First Mover: Robert Harwood-Matthews | Adweek First Mover: Robert Harwood-Matthews | Adweek
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First Mover: Robert Harwood-Matthews

When he's not learning American football, TBWA's new man in N.Y. is building up the flagship office

Photo: Ben Shaul


Specs
Age 42
New gig
President, TBWAChiatDay, New York
Old gig Group president, TBWA U.K.

As soon as you arrived at TBWAChiatDay N.Y., one of the agency’s largest clients, Vonage, went into review. What’s that been like?
You have to wrestle advantage out of these situations. I want to try to make the office agile and modern, and it’s an opportunity to sit down and completely reassess where we’re at and build a new team out of it.

Any advice from TBWA CEO Tom Carroll?
He said, “Build more from what you have here.” This agency has been quite focused on New York, but I want to make it feel more worldly and bigger, more globally connected to the TBWA network.

You studied archeology at university, specializing in French Paleolithic cave painting. How did you get into advertising?
I didn’t have a [career] plan. I was playing sports with somebody who worked in the industry. I joined Young & Rubicam’s media department in London. I was one of those guys back in the early ‘90s with a calculator and a big pile of paper, trying to work out rates and negotiate.

Any mentors?
I’m genuinely an explorer and try to figure things out for myself. I’ve tried everything from the peaceful end of the spectrum with meditation to the crazy end where I was jumping off a hill with a hang glider. Mentors have been a very wide and eclectic bunch. Nancy Koehn, a professor of history and business at Harvard, taught me at Babson College, which is the [TBWA parent] Omnicom University. Of all the speakers, she was the one I was drawn to as a mentor because she combined the love of classics, history and ancient Greek plays with modern business context.

You’re living in SoHo after working for TBWA in London, L.A. and Manchester. How do you like Manhattan?
It makes you burn brightly. And for somebody who enjoys that phosphorescence, it makes me feel that way. There are so many possibilities here, it’s a very exciting place for somebody like myself who always wants to go out there and explore, learn and do.

Was it a hard decision to uproot your family?
My children have had exactly the same response to the city as me. They’re wandering around, bright-eyed and getting stuck into everything.

How did you become a good friend of Craig Carton, co-host of WFAN’s Boomer and Carton radio show?
We got to know him through our kids, who are best friends at [Chris Whittle’s new private school] Avenues. There was an instant connection. Our wives are best friends as well. Beer and pizza on a Sunday afternoon is a fairly regular format for us, but Craig’s obviously watching five screens at once and interpreting the games, and I’m still wrestling to understand the basic rules of American football.

How long have you had the nickname “Badger”?
I’ve tried to leave it behind and here I am being asked about it again. I went pretty much salt-and-pepper gray virtually overnight when I was 18.

You’re a serious runner. How is a marathon like running an agency?
You’ve got to have a long game in your head about how you’re going the distance and a sense of how you’ll get there. You need to cut out a lot of noise around you and be quite Zen about how you’ll get there.



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