Predictable but polished succession plan from BBH

Advertising agencies are not known for showering one another with praise, but if there is one agency that is almost universally revered it is Bartle Bogle Hegarty. And, after 25 years, it is not just BBH’s “wow factor” work that has won it so many admirers. The agency is also seen as a hugely successful business with a seamless succession plan in place to preserve its credibility and culture.

So it came as no surprise when it announced this week that chief operating officer Simon Sherwood is replacing Nigel Bogle as group chief executive, with former UK chief Gwyn Jones becoming chief operating officer, as exclusively revealed by Marketing Week (October 25, 2007). As part of the changes, Bogle assumes the role of group chairman, while Sir John Hegarty’s position as worldwide creative director remains unchanged.

Extending the top table
One advertising source claims: “This does not fundamentally change anything. The restructure only means that a fourth seat has been added to the top table.”

Bogle says there are three main reasons behind the move: “First, it reflects our desire to strengthen our global management team, with India on the agenda for this year and an expanding global account list after wins like LG. It is also about our commitment to planning ahead for seamless management succession in key roles and our desire to continue to grow our management from within.”

The new management structure is likely to give Bogle more time to develop concepts such as Zag, the agency’s branded content division, which observers suggest could one day help BBH achieve its dream of being “in the running for the Oscars”. Sources say it is a dream shared by Bogle’s heir apparent Jones, who joined the agency as one of its first graduate trainees in 1987.

The media-shy Jones rose to become chief executive of the London office before going to BBH New York in 2004 to “preside over the most successful years in the North American agency’s nine-year history”.

RKCR/Y&R chief executive Richard Exon, a former BBH director, says: “The real currency that Gwyn has is vision and, like Nigel, he can carry both people and clients with him. Nigel’s agenda is to keep his sheep black and Gwyn is the blackest of his sheep so he will do very well in the long run.”

TBWA UK group chairman Tim Lindsay, who worked alongside Sherwood at BBH and hired Jones, adds: “Both Simon and Gwyn put themselves on the line and proved their worth. Gwyn was able to turn around New York and Simon started Singapore.”

Sherwood’s tenure
Sherwood joined BBH as its first account manager in 1982. He relocated to Singapore to start BBH’s first overseas office in 1996 and moved back to the UK in 1998. Though some claim he will walk away from advertising once he has made enough money, others say he is too “Unilever-obsessed” to leave BBH. Lindsay adds: “He is incredibly hard working and loyal towards BBH and has absorbed all the good qualities of the three founders.”

However, critics argue that the danger for the agency is that as it gets bigger and arguably more corporate, there will be little room for “svengali-like” Bogle and Hegarty figures to run the agency. Some believe that, although Jones might be the “chosen one”, he will have a long, arduous road ahead of him.

But Lindsay concludes: “Whatever BBH does, it will be boringly successful – as it always has been.” 

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