Meet 4 Agency Execs With British and European Roots That Are Based in N.Y.

Is there a shortage of high-level U.S. talent?

‘If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere …’

The timeless lyrics sung by the Chairman of the Board hold a particular relevance to the agency world. Helming the New York flagship still offers a surefire pathway to power—the corner-office kind. But something’s different these days, as more of the executives taking the post speak with a British lilt and grip the Queen’s red passport in one hand. Ogilvy & Mather, TBWAChiatDay, McCann Erickson and JWT reached out to the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe to recruit, respectively, Adam Tucker, Robert Harwood-Matthews, Chris Macdonald and Peter Sherman. (Tucker and Sherman may be American born, but their considerable overseas experience qualifies them as visitors.)

Depending on your point of view, it’s either coincidence or symptomatic of a high-level shortage in U.S. talent. (Look further up the pecking order and one finds that global CEOs at agencies like BBDO, Ogilvy, Draftfcb and Saatchi & Saatchi didn’t climb the New York corporate ladder either.) In the past, Madison Avenue headquarters have been criticized for their often inbred, American-centric view of the world, given the country’s historical hegemony in marketing communications. That accusation holds less power today.

It’s small wonder that the U.K. has emerged as the country of choice in recruiting top talent, given Britons’ career travels and global interests, born of empire. The former mother country has long enjoyed a reputation for towering creative skills in effective cross-discipline solutions, given smaller marketer budgets. Meanwhile, advertising still carries some glamour as a career option across the pond while U.S. media technology companies poach talent that otherwise would have gravitated toward agencies.

More generally, though, the shift reflects the changing orbit of the marketing world. “Working internationally, you get the experience of managing multiple cultures and multiple personalities in different markets, which gives you some international overlay and broader skill sets,” says Jay Haines, CEO of British headhunters Grace Blue, which opened in New York last year. “It’s not so much a reflection of a lack of talent in New York. It’s about having a more global mind-set.”

Meet four agency leaders who bring these qualities to their new jobs.

Robert Harwood-Matthews
President, TBWAChiatDay, New York

Whether it’s jumping off a hill with a hang glider, surfing, running ultra-marathons or exploring the West on his motorcycle, Robert Harwood-Matthews is pretty much up for anything. He’s had to summon that embrace of adventure since joining TBWACD New York last October. In his first week, one of the agency’s largest accounts, Vonage, went into review, the loss of which triggered a 5 percent staff layoff. A couple of months later, long-term global client Absolut exited the agency. There’s been a churn in top executive ranks at the agency in recent years, with a subsequent effect on staff morale.

But after improving TBWACD London’s flagging fortunes with global wins like The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts during his tenure there, Harwood-Matthews likens the task to marathoning and remains focused on the finish line. “You’ve got to have a long game in your head, about where you’re going and a sense of how you’re going to get there,” the 42-year-old says. “You need to cut out a lot of noise around you and be Zen about how it won’t always go to plan.”

It appears to be working. Last month, the shop won BNY Mellon’s global creative business with TBWACD London. And it’s holding its breath on a few other pitches that are coming down to the wire.

Global CEO Tom Carroll transferred Harwood-Matthews because he wants the Manhattan office to become more worldly and closely connected to the global network. “London has always punched above its weight and has a much bigger presence in the advertising world,” says Carroll. “The business is more attractive to talent there while we’ve lost a lot of people to newer technology companies.”

Talent is a top priority. Harwood-Matthews brought in Matt Ian as executive creative director from Deutsch LA and digital strategy head Aki Spicer from Fallon. The new agency president has taken down his office walls and sits with top members of his team. “I loathe politics and negativity,” he notes.

The former archeology student finds life in New York a fascinating study of contrasts to London. There’s the obvious difference in scale where there are U.S. ad accounts equivalent to the size of entire London agencies as well as the cultural and geographic diversity. Then there’s the more egalitarian atmosphere. “In the U.S., advancing up the [ad agency] ladder may mean you can afford a Porsche and people are happy for you. In London, they’d drag a key alongside it,” he says.

Adam Tucker
President, Ogilvy & Mather, New York

Fallon Minneapolis account director Adam Tucker accepted a two-year tour of duty in London in 2001 after the agency landed American Airlines’ European business. Eleven years, three children and another big U.K. job later, he found it tough to return to his native America, but the chance to run Ogilvy New York was too good to pass up.

(Tucker’s 6-year-old son, Jack, is more reluctant to leave it all behind. He retains his English accent and attends the British International School in Manhattan.)

Tucker moved to London as the only Yank in Fallon’s fledgling British operations. “It was an amazing, eye-opening experience,” the 43-year-old says. “It was great to find out how to make a single truth work in 12 to 15 European markets.”

Originally from St. Louis, Tucker was one of the few Americans to recently be involved at the top level of a British agency like AMV BBDO, which he joined in 2005 after his Fallon tenure.

Under Tucker’s watch, Fallon London’s United Airlines work won awards like a gold Lion in Cannes. Similarly, while he was managing partner at AMV BBDO, the shop was recognized as the most awarded U.K. agency in 2011 by the Gunn Report and Big Won.

