Q&A: Lowe's Michael Wall | Adweek Q&A: Lowe's Michael Wall | Adweek
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Q&A: Lowe's Michael Wall

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Lowe's new worldwide CEO, Michael Wall, welcomes the challenge of attracting more global clients, but acknowledges that the Interpublic Group agency is a work in progress. In a conversation with senior reporter Andrew McMains, Wall reflected on his nine years at Fallon in London (where he rose to president, international), what he learned from former Simons Palmer boss Carl Johnson and what it was like to work at Lowe Howard-Spink in the early 1990s. The 41-year-old Briton, who most recently was CEO of BBDO Portugal, starts his new role in September.

Adweek: What are the biggest challenges going in to Lowe?

Wall: Every agency is a work in progress, isn't it? It's the nature of this industry in terms of people that work in agencies, how things work, what their relationships with clients are like, what the work is like and what that delivers to the clients' business. Everything is in a constant state of flux. Many people have said, "You're only as good as your last campaign." And I think that still holds true.  

What attracted you to this job?

Lowe, as a brand and as a business, has a very clear role in the holding company portfolio. It's our job to really accelerate that. Our role is to be a network that is absolutely about the creative product. . . . At a brand level, and a business level, in terms of Lowe, the guys have done a very good job over the last few years of making [the agency] fit for purpose. It is a fully fledged network. It offers its clients reach without any compromise. But also it's a network that offers a great creative product. I can't think of many other networks that are in that position.

How do you define your role?

Our job is to continue to develop and enhance Lowe both as a reputation and a product across lots of different disciplines and geography. Make sure we go out and not just do brilliant stuff for existing clients but also grow our business. . . . The final bit is, like any good business and any good agency in particular, making sure that our leadership team is really competitive and really supportive of our network. Personally, one of the things I was really pleased about in joining it and partnering with it with people like Tony, is just the caliber of people like Tony Wright, Matthew Bull. And without sounding egotistical, I think I'm all right as well. That has the makings of being a really good leadership team for a network.

Lowe has increased its share of Unilever but also has become more dependent on that one client. So, the agency's strength can also been seen as its weakness.

I certainly agree. . . . In a way, that's part of the appeal. This is still not the finished article. And anyone who pretends or says it is, is bullshitting. It has come a long, long way, but it has a long, long way to go. That's the exciting bit. It just depends on who you are and what perspective you come from. Some people look at that as a problem and some people look at that as an opportunity. For me I'm much more interested in doing something that has that level of challenge rather doing something that's more about maintenance and the status quo. That would bore the shit out of me. 

What kind of a grade would you give Lowe's reel?

I think it's B, B minus. But at Fallon, we were our harshest critics.

Who are the A's?

I'm not sure there is one. That's a reflection of what's going on economically as anything else. . . . Look at Cannes. There aren't any great, great pieces of work. There are some very good pieces of work, some very clever almost events. I'm thinking about that Queensland Tourism thing. It tells you that there is a void out there at the moment. 

Were you privy to Lowe reappointing Bull as global chief creative officer and Bert Moore as chief strategy officer before you signed on?

Until you actually join [a company], you're an outsider. It would be wrong for anyone to suggest that it's a candidate's role to determine or question business decisions that are being made in real time, particularly in this business. Having said all that, of course as part of it being an open conversation and grown-up conversation, I was made aware of what was going on and a few other things as well. I've got no issue with the caliber of the people that have been put into those roles. 

You did your homework and talked to a lot of people in the network and IPG. Why was that important to you?

It's just good housekeeping, isn't it? This is a big job and a serious job. And whether you look at it from a candidate's perspective, in my case, or from the company's perspective, in their case, the interviewing process only gets you so far, partly because we're all on best behavior.

What will be the biggest adjustment in taking on a CEO role?

The scale thing is a big adjustment. We're talking about 7,000 people across 80 countries. That makes a big difference already. . . . Working with a new team will be different because it's a different group of people. But I'm a firm believer in the power of a team of individuals. It very much suits my nature and style.

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