Age cannot wither them, nor shareholders vote them off the holding company board

April 16, 2013

David-Jones---Havas-007Whoever said advertising was a young person’s business? The conventional wisdom is that at 40, most ad executives would be advised to investigate a second career. And at 50, they’ll be positively clapped out and  have “post-economic” freedom foisted upon them whether they like it or not.

Superficially, membership statistics for the Institute of Practitioners of Advertisers (IPA – the UK adman’s trade body) bear this theory out. When I last looked (which was admittedly a while ago, but I doubt the demographic profile has improved), the number of members surviving their 50th birthday was a vanishingly small 6%.

But these are just the worker bees. Look at the nerve centre of the hive – the main board of the world’s leading advertising holding companies – and you’ll find that gerontocracy has never had it so good.

I was forcibly reminded of this the other day by Marketing Services Financial Intelligence editor Bob Willott.

Willott has done a demographic survey of the Omnicom main board and found the average age to be an astonishing 70. In his own words:

The oldest of the 13 board members is the chairman and former chief executive officer Bruce Crawford.  He is 84 and has been a director for 24 years. His successor as CEO John Wren is a sprightly 60 and has served on the board for 20 years.

I have yet to do the arithmetic upon the board composition of other global holding companies, but the most superficial of surveys suggests a similar age-profile, if their chief executives are anything to go by. At WPP Group, there is an evergreen Sir Martin Sorrell – still incontrovertibly ruling the roost at 68; and likely to do so for a good while yet unless shareholders go nuclear over his annual pay review. Interpublic Group chairman and CEO Michael Roth sails imperturbably on at 67, despite repeated attempts by the media to unseat him or sell his company to a rival. And at Publicis Groupe we have the grand-daddy of them all Maurice Lévy – 71 – with no successor in sight, despite repeated attempts to pretend he has found one.

All this looks terribly good for that comparative whipper-snapper, David Jones (pictured above). At only 46, the global CEO of Havas can anticipate at least another 25 years at the helm.


Havas’ David Jones – the man who would be king

March 9, 2011

What a week to be away. Mark Lund, chief executive of the COI, announces he is quitting after only two years (it’s usually a five-year contract) to return to the private sector. There could be no bleaker verdict on the outlook for public-sector marcomms expenditure in the foreseeable future.

Meantime, David Jones (on the right) has emerged as group CEO of Havas’ global operations. Jones takes over from Fernando Rodes, who has held the post since billionaire financier and industrialist Vincent Bolloré first became chairman and principal shareholder (35%) of Havas.

At first sight, the management shake-up comes as a complete surprise, with Rodes unexpectedly announcing his semi-retirement at a board meeting yesterday. In fact, the accompanying restructure has all the hallmarks of a carefully stage-managed event. It should also be noted that Rodes’ resignation comes precisely five years after he was installed in 2006.

Rodes has been competent rather than outstanding at the Havas helm, and seems to have been feeling the pressure from Bolloré. Global expansion has been hesitant and Havas’ recent set of annual results show solid rather than spectacular signs of recovery. They certainly lag the performance of the really big hitters such as WPP and Omnicom.

Rodes is a complex and somewhat enigmatic figure. He holds many trump cards: urbane, an accomplished linguist, well plugged into the Franco-Iberian business community, he is also a key player in MPG – a media planning/buying specialist set up by his father Leopold, and now a strategic component of Havas. But the appeal (like MPG’s) is regional rather than global. And he comes across as a somewhat reluctant leader.

Jones, whose middle name is ‘Vitality’, can be accused of no such reticence. For some time, he has been the obvious leader-in-waiting, as head of EuroRSCG Worldwide and latterly Havas Worldwide (meaning all of Havas’ global advertising operations). Which is where the recent growth, particularly in North America, has really been happening.

To these responsibilities will now be added MPG, plus other media buying units such as Arena. Note, however, that Jones’ own power-base remains intact: he will continue to be CEO of EuroRSCG.

He’s a shoo-in in other respects, too. Fluent in three languages (English, French and German), Jones has been an indefatigable performer on the world stage ever since he rose to prominence at Havas. He is a natural brand ambassador.

We should not underestimate his achievement, however. At 44, he is the youngest-ever CEO of a premier league advertising and marketing services group. He is also that extraordinarily rare phenomenon, a Brit in charge of one of France’s most cherished companies.

No pressure then, though I doubt he’ll show it.


The conundrum at the core of Apple

July 21, 2010

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair! Apple’s awesome quarterly results have made ‘Antennagate’ – the obscure controversy surrounding iPhone 4’s wraparound aerial – a storm in a teacup.

Sales up 61% to $15.7bn, $1bn ahead of expectations; earnings up 77% to $3.25bn; all product categories performing well, most breaking new sales records: these are the kind of things that Wall Street wants to hear. And which have enabled Apple – having lost ground to Microsoft after the iPhone  crisis ‘press conference’ last week caused a share-price dip – to recover its status as the world’s largest tech company, estimated by market capitalisation.

Most gratifying for the company will have been the success of the iPad tablet computer, launched during this reporting period. With 3.27 million units sold (worth $2bn in sales), Apple has once and for all disposed of the vociferous nay-sayers, who claimed it was launching into a non-existent market niche.

And yet, and yet. Quarterly figures, however good, are the rear-view mirror. The Antennagate controversy has revealed to the wider world a worrying chink in Apple’s corporate armour. Steve Jobs, the wayward business genius at the heart of Apple’s success is also its Achilles’ heel. “Control freak” does not do justice to his paranoia about the competition or his obsessive secrecy. Apple is a cutting-edge corporation powered by an old-fashioned command-and-control culture. One which proved pitifully inadequate in dealing with adversity.

If you haven’t already, read David Jones’ post on Pitch: ‘Why Apple needs some social media duct tape’. The light touch belies a serious purpose. For all its immersion in the white heat of consumer technology, Apple simply doesn’t “get” 24/7 media.


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