Meet 4 Agency Execs With British and European Roots That Are Based in N.Y.

Is there a shortage of high-level U.S. talent?

‘If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere …’

The timeless lyrics sung by the Chairman of the Board hold a particular relevance to the agency world. Helming the New York flagship still offers a surefire pathway to power—the corner-office kind. But something’s different these days, as more of the executives taking the post speak with a British lilt and grip the Queen’s red passport in one hand. Ogilvy & Mather, TBWAChiatDay, McCann Erickson and JWT reached out to the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe to recruit, respectively, Adam Tucker, Robert Harwood-Matthews, Chris Macdonald and Peter Sherman. (Tucker and Sherman may be American born, but their considerable overseas experience qualifies them as visitors.)

Depending on your point of view, it’s either coincidence or symptomatic of a high-level shortage in U.S. talent. (Look further up the pecking order and one finds that global CEOs at agencies like BBDO, Ogilvy, Draftfcb and Saatchi & Saatchi didn’t climb the New York corporate ladder either.) In the past, Madison Avenue headquarters have been criticized for their often inbred, American-centric view of the world, given the country’s historical hegemony in marketing communications. That accusation holds less power today.

It’s small wonder that the U.K. has emerged as the country of choice in recruiting top talent, given Britons’ career travels and global interests, born of empire. The former mother country has long enjoyed a reputation for towering creative skills in effective cross-discipline solutions, given smaller marketer budgets. Meanwhile, advertising still carries some glamour as a career option across the pond while U.S. media technology companies poach talent that otherwise would have gravitated toward agencies.

More generally, though, the shift reflects the changing orbit of the marketing world. “Working internationally, you get the experience of managing multiple cultures and multiple personalities in different markets, which gives you some international overlay and broader skill sets,” says Jay Haines, CEO of British headhunters Grace Blue, which opened in New York last year. “It’s not so much a reflection of a lack of talent in New York. It’s about having a more global mind-set.”

Meet four agency leaders who bring these qualities to their new jobs.

Robert Harwood-Matthews

President, TBWAChiatDay, New York

Whether it’s jumping off a hill with a hang glider, surfing, running ultra-marathons or exploring the West on his motorcycle, Robert Harwood-Matthews is pretty much up for anything. He’s had to summon that embrace of adventure since joining TBWACD New York last October. In his first week, one of the agency’s largest accounts, Vonage, went into review, the loss of which triggered a 5 percent staff layoff. A couple of months later, long-term global client Absolut exited the agency. There’s been a churn in top executive ranks at the agency in recent years, with a subsequent effect on staff morale.

But after improving TBWACD London’s flagging fortunes with global wins like The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts during his tenure there, Harwood-Matthews likens the task to marathoning and remains focused on the finish line. “You’ve got to have a long game in your head, about where you’re going and a sense of how you’re going to get there,” the 42-year-old says. “You need to cut out a lot of noise around you and be Zen about how it won’t always go to plan.”

It appears to be working. Last month, the shop won BNY Mellon’s global creative business with TBWACD London. And it’s holding its breath on a few other pitches that are coming down to the wire.

Global CEO Tom Carroll transferred Harwood-Matthews because he wants the Manhattan office to become more worldly and closely connected to the global network. “London has always punched above its weight and has a much bigger presence in the advertising world,” says Carroll. “The business is more attractive to talent there while we’ve lost a lot of people to newer technology companies.”

Talent is a top priority. Harwood-Matthews brought in Matt Ian as executive creative director from Deutsch LA and digital strategy head Aki Spicer from Fallon. The new agency president has taken down his office walls and sits with top members of his team. “I loathe politics and negativity,” he notes.

The former archeology student finds life in New York a fascinating study of contrasts to London. There’s the obvious difference in scale where there are U.S. ad accounts equivalent to the size of entire London agencies as well as the cultural and geographic diversity. Then there’s the more egalitarian atmosphere. “In the U.S., advancing up the [ad agency] ladder may mean you can afford a Porsche and people are happy for you. In London, they’d drag a key alongside it,” he says.