Spanning the Globe to Fill Corner Office

NEW YORK In the world of advertising, a game of follow the leader requires a map and compass. Andrew Robertson, David Jones, Stephen Gatfield—these and many others have crossed oceans to run major U.S. agency networks as the industry continues to reach beyond the border for its most senior positions.

Observers credit the trend not only to the well-documented dearth of U.S.-bred management talent, but to an increasing demand for executives with global experience and the ability to work across disciplines.

The most recent example of a foreign exec heading to the U.S. is Chris Jaques, a Briton who was CEO of Y&R Asia for the past three years and who starts Friday as CEO of Y&R North America. He succeeds Gordon McLean, a Canadian, who took the new post of global managing partner at the agency.

Jaques was appointed by Hammish McLennan, an Australian who was CEO of Y&R in his native country and New Zealand until June, when he accepted the worldwide CEO job, succeeding U.S.-born Ann Fudge. She remains CEO of Y&R Brands. Click here to read an interview with Chris Jaques

Additionally, Publicis Groupe’s Fallon is said to be focusing on internal candidates in the agency’s search for chairman Pat Fallon’s successor, and chief among the names being floated are Britons Robert Senior, who is managing partner of Fallon London and Fallon International president Michael Wall.

Of the “old guard,” Robertson, a Zimbabewan who spent most of his career in the U.K., is now worldwide CEO at BBDO; Jones, a Briton who worked in the U.K. and France and ran Euro RSCG’s Australia region before joining Euro RSCG as New York CEO, is now worldwide CEO of the network; and Gatfield, now Lowe’s CEO, is a U.K. native who ran Leo Burnett in London and Asia Pacific, and who ran its international network from Chicago. Also on the list is Jean Marie Dru, a Frenchman who is CEO of TBWA; and Brett Gosper, an Australian, who has held senior posts in his native country plus France, Germany and the U.K. at various agencies. He is now president, McCann Erickson U.S.

Gatfield noted that the influx of talent is due partially to the types of managers being churned out in the U.S. Here, he suggested, the industry is too domestically focused. “More growth is coming from emerging markets,” he said. “By default rather than by design, people who have done more of the network management in regions have become more attractive … because they have more global experience.”

Euro RSCG’s Jones concurred. “Paradoxically, the huge size and scale of business in the USA means that overseas executives sometimes get a broader range of experience at an earlier age, including hands-on management experience,” he said. “For example, you are probably not going to name a 30-year-old as CEO of your New York agency, but you might do that in Sydney.”

Paul S. Gumbinner, president, The Gumbinner Co. in New York, pointed out that not only do U.S. managers get less global exposure, but disciplines here remain largely siloed, leaving people less adept at running truly integrated offices.

“Our managers are great, but senior people overseas who’ve worked in smaller markets get more exposure to the various disciplines,” he noted. “Everything here is still so compartmentalized.”

“Advertising generally in the U.S. is also becoming less traditional,” said Patrizia Magni, managing director for North and Latin America at San Francisco-based Kendall Tarrant, echoing Gumbinner’s point. “Agencies are trying to shape new models of communication, [and] digital creative talent is very strong in Brazil and Scandinavia, for instance. Britain has dominated account planning. The more interesting companies are the ones that are mixing talent from all different places.”

Attrition in the advertising industry, either through cuts or the greener pastures of other businesses, has also shrunk the management talent pool in the last five years, according to Magni. As a global recruiter, she said she has seen a need in the U.S. “to open up to international talent.”

Plus, geographic barriers aren’t what they used to be.

“Maybe there’s been a talent issue in the States,” said McCann’s Gosper, “but the globalization of the business makes people consider your skills and experience more than where you’re from. The parochial barriers in the U.S. to taking someone out of another market just don’t exist anymore. People don’t see cultural differences as much as they used to.”

—with Andrew McMains and Aaron Baar