“Fallon and AMV shared the pursuit for creative excellence. Advertising is much more celebrated in the U.K. It’s still considered something that entertains, so you need to set the bar high,” he says. “On the TV you see great work—it’s not like in the U.S. where you see a lot people shouting at you.”

When Ogilvy’s global CEO Miles Young took over in 2009, he felt the agency’s New York operations weren’t keeping up with the rest of the network, and he began to make changes to broaden the headquarter’s perspective.

As part of that push, Tucker works with recent hires like Steve Simpson, chief creative officer of O&M North America, and Calle Sjönell, chief creative officer for New York. “Fifty to 60 percent of the brands in this building are international clients,” explains Tucker. “We want to create openness rather than command and control.”

Young, who wants to internationalize Ogilvy New York’s management, says, “Adam has a worldliness from living abroad and an objectivity. In my job, you want New York to play as more of a member of a global team. It’s not to say I couldn’t find a New Yorker, but we didn’t. I think there is a bit of a talent squeeze in the States.”

Chris Macdonald
President, McCann Erickson, New York

Born and bred in the old university town of Oxford, England, Chris Macdonald was about to go to drama school when he looked at his future wife’s application for a job as an agency planner. He saw a dream gig where he could watch TV, go out to lunch and join an industry imbued with the glamour of Mad Men. That detour from thespian life led him to one of the largest stages available as a McCann Erickson exec, running the network’s flagship office.

“Becoming an account man felt like the perfect alchemy of creativity and commerce and working as the pivot between clients and the agency,” says the 46 year old, who has also been an executive at London’s Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R and Publicis.

The eight-year McCann vet, known for his sharp wit and stylish suits, was most recently CEO of McCann Erickson London and chairman of U.K. parent McCann Worldgroup. His experience there underscores that “perfect alchemy.” Macdonald developed a reputation for his client finesse, landing new business wins while fostering award-winning creative work for American Airlines, Heinz and Xbox.

He’ll need those skills as he takes over a place emerging from the tumultuous tenure of former Worldgroup global CEO Nick Brien, who tried to dramatically reengineer one of the industry’s most strongly held cultures. Clients left, new business efforts stalled, morale suffered and the promised buzz from an influx of new creative and digital talent never happened. “There was a loss of confidence. McCann people believe in winning, and they believe in what they do,” underscores Macdonald, who joined McCann New York in July.

He’s the beneficiary of growing momentum from account gains prior to his arrival, and he led the pitch for Lockheed Martin that the agency landed just last week.

Harris Diamond, who took over for Brien last November, says Macdonald’s more expansive experience in dealing with multinational clients and other Worldgroup companies was a big plus in his hire. But ultimately it was his familiarity with McCann that sealed the deal.

“New York is the flagship where we run most of our multinational accounts, and by definition someone with an international background helps. But that’s not a major reason we chose Chris,” he explains. “It’s his successful background at McCann and how he’s grown up within our network and has the respect of our senior management team.”

Peter Sherman
CEO, JWT, New York

When BBDO San Francisco managing director Peter Sherman received a new job offer in 2010, he went to the network’s global chief Andrew Robertson. Hours later, his boss countered with a job as managing director of BBDO Europe where the Milan-based Sherman would manage a portfolio of offices in 18 countries. It was the longtime BBDO exec’s first overseas assignment, and the more he traveled the more it reinforced a core belief. “Taking a global view should not be considered unique, progressive or optional,” the 50-year-old says. “Our insights and work must reflect a world that’s already there.”

That’s one of the key reasons why JWT’s worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey was keen to get Sherman aboard in August. Many of JWT’s multinational clients like Johnson & Johnson station their top global agency execs in New York.

“Having someone without an island mentality is very important in a role like this,” says Jeffrey. “Plus, Europe is difficult right now with a lot of economic challenges as well as different cultures. Like an athlete, that kind of experience makes you a better advertising professional.”

Sherman’s oversight of 35 Euro offices did not include English, French and German outposts, so he was dealing with operations in some of the eurozone’s most challenging economies. Nonetheless, during his tenure, some of his offices won pan-European reviews for businesses like perfume retailer Marionnaud and RSA Insurance.

The Coloradan, who started his working life in commodities in Chicago, remembers he was attracted to the creativity of advertising and its confluence with business strategy. At BBDO, Sherman was known to balance deep creative knowledge with solid talent-management skills.

That balance of strengths will be key to Jeffrey’s efforts to rebuild JWT’s New York operations and support the new talent he’s recruited like Jeff Benjamin, who joined last year as North American chief creative officer after working as CCO at Crispin Porter + Bogusky.

Benjamin has needed a strong business partner to attract new clients who want creative innovation and someone to sell that to current JWT marketers. Sherman brings to that task a new appreciation of the universality of great advertising creative.

“While it’s critical to understand and respect cultural differences, maps and borders shouldn’t define the way we arrive at ideas,” Sherman says. “Talent is more important than geography. Big ideas will travel across lines and borders.”

Illustrations: Alex Fine