This Time Y&R Picks an Insider to Lead Business Development

Alex Hughes has been at the shop since 1994

Two and half years ago, when Young & Rubicam CEO David Sable named a global head of business development, he chose an outsider to get a fresh, unvarnished perspective on the agency. This time, however, Sable has picked a consummate insider: Alex Hughes.

Hughes, a 21-year veteran of Y&R who also has worked at sister shop Wunderman, is now global chief marketing officer, reporting to Sable.

Most recently, Hughes was general manager of Y&R Europe and a global client development leader. In that role, he was based in Paris; his new job takes him back to the headquarters in New York.

By choosing an insider, Sable gets an executive who knows the agency's culture and its top players around the world. Hughes also has deep experience in managing global accounts, including Colgate-Palmolive and Citibank. His predecessor, global chief client growth officer Cathy Cohan, was a search consultant before joining Y&R, though she worked at agencies like OMD and BBDO before that. She'll leave Y&R at the end of the month.

When asked about the change in strategy for a key role, Sable said Cohan was critical to changing internal processes and gaining a better understanding of what consultants look for, but now he needs a "bulldog" like Hughes to create more opportunities.

"We know who we are. And we know what we have that's good and what we have that's not," Sable said. "And having somebody who knows the people, who knows the systems, who speaks (four) languages, who is respected in the system seemed to be more important than just gratuitously getting somebody from the outside."

Hughes will work closely with Sable and Beth Wade, the new business chief at sister digital shop VML. And when needed, he'll partner with executives from other units, including Bravo, Labstore and Iconmobile. He'll focus entirely on outside prospecting, as other execs concentrate on existing accounts and opportunities to expand those relationships.

Global account reviews—at least on the creative side—have been relatively scarce lately, at least in the first quarter of 2015. And in last year's big contest—Microsoft's global marketing services review—Y&R came up short, though Wunderman retained some of its direct marketing business. So, Y&R needs help on two fronts: getting into big pitches when they occur, and then closing, though that's largely the job of creative, strategic and business leaders.

So, what does Sable expect from Hughes a year from now? A "marquee win" in North America with annual revenue exceeding $10 million. And in Hughes, he sees the qualities needed to get there.

"He dogs everything. He has never been known to let anything fall between the cracks. He is absolutely insatiable," Sable said. "He's also a very collaborative, good guy. So, it's not like, 'Oh, yeah, he's wonderful, he's a wonderful guy and doesn't have the juice.' He's got both, and I think that's really the key."