Room Nearer the Top Gets Gosper to TBWA

NEW YORK Brett Gosper, a former rugby center, plays to win. So, last week, when it leaked that the 44-year-old Australian was switching teams, leaving his post as general manager at McCann Erickson, New York, after just nine months to become president of the much smaller, struggling New York Group of TBWA Worldwide, it was as much a surprise to the rank and file at his new employer as it was to his stunned colleagues at McCann.

But Gosper’s decision cannot be explained by the numbers: A direct line and direct access to the top are behind the move. At Omnicom Group’s TBWA, Gosper, who starts Sept. 7, will report to worldwide CEO Jean-Marie Dru. At Interpublic Group’s McCann, he reported to North America regional director Eric Keshin, who in turn reported to McCann CEO John Dooner. Sources said Keshin never fully stopped running the New York office, a situation that was increasingly frustrating to Gosper. And, should he be successful, Gosper could emerge as a candidate to succeed Dru, 57, now in his third year at the head of the $9.7 billion global network. (Among other potential successors is Paul Bainsfair, 50, president of TBWA’s European operations.) Former TBWA president of the Americas Tom Carroll, 49, has been given the sometimes nebulous title of vice chairman.

Gosper’s unfettered access to Dru will give him the autonomy he needs to address the $400 million office’s wobbly course, said sources. His new post also includes oversight of marketing-services unit Tequila and consultancy Brand Architecture International.

Described by colleagues as energetic, entrepreneurial, assertive and a no-nonsense leader, Gosper becomes the fourth head of TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York since 1997, a period in which the agency has had just as many creative chiefs. “Brett is smart, hardworking and seductive,” said Dru. “You often find two of these qualities in the same person but almost never all three of them.”

He will need them. The agency has had just two major wins, Nextel and Skittles, in the past 15 months through roughly 15 reviews.

Talks between Dru and Gosper began recently and progressed quickly, said sources.

Carroll, who had overseen advertising and marketing services in North, Central and South America since April 2001, still reports to Dru but will focus on new-business development and client relationships. He will have fewer operational duties and more time to spend with global accounts such as Adidas and Absolut. Some feel it plays to his strengths as a client handler. “It’s true. It’s what I do best,” said Carroll, who seemed to take the change in stride, at least for now.

Omnicom CEO John Wren was quick to voice support for Carroll in his new role. “Tommy’s position is even more enhanced, despite what people think of his new title,” he said. “When you look at the substance of the job, you see how important it is.”

TBWA\C\D New York president Shona Seifert will now report to Gosper instead of Carroll and settle for what appears to be a nominal place on the organizational chart. Since January, she has been fighting a federal indictment stemming from her stewardship of the $120 million Office of National Drug Control Policy account at Ogilvy & Mather.

Dru also took the opportunity to reward Robert LePlae, 44, president of TBWA\C\D’s Playa del Rey, Calif., office, giving him a seat on TBWA’s worldwide operating group. Gosper also will be part of the 14-person group; the rest of the members are regional chiefs.

Gosper’s move also is a reunion of sorts. He worked for Dru as deputy managing director of BBDP’s Paris office from 1989 to 1994, during which time he also set up BBDP Frankfurt. In 1994, Euro RSCG approached Gosper and creative partner Mark Wnek to form Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper in London.

Of his time at McCann, Gosper said, “There’s a part of me that’s frustrated, because I haven’t completed the job.” But he added, “What I’m being offered at TBWA in terms of my career and future is hard to turn down. It’s the right choice for the next five years.”

Though surprised, McCann execs reacted calmly to Gosper’s exit. “We’re disappointed that Brett is leaving, but the core team that built McCann New York is intact,” said Keshin, referring to chief creative officer Nina DiSesa, top U.S. strategy officers Nat Puccio and Suresh Nair, and Universal McCann CEO Robin Kent. “We have leadership, and we have momentum. I led [New York] for four years and will continue to do so.”

Keshin, 45, will wear two hats as McCann’s head of North America and New York, as he did before Gosper’s arrival last November. McCann intends to find a new GM.

Asked why he thinks he can succeed where others have failed of late, Gosper replied, “I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.”

This story updates an item posted Aug. 20 with details about Carroll and other TBWA executives.