Jaques Aims To Bring Back Y&R’s Lost Momentum

Chris Jaques, who Friday begins his job as the North American CEO of WPP Group’s Young & Rubicam, has held a long list of management posts. He has never worked, however, in the U.S. And Y&R North America, with estimated revenue of $325 million and more than 1,500 employees, is significantly larger than Y&R Asia, where Jaques (pronounced Jakes) previously oversaw agencies, including Wunderman, representing about $150-200 million in revenue. But the confident, dry-witted Brit doesn’t seem cowed. Friends and former colleagues describe him as charming, direct and “a fantastic operator,” attributes he’ll need as worldwide CEO Hamish McLennan’s top gun in the U.S.

Adweek: How has this job been defined?

Chris Jaques: It’s to run North America for Y&R and to help lead it back into the glory days. It’s looking after all the offices in North America, obviously. And then the key thing is regaining growth, producing great work, winning great business.

Adweek: What’s the biggest challenge?

Jaques: Two things. It’s achieving that goal while trying to navigate the immense changes happening in the industry. There’s no [proven] blueprint for the future, I don’t think. So you’re taking what has been a traditional agency vehicle and you’re reinventing it through an age in which there is no proven formula for success [laughs]. That is either absolutely terrifying or incredibly exciting.

Adweek: What advice did Hamish give you?

Jaques: Succeed.

Adweek: How about Martin Sorrell?

Jaques: His was, “Don’t fail.”

Adweek: What kind of leader are you?

Jaques: Very hands-on. Without trying to sound like an idiot, it’s just [about getting] really focused on the work and on the clients. And getting rid of all the bureaucracy possible.

Adweek: How do you remain hands-on without micro-managing office leaders?

Jaques: The most important thing, in all honesty, is to know what you need to be hands-on on. We’ve got some good offices that are fine, run by good people, which is cool. And we’ve got some big client businesses that are run by very good people and going very nicely. But there is some stuff we really need to get some momentum into.

Adweek: Like what?

Jaques: We’ve got to get our new business track record up and running. We’ve got to get some ball-breaking campaigns out the door.

Adweek: Will maybe half of your time be focused on new business?

Jaques: I plan my life according to what needs to be done. I never look at my life in terms of percentages or structure. It’s all what needs to be done, focusing on that.

Adweek: What’s your approach to clients?

Jaques: Just tell them what you believe to be the truth. … Clients want you to provide what they can’t provide themselves. And too many agencies have people who are trying to preempt what clients want.

Adweek: What’s your biggest pet peeve about the industry?

Jaques: I hate meetings. I hate e-mails. And I hate people who talk too much.

Adweek: Is it true you resigned back in July?

Jaques: Yeah. … There was [no] career path and there were many other career paths out there. I changed [my mind] totally because there was a complete career path that was bloody exciting and working with a bunch of guys I know and like.

Adweek: Was that before Hamish became worldwide CEO?

Jaques: About the same time. There was a lot of stuff [happening]. I went off on holiday, came back, saw Hamish, he said, “What do you think?” I said, “Yes.”

Adweek: What was the most difficult aspect of shifting from the U.K. to Asia? There are some differences, aren’t there.

Jaques: Huge. From Europe generally to Asia, it’s a dramatic change. Europe, in particular, values process. And debate is an end in itself. Asia is all about results. It’s all about what you achieve now. That cultural shift is huge and dramatic.

Adweek: New York has the top business role to fill there. What qualities will you look for in that person?

Jaques: I’d look for exactly the qualities I’ve got because I’m going to do it myself to begin with. New York is so important to us and I really want to make sure that I understand everything about it. So, I decided that certainly for the first year, I’ll do New York as well.

Adweek: Does that preclude hiring somebody in that time frame?

Jaques: Yep.

Adweek: What do you think about the concept of combining Y&R and Wunderman, which has been discussed in the past?

Jaques: Terrible idea. In all categories of business today, the most successful companies work as “networks of specialists,” not as “generalists.” Y&R and Wunderman work well together when we need to, and work well separately when we don’t. Whenever you put two companies which have different expertise, cultures and business models together, you normally end up with less than the sum of the parts. One partner usually dominates, one way of working takes over, one culture erodes diversity.

See Adweek.com for full interview.