WPP Replaces An Outsider With An Insider At Y&R

WPP Group’s selection last week of insider Hamish McLennan as worldwide CEO of Young & Rubicam gives a respected regional leader with a classic account management background a chance to prove himself on a global stage.

And from those angles, McLennan, former CEO of Y&R Brands in Australia and New Zealand, contrasts greatly with his predecessor, Ann Fudge, a former division president at Kraft Foods who had never worked at an agency when she took the reins of Y&R and its parent Y&R Brands in May 2003. As WPP CEO Martin Sorrell put it last week, “We went [outside] with Ann. Now we’re going within.”

Fudge, 55, remains as worldwide chairman and CEO of Y&R Brands, which also includes Wunderman, Landor Associates, Burson-Marsteller and Sudler & Hennessey. And McLennan will report to her, as well as Sorrell. Still, the 40-year-old Aussie stressed Friday, “The big thing is I’m fully empowered to make all the decisions.”

The appointment ended an estimated 18-month search for a new chief at Y&R, which employs about 6,500 worldwide and whose key global clients include Ford, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone and Chevron. The shop’s global revenue is estimated at $800 million, according to sources. Asked why the search, which also included outsiders, took so long, Sorrell said: “I was in no hurry to do it. It was a question of having the right person,” before adding that the length of the search “was more a figment of the trade press’ imagination.”

Since 2002, McLennan has led about 10 agencies in Australia and New Zealand, including George Patterson Y&R, Wunderman, The Campaign Palace and IdeaWorks. (Y&R last August purchased the 70 percent of George Patterson Bates that WPP didn’t already own and merged the two operations—a six-month process that McLennan led.) Collectively, McLennan, who was based in Sydney, oversaw about 1,200 staffers at shops that generated about $180 million in revenue last year.

“He’s got a very strong track record, albeit in Australia and New Zealand,” said Sorrell, who also mentioned McLennan’s experience in Hong Kong, where from 1994 to 1996, he was international client services director at Bates. “He’s a first-class manager of his generation.”

McLennan, an outdoorsman who loves to ski, fish and sail in his spare time, described his management style as direct and transparent. “I’m a good listener, comfortable making decisions, pragmatic,” he said, adding, “I like getting close to the creative process.”

Initially, his priorities will include hiring new talent, including a new managing partner at the agency’s headquarters in New York, and broadening the shop’s creative palette, especially in the digital realm. Revenue growth also is crucial, with the agency’s U.S. operation lagging behind its peers after two straight years of flat revenue, in 2004 and 2005. On the new-business front, McLennan said he’d focus equally on global and North American pitches.

Colleagues described the new CEO as a shrewd businessman who is hands-on, client-focused, competitive and flexible. Before Y&R, he was national managing director at George Patterson Bates in Melbourne. “He engenders teamwork in a very strong way,” said Fudge, who interacted with him on Y&R’s eight- person worldwide board. “He inspires people, and he’s a man of integrity . . . and somebody who knows the company.”

John Gerzema, chief insights officer for Y&R Brands, sees McLennan as a kindred spirit who champions creativity. “He’s going to bring great energy. And he’s very focused on winning.”