Q&A: JWT’s Vega Olmos

NEW YORK The opportunity to work on Unilever enticed Fernando Vega Olmos to sell his Argentina-based shop to Interpublic Group in 1998 and his subsequent award-winning work on brands like Axe and Rexona vaulted him to worldwide creative director on Unilever at IPG’s Lowe in 2004.

Now, his success on that big global client is what led to a regional leadership post at rival Unilever roster shop JWT. In mid-January, the 50-year-old native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, becomes creative chairman for Continental Europe and Latin America, reporting to worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey.

Last week, a week after the hire, Vega Olmos talked to senior reporter Andrew McMains about his new boss, the expectations of WPP CEO Martin Sorrell and why Unilever global chief marketing officer Simon Clift wasn’t entirely pleased with the move.

Adweek: What drew you to JWT?
Vega Olmos: Over the last month, I had good chats with Bob Jeffrey. And he was pretty clear about what he wants and why he was asking me to join them. After so many years with Lowe, as a partner to my agency in Buenos Aires and then working in London and Madrid, I thought it was a good time to make a change. I’m leaving Lowe with everything going well.

How were your conversations with Bob?
I had four or five conversations in different places around the world — in New York, in London…I like him because I think he’s a pretty straightforward guy…I have no idea honestly about what I’m going to find in JWT. All these changes at the beginning — you need time to readjust yourself to the new culture. I also know people at JWT. So, I’m real excited with the change. Let’s see if I can do something useful there.

How was the job described to you?
This was a very honest chat that I had with Bob. He said to me, “Look Fernando, I really have a brilliant creative director in New York and I really have a brilliant creative director in London. So would you consider a kind of global or regional position or something like this?” I said, “Look, thanks for saying that you don’t need a global creative director because I don’t believe in that kind of role.”
Why not?
Let’s be honest here, the world is really big. And for instance, Asia itself is (like) a world. So, I said to Bob, “What if we considered something like Europe and Latin America? Because it’s something that I have some experience of doing at Lowe and I think it’s doable.”

How did Tony Wright react to your leaving and did he try to counter the offer?
Not really, because I had a very open chat with him. I’ve worked with him very well for almost four years and I have a very good relationship with him. He was quite shocked at the beginning of the conversation, but then he said, “OK, look, I know that at some point in your career you need a new challenge and I wish you the best.” He’s a good guy.

Is Lowe concerned given your relationship with Unilever and now having to fill your position?
I don’t think so, because honestly they’ll have everything they need to keep on doing great work for Unilever. [VegaOlmosPonce] is a great agency in Buenos Aires, running very important Unilever brands and projects. [Lowe Latina] in Madrid is doing fabulous things with ice cream and other stuff. When things are not going well, you should think twice about a thing like this. …And of course, having a great relationship with many people at Unilever, I do like Unilever a lot. It’s a client that really gave me the opportunity to create great work. I’m going to miss this a lot but at the same time JWT is running some Unilever brands, so I think I’m going to keep in touch with the guys.