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JWT’s Global CEO-in-Waiting Has a Big Task Ahead of Him

Lucky for Gustavo Martinez, he has a year to get it right

Gustavo Martinez

Gustavo Martinez will have nearly a year to establish himself at JWT as global president before he succeeds Bob Jeffrey as CEO in 2015. Given the scale of the top job—and the significant challenges before him—he’ll need all the time he can get.

For now, Martinez remains at McCann Worldgroup, where he’s winding down as president of Europe and Asia. He won’t join JWT until February, so he’s not talking about his new agency just yet. Past, present and future colleagues, however, offered Adweek a glimpse into his strengths and weaknesses and the hurdles he’ll face.

Chief among them is to raise the caliber and consistency of the WPP Group shop’s creative work. JWT has made strides under Jeffrey—accumulating 185 Cannes Lions since 2009 for an annual average of 37—but the results have been uneven across regions, offices and years. “They haven’t had a creative director who stuck at a global level, and you can see that in the work,” a rival CEO said. “There’s no consistency, and there’s no ambition in it.”

The agency’s last global creative chief was Craig Davis, who left in early 2009. Rather than fill that job, Jeffrey instead installed veteran cds in regional roles, including Jeff Benjamin, for North America. JWT also has a worldwide creative council that includes creative leaders for regions and global accounts.

As CEO, Martinez also will need to help revitalize JWT’s New York headquarters, which was flying high as recently as 2009 when the shop deepened its relationship with Microsoft and was Adweek’s Global Agency of the Year. Since then, however, leaders like Rosemarie Ryan and Ty Montague have left, and Microsoft has shifted its business elsewhere, including Bing, which JWT helped launch.

Recently, under new office CEO Peter Sherman, New York has expanded its Energizer relationship and added some Google business. Martinez will need to help compound and accelerate such wins.

Another formidable challenge facing the CEO-in-waiting is simply the size of the job. Put plainly, Martinez has run regions before but never a global operation—let alone one with an estimated total revenue of $1.7 billion and 10,000 employees in 90 countries like JWT. Running a global shop is a massive and relentless task, given internal fiefdoms, talent turnover and the ever-changing demands of marketers—and you don’t quite know what it’s like until you try.

“This is quite a large and complicated machine,” said a JWT insider, who wondered if Martinez had the discipline and attention to detail needed to “keep the various constituents in play and working well together.”

The good news is that client management is a Martinez strength. At Ogilvy and Worldgroup, he forged close ties with major marketers like Coca-Cola, L’Oréal and Nestlé. And he developed his relationship-building skills under the tutelage of premier client manager Shelly Lazarus, Ogilvy’s former CEO. What’s more, current Ogilvy CEO Miles Young thought enough of Martinez’s abilities to put him in charge of global brand management in 2011.

“He’s spectacularly good at dealing with clients, and he does it with Latin charm that’s highly persuasive,” Young said of Martinez, a multilinguist who has a Ph.D. in economics. “He’s just a bundle of energy—and clients like energy.”

At JWT, where the top global accounts include Ford, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever and HSBC, Martinez will need every bit of that vigor to succeed.

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