Bob Jeffrey Says His Successor Is a ‘Real Internationalista’

Gustavo Martinez also has a great reputation with clients

Bob Jeffrey, JWT global CEO since January 2004, will hand off to Gustavo Martinez in 13 months, after a year of preparing him for the top job. First, however, Martinez, 50, the former European and Asian president of McCann Worldgroup, will serve as global president. Jeffrey, 60, explains why he thinks he has found the right successor.

Adweek: How long have you known Gustavo?

Jeffrey: At least four years. And I've had a lot of go's at trying to get him into JWT. My responsibility to the company and to WPP was how do I get the right leadership from a succession point of view. And I really thought it had to be Gustavo. It was so clear in my head.

What made him an attractive candidate to succeed you?

He's very focused on clients. He's got an entrepreneurial character about clients and he's always willing to roll up his sleeves and really dig in there and understand, what are the problems that have to be addressed?

What other qualities does he have?

He's an amazing people person. That was really important to me because you know my own management style or leadership point of view is about the importance of people, especially in our business with the pressures. He's just one of those people who respects people on a human level. But he's also decisive. I mean he's a leader. He's also very international—he speaks like four or five languages and he's got a wide range of experience. In today's world, you need to have somebody who's a real internationalista.

What's your best advice for him?

Usually, 90 percent of your instincts in the very beginning are the important ones. So write those down and make sure that within the first six months you've acted on them.

What will you miss most about this job?

Well, I'm not leaving tomorrow (laughs). I'm still doing it. I don't want to answer that because I'm CEO until the end of next year.

Going in, did you envision being CEO this long?

You know, I have a Zen-like attitude about career. I always feel like you have to be open to opportunities. … It has been a great opportunity. I have to, at the end of the day, thank Martin [Sorrell] because he was involved in recruiting me to JWT New York, he put me in the North American role and he obviously put me into the CEO role. Twenty years ago, if someone said I was going to be doing this, I never would have imagined it because I was very focused in a different part of the business. I'm very milestone conscious and, in my mind, I always thought that 10 years was an important point in time when you'd want to know that you had [future] leadership sorted.

What are your proudest of?

If you look at the creative work and reputation of JWT over the last decade, it has improved dramatically. Also … I've been very embracing of the changes going on in the business in terms of the impact of digital and technology. That's been a big part of what we've done to help transform ourselves. You know, everything is happening so fast [that] you're never where you want to be. But if you measure where we are now versus where we were then, we've made huge progress.

Will this be your last job in advertising?

Oh, I can't answer that. I don't know.

You have a lot of different interests.

Yeah, I have a lot of different interests. [But] like I said, I'm not leaving tomorrow. … My attitude is I'm committed to Gustavo. I'm going to really do everything possible in the next two years to make this happen for him.

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