Kate Robertson, who just became Havas Worldwide’s second global president, describes herself as noisy, energetic and “very good with people.” She’ll need all those qualities and more in her new role as partner to Andrew Benett, the agency's other global president. Like her boss, global CEO David Jones, the London-based Robertson will wear two hats, as she continues as chairman of the agency’s U.K. group, which she has run since 2006.
Why does Havas Worldwide need two global presidents?
It’s part of the Jones thing of "we’ve got to change faster" … David really wants the Havas agencies to change faster—to deliver on his models, his visions faster than we’ve been doing. And I think he just wants more hands on the deck to do that.
For how long had he been talking to you about this?
David is one of those people—when he talks to me, Andrew or whoever—[who’s] constantly mulling change. You know, “I wonder if he we did this, I wonder if we did that.” You don’t really know what comes to fruition because he’s talking stuff through. And literally he told me the night before the announcement in New York, “This is what I want you to do … I’m telling everyone tomorrow. Sorry, got to go now. Got to go now.” I was standing at the corner of Spring Street at the Cole Haan shop and I got such a surprise that I sat down on the pavement. (Laughs).
How will you and Andrew divide responsibilities?
I’m not clear on the details because David is going to brief me and Andrew together.
Would it make sense that you would focus primarily on Europe and Andrew on North America, given that you’re based in London and Andrew in New York?
Honestly, it would make sense but I don’t know if that’s what [Jones] wants. I’ve got to be absolutely honest. He could say, “Right, I want both [on] acquisitions and I want that model driven here.” I do not know. In my head, I’ve probably got six or seven plans. All I know is he will surprise me.
What’s David like as a boss?
Challenging, absolutely exhausting, relentless, unbelievably demanding. But the best thing about him is he’s demanding [but] he expects that you will fail at some things. When you fail, he never points a finger and says, “Look at you, Andy, aren’t you a fool?” Which means you just try a bit harder and you try things. You’re not risk averse so much. That to me makes him an unusual character in this business.
What clients are you closest to?
I’m closer back now with Reckitt Benckiser. I was away from them for a little while, but I’ve gone back in there to work with their CEO, Rakesh Kapoor, on some very innovative stuff David and I have been putting to them. I’m very close with Paul Polman at Unilever and then also with some of the CEOs of the very, very big prospects that we’re going to be moving on at the moment.
Are you a new business animal?
Yeah. It’s my background. It was the thing that got me out of global client servicing. Because when I first met David, when he was 22, that’s what I was doing. I was running Unilever personal products in Europe for J. Walter Thompson. I don’t know. It took me a while to realize [what I like], but I think I was at a career cul-de-sac.
How old were you?
I was about 37, 38.
So, you had been in account management until then?
Yeah, that’s all I’d ever done. I sort of worked out that you got a lot of praise and kudos when you did new business. So, instead of avoiding it, as most people of my ilk do, I dived into it head-first and found out it’s just my best thing. I love it. I love it. I’m a salesman (Laughs).
What are your impressions of Andrew?
I loved working with Andy. You know, I haven’t worked a lot with him recently. But when he first came—when David was first there as the CEO of New York and he brought Andrew in as a strategic planner—Andrew and I worked on the Jaguar pitch together. I just loved his stuff, I loved Andrew’s stuff. I love that in our advertising world that you get someone from Andrew’s world, like having a McKinsey or someone in the room, and you get that weight, that weight of structured thinking.
If you could change one thing about our industry, what would it be?
There’s a kind of second-hand, car salesman, slick Willy kind of thing. And I don’t think that our industry’s role in business is that thing. I don’t want our industry to be seen as sort of a slimy little Doppelganger to a failed model of capitalism. I really believe in capitalism. I really believe in the power of our industry to drive economic growth, lifting people out of poverty and effecting positive change. That’s what I want to be part of.