Adweek Q&A: Young & Rubicam’s Mike Dolan

Candid Comment: WPP, Consolidation and Keeping Talent

NEW YORK–Sounding upbeat and optimistic, the future CEO of the new Young & Rubicam Group discussed the company's deal with the WPP Group and its goals for the future. On the financial front, Y&R Inc. last week reported a 14 percent gain in organic revenue for the second quarter, vs. the same period in 1999. Net income also grew–22 percent to $37.4 million. Sipping coffee and fingering two mini-chocolate bars, Dolan seemed relaxed despite a busy day ahead that included a meeting with the Y&R board of directors. He was interrupted only once–by a trans-Atlantic phone call from his new boss, WPP chief Martin Sorrell.

ADWEEK: Colleagues at Y&R describe you as a great numbers guy but also a good presenter and motivator. Where does that come from?

DOLAN: The funny thing is I was never a financial guy. When I first started talking to (former CEO) Peter Georgescu about coming into the company–this was before the IPO–he said, "I need a partner to think through these issues. I need someone who can really be side-by-side with me through this whole process." Peter is such an engaging person that anyone would jump at that offer. I said, "Give me more specifics." He said, "We're going to be doing the recap, the IPO and all these things, and these are largely financially driven. Maybe you should be CFO." I said, "Peter, I'm not an accountant. I've never been a CFO." In my career, I had only previously spent about three months in what can be described as a financial group. I said, "This is kind of a stretch." And he said, "No, no, no, no. You'll be great. This is terrific. You'll be wonderful at it." And I did enjoy it a lot.

ADWEEK: What did you learn from working with Peter Georgescu?

DOLAN: Well, Peter is a magnificent leader. He's charismatic. He has a tremendous sense of where he wants to take the business, how it should work and a deft touch in terms of getting a team to work toward that vision.

ADWEEK: What kind of leader are you?

DOLAN: What I've done all of my life, my professional life, is focused on helping companies think about what the right strategies are. How do you take that mass of data? How do you try to understand it, gain some insight from it? Not only focus where the business is today but where you think the business is going. It's like catching a ball in the outfield. This is what they always claim Joe DiMaggio was good at–running to the spot where the ball is going to fall, as opposed to trying to situate himself underneath the ball.

ADWEEK: What's your vision for Y&R in the immediate future and five years from now?

DOLAN: The thing I want to emphasize short-to-midterm is our commitment to the clients. Longer term, if you look out three to five years, I think the business is going to be transformed by technology. It shapes the way we do the work, and it affects our connections to our clients. It's going to change the business. It's going to make it more measurable, more demonstrative. And I think that's going to be good for the industry.

ADWEEK: Why was it time to sell?

DOLAN: There's a lot of consolidation going on, and there's a lot of deconsolidation going on. The thing we said when we were out doing our IPO, was that the big are getting bigger. You have an industry structure where the big are getting bigger at the top and [there's] a proliferation of boutiques at the bottom. Where we felt we had to go was toward consolidation. And as we looked at who was out there and who was the best fit, WPP was clearly the right fit.

ADWEEK: What degree of difficulty were those negotiations?

DOLAN: There was a lot of starts and stops. In the deals I've been involved in before, it was like the Israeli-Palestinian [talks]. People sat in the room until they basically kind of got to where they needed to get to. In this case, I think there was a lot of emotion and at times, a lot of misunderstandings. The negotiations broke off several times. You know, neither side needed a deal. Neither Y&R nor WPP felt obligated to do a transaction. So both were very sensitive about making sure that the shareholders got a good deal.

ADWEEK: How do you cope with talent walking out the door or people cashing out?

DOLAN: We've been dealing with that reality since the time of the recapitalization of the company–the end of '96. This is a business where you get people who come and go, [but] not as much as anybody thinks. But we, like the consulting companies, the investment banks, are constantly under attack on the people side, maybe less now than a year ago. I think that's an ongoing thing, an ongoing fact of life in the Serengeti.

ADWEEK: I'm told you have a good sense of humor. How has that helped you on the job?

DOLAN: It's my salvation.

ADWEEK: You think you'll still be here in five years?

DOLAN: If I'm having fun, if I like what I'm doing, if I like the people–all of which I do–I'm certainly going to be here. I love what I'm doing now. And I couldn't ask for something with more challenges, more fun. It's probably the best job in America.


Dolan's Bio

53 years old.

President, chief operating officer of Y&R Inc. Becomes chairman and CEO of Y&R Group this fall, after the WPP deal closes. Joined Y&R in 1996 as vice chairman and chief financial officer.

Former president and CEO of Snack Ventures Europe, a joint venture between PepsiCo Foods International and General Mills. Before that, he was svp, worldwide operations for PepsiCo. Joined Pepsi in 1991.

Was corporate executive vice president of the Continental Can Co. subsidiary of Peter Kiewet Sons, 1987-91, and partner, strategy practice at Booz Allen & Hamilton, 1985-87. Began his career at J.P. Morgan.

Holds a Ph.D. in medieval literature from Cornell University, an M.B.A. from Columbia University and a B.A. from Fordham University.

Married with two children. Lives in Manhattan. Enjoys snowboarding.

His dream jobs: "I'd love to be a reporter. I think that's a cool thing to do. Or a prosecuting attorney. Because I love Law & Order."

Another CEO he admires: Mike Jordan, formerly of CBS: "He has a really terrific strategic sense, combined with the practicalities of how to make it happen."

On competing with public companies: "It's really Darwinian, you know? And in a very good sense."