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First Mover: Jim Hytner

When he's not rooting for Man United, the Initiative chief is trying to disrupt the status quo

Photo: Judge Edginton

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Who has shaped you most as a leader?
Don Keough. He was [known for using] the expression, “The world belongs to the discontented.” He influenced me a lot. I was a junior [executive] at Coke. But the way he led the company was that he loved Coke, and he loved the brands. With all his brilliance, he had this passion for his own company.

Who else?
Rupert Murdoch. I worked with him at Sky. I admire him because—and clearly they’ve had some problems at News Corporation, but forget about that—he has been an entrepreneur on a major scale. Initiative, at its heart—actually it’s the reason that I joined—has entrepreneurial spirit. Mindshare doesn’t have that. Zenith doesn’t have that. By the way, they have other things. All these agencies are very, very, very good.

What’s your credo?
I’d rather be a pirate on a navy ship. I love belonging to a large team, being part of a global network—that’s the navy. I will always respect the rules of a global network and what one must do with a global network. Then, hopefully, I will always try to create a restlessness and disrupt the status quo in order that we come up with ideas that sell more product.

Your biggest pet peeve about the industry?
Anybody that starts a sentence with, “The media world is becoming more complex.” Twenty years ago we said that because in the U.K. we went from four channels to five channels when Sky came in. It’s our job to navigate through the complexity.

What are you reading these days?
Steve Jobs’ biography.

Anything else?
Yeah, the Manchester United Football Club Annual 2011.

You grow up in Manchester?
Yes, I’m a [Manchester United] season-ticket holder. I first went when I was 7. My grandfather took me. I lived there until I was about 20. I’ve had the same seats for 40 years. And I have actually warned the Initiative network—I did a film for them and I said in it, “If you support any British team other than Manchester United, it’s probably not the best start to our first meeting if you tell me about it.” [Laughs] And if you support Liverpool, you’re out. There’s no reference to HR. You’re just out.

Describe your management style.
I lead in a very personal way. It’s as though the brand I work for is my brand. By the way, I’ll pay you $50 for this session. It has been rather cathartic.

Any trepidation about stepping into a global role?
No, because I’m absolutely privileged and blessed to have been given a chance by Matt [Seiler, CEO of IPG’s Mediabrands] to lead Europe, the Middle East and Africa [at Universal McCann]. That’s the only break you need. The step from local to regional is a big step. The step from regional to global is not as big.

What are your passions outside work?
Man United. Wine. The theater. My big brother [Nicholas Hytner] in the U.K. is a very famous theater director. My kids. I have four: 17, 15, 2 and 1.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Small, restless and happy.

What three words would others use to describe you?
Self-deprecating, competitive and small.