Talent And Turmoil Speed Jones’ Rise To Top At Euro

When David Jones arrived here last year to become CEO of Euro RSCG’s New York office, even the forward-thinking, well-regarded executive could not have foreseen that he would become worldwide CEO just nine months later.

Jones, a Briton fluent in French and German who will be 39 in November, succeeded Jim Heekin two weeks ago as CEO of the Havas-owned network with more than $1 billion in revenue and 10,000 employees.

And even though it was circumstance as much as his ability that landed him in the top job in such short order, clients and colleagues alike are not surprised by Jones’ ascension.

“What makes David stand out is not only his intellectual capabilities but his passion for what he does,” said Javed Ahmed, evp of Reckitt Benckiser North America, Australia and New Zealand. “He cares about my business as much as I do. I’m not surprised at all that he’s now the CEO.”

“One of the things that attracted me to this agency was David and his vision,” added Andrew Bennett, Euro’s chief strategy officer, who joined in January from Interpublic Group’s FutureBrand. “He’s committed to investing in intellectual capital and thought leadership.”

Under a new management structure, Jones shares control with two Paris-based Euro executives: Mercedes Erra, 50, and Stéphane Fouks, 45, who were named co-executive chairmen. Worldwide chief creative officer Rémi Babinet was named president.

All four report to Havas CEO Philippe Wahl, a banker hired last month by the French holding company’s largest shareholder, Vincent Bolloré.

In an unorthodox arrangement that more closely links Euro to its parent, the group of four will “lead the agency together,” Fouks said last week. They also sit on Havas’ executive committee. “The idea was not to separate the two but to have [Euro and Havas] work together better,” Fouks added.

Given all the changes at Havas and Euro during the last 18 months (Heekin succeeding Bob Schmetterer; Bolloré’s public ouster of Havas CEO Alain de Pouzilhac; the failed courtship of TBWA’s Jean-Marie Dru), some observers say the power-sharing structure is as much about rewarding the executives’ long-term commitment to Euro as it is about solidifying the network’s client relationships.

“Mercedes and Stéphane as co-chairmen are the senior-most seasoned and proven [Euro] executives in France. David as CEO will be an important bridge across the Atlantic,” said one executive about the management team.

Others noted that because the company and its two largest clients—Peugeot Citroën and Danone—are French, it was important to have French faces atop the agency to quell any concerns about all the recent turmoil.

Said Jones: “We’re a flat, level managing team.” He and Fouks insisted that the unusual arrangement plays to the strengths of each leader: Erra is the brand strategist, Fouks the finance and communications leader, and Jones the consummate client handler with international experience, having worked in Europe, Australia and now the U.S.

While multi-member leadership teams rarely work at ad agencies, at least one analyst is giving this team the benefit of the doubt. “They’ve all been at Euro a very long time. If they’re all on the same page, it shouldn’t be a problem,” said Bear Stearns analyst Tim Nollen.

For his part, Jones, an eight-year Euro veteran, was instrumental in landing the multinational Reckitt Benckiser business in 2002 and, more recently, the $100 million Schwab and Jaguar wins.

“David garners the respect and confidence of senior clients,” said one ex-Euro exec. “He demonstrates commitment and perseverance to adding value. He also represents the U.S. market, and they still need to build in that market.”

Jones said it was too early to comment on the team’s vision for the agency, but speaking about what he considers Havas’ newfound stability, he noted, “In the last 18 months, we’ve succeeded in spite of our holding company. Going forward we’ll be able to succeed because of it.”