How would you go about replacing the leader of WPP? I came across a cool article that sparked a thought or three.
A search like this is fun to think about. Because participating in the biggest placement of our business would trim years from saving for my condo by the sea. Ahhh. Feel those toes digging into the sand…
But the other reason this is interesting? I think we’re at a tipping point in our business. “In a world…” with the decline of the AOR… The rise of new competitors for thinking, work, platforms… Our talent drain. In-house bulk-ups. Standalone, bespoke agencies. Handcuffed, frustrated agency P&L leaders who are over-managed by corporate overlords. And that’s just for starters!
We gotta change our industry’s story and direction. And who better to lead that change than a new leader of our largest holding company?
Anywho, the article talks about who’s in charge of finding Martin Sorrell’s replacement and some of the things they’re looking for:
[Roberto Quarta, WPP executive chairman] gave a hint to shareholders at last week’s AGM that the new chief executive is likely to come from the advertising and marketing world.
In addition to having a track record of strong leadership, global management experience, and tech savvy, Quarta said the successful candidate would have “knowledge of the industry from different perspectives” and “should be great with clients.”
These are tough shoes to fill and all of that makes perfect sense. Here are a few more qualifications that should also be head-nods:
- Ensure they’ve made an ad in their past
- Adept at managing quarterly brand messages to stakeholders and opinion shapers
- Continually flexes a POV / recipe / template that drives organizational change and innovation
- Isn’t a knucklehead
So how do you go about finding a man or woman that fits that bill?
Here are few things I’d think about as I pulled together a plan:
- Understand the differences between what WPP might need in leadership vs. the other holding companies. WPP is the largest holding company, after all. How is it different than the other guys, and how might that impact the search?
- Start with known WPP leaders. No doubt there are a handful of professionals who are already familiar with the demonstrative, proven success of this company. So long as they have a vision and thoughts on how to continually deliver against financial and stakeholder expectations. (Update: looks like that might be happening here. At least for the short term.)
- Take a look at a few agency search consultants. Interesting angle. They have are fluent in client-speak, agency operations and growth experience.
- Take a look at execs in other holding companies who have managed and grown different types of agencies. Kind of a no-brainer. But I’d emphasize the “what’s different” screen.
- Consider a select handful of client-side leaders. I can think of at least two professionals that made the move from client side to agency leadership. There are many more, of course. But out of the ones with whom I have experience, one has thrived. The other hasn’t. Neither one has tech experience – which could be a really interesting candidate pool. Because they might have a better handle on innovation and customer experience.
- Stay away from “lifer” execs (more than 30 years at a specific agency). < yawn >
- Look at professionals who have aged up/out at major agencies and holding companies. To me, this can be different than agency lifers. But there are absolutely folks out there with proven chops. This is also suggesting this leader will probably have some grey in their hair.
- Change the way this professional is compensated to more closely match downstream P&L leaders. Ooof. I love this idea, which could mitigate potential bad press and badwill from other WPPers. And call me crazy, but I’d put in some mechanics that can avoid any financial shenanigans that enrich the CEO at the expense of employees and stockholders. (Having worked at several holding company agencies for years, it’d be nice to know that my respective leader is measured the same way I am. It makes the annual profit scoop a little easier to bear).
- Understand and then leverage the internal powerful decision-makers to help identify the best candidates.
- Stick around to help the company roll out the new hire to key internal and external audiences, including clients.
- Share what can be learned and what’s appropriate in the search process with my client. This goes without saying, but respect the confidentiality, trust and sanctity of thinking and relationships of a high-calibre search. The process itself will lead to some really cool ideas, connections and relationships that will help WPP. And the fees WPP would pay the outside firm justify that kind of long-lasting value beyond finding a single person.
- Find an executive search partner with results at this heady level. Sadly, this rules out yours truly! 😉
To be clear, a search like this one isn’t for me. (However, let the record show I have found agency P&L and department leaders for big agencies.) Speaking of which, while there are no doubt more bullets to write, Papa’s gotta get billable. An agency GM, new business leader and a planner don’t find themselves!
What have I left out in the above thinking? Write me with your thoughts. Happy agencying!
photo credit: znichka.footage Trading Quotes Ticker Board – Creative Commons Footage via photopin (license)
P.S. Related: saw this AdAge article that features one of WPP’s current co-CEOs. The one that’s “stuck his hand up” for the job. Good reading.