Perry Valkenburg is Dutch, but he's not an Amsterdam hipster. He comes from Delft, an historic town known for its blue pottery, and expertly marketed by Johannes Vermeer, the 17th-century painter, who used its soft light to superb effect. As an interviewee, Valkenburg is similarly composed. A colleague describes him as "informal, in the Dutch manner".
Yet Valkenburg is ambitious. Look at what he's achieved: in his latest coup, he's effectively leapfrogged Paul Bainsfair to become the European chief of TBWA\ (although Bainsfair retains the title of chairman). His list of achievements was already impressive: at the age of 27, for example, he was invited by Ogilvy & Mather to set up a new creative boutique in Rotterdam. He then left to help found the country's biggest marketing services agency.
After studying economics and marketing in Breda, Valkenburg's career started at the International Group, a joint marketing organisation combining the airline KLM, Dutch Rail and the shipping company Nedlloyd. He says: "I spent four years there and must have come up against every single discipline."
Valkenburg became known for what was later termed "a 360-degree" approach to marketing. He applied this expertise to Citigroup, where he worked for two years - particularly on Diners Club. "At that time, it was a luxury brand with a huge budget," he recalls. "I worked with DDB and Rapp Collins."
He was lured over to the agency side in 1987 by O&M, which had, in his words, "grown into this giant agency with many disciplines - none of which worked together".
Valkenburg's brief was to build a new kind of agency, where all the marketing disciplines sat around the same table from the start of the creative process. "Because I was young, and we didn't want to offend the senior people at the main agency, we began the experiment at the Rotterdam agency, which was a smaller operation. It worked pretty well. One of my first clients was Microsoft. I remember someone saying 'Shouldn't we be working on bigger accounts?' at the time."
In 1989, Valkenburg was tempted away from O&M by The Campaign Company, a new outfit set up by "some of the most talented advertising people in the Netherlands". His job was to create a bouquet of interlinked units covering all disciplines: the PR Company, the Direct Company, the Brand Experience Company, and so on.
By 1994, when TBWA\ acquired the business, it was one of the biggest and most-admired operations in the Netherlands, with 700 staff and billings of more than $100 million from clients such as Heineken, Dell and Philip Morris. Ironically, Omnicom snapped off the advertising part and merged the other disciplines into its Diversified Agency Services unit.
"What I've always liked about TBWA\ is that it manages to maintain a creative boutique atmosphere, despite its size," Valkenburg says. "That means existing creative talent remains loyal, but we can also attract newcomers."
"Perry has fantastic energy and a great instinct for new business. The job he has done in Germany and Central Europe has helped take TBWA\ to new heights," Keith Smith, the TBWA\International president, says. "I look forward to working with him on a broader remit and helping to keep TBWA\ as the most admired network in the world."
Valkenburg was given the task of developing TBWA\ in Germany - which he did, transforming it in five years from a relative outsider into one of the market's most respected agencies. Crucially, he was also given responsibility for Central and Eastern Europe - virtually unknown territory at the time. "There were hardly any acquisitions to make, so we started more or less from scratch. We concentrated on Poland and Russia first, then the Adriatic region. We're now present in 18 countries," he says.
The key to Valkenburg's position may be that - with the exception of smaller markets such as Romania - the East is no longer emerging; it's part of Europe. "We've outpaced the competition in Poland, and Russia is exploding," he says. "Czech and Hungary are mid-sized European markets - bigger even than some of the Scandinavian countries."
Valkenburg says that TBWA\ recently staged its final "Central and Eastern Europe" meeting. From now on, the region will follow the same reporting lines as the rest of Europe. This explains Valkenburg's elevation to the new position of president, Europe and chief operating officer, international.
"I see my role as very hands-on," he says. "I intend to focus on the work, as well as spending a lot of time on clients and strategy.
"I don't intend to be one of those network managers who spends their time looking at spreadsheets. I want to be visible. My job is to shape a culture in which our people can continue to excel."
Understandably, he is not very keen to comment on where all this leaves the TBWA\Europe chairman Bainsfair, who seems to have been put out on a limb by Valkenburg's promotion. "We're all friends here; we all work closely together," Valkenburg says.
However, he is more keen to talk about his relationship with Smith: "We'll work as a team. Keith has had a lot of experience in the Asian markets, so I'm looking forward to learning from him."
Valkenburg says the position of chief operating officer appeals to him, because "it's about developing policies for the network". No doubt he'll be drawing on his past experience to encourage clients and staff to adopt non-traditional approaches to marketing. After all, Valkenburg has been thinking beyond the 30-second spot for decades now. "Above all," he adds, "I want to be someone who makes a difference."