become the chief operating officer of Leo Burnett Worldwide. But the challenge is formidable even for a man who is said to love the challenge of thinking strategically about complex issues.


Age: 45

Lives: Singapore

Mike Amour's breadth of international experience is impressive. He has lived and worked in London, New York, Tokyo, Paris and Portland, managing operations and accounts for Wieden & Kennedy, McCann Erickson and TBWA. Before heading east at the end of 2004, he was the global director of client services for Mars, once Grey's second-biggest client.

"Mike is completely ego free, but has real presence and commands respect," a colleague says.

Amour believes UK ad people remain highly valued abroad for innovative brand building, creativity and strategic planning. "These are important skills for clients to acquire in rapidly developing markets like China, Vietnam and Indonesia," he says.