“Auf Wiedersehen!” Jens May Have Left The Building, But GroupM’s CEO Search Is More Pressing

“Auf Wiedersehen!” Jens May Have Left The Building, But GroupM’s CEO Search Is More Pressing

The local operations of WPP are now squarely under the control of Mother London. The AUNZ board is no more and AUNZ CEO, Jens Monsees, has fallen on his sword after just 18 months, reluctant to take on the country manager role he was offered now his CEO role became redundant following the buyout.

One thing’s for sure, Jens will be missing the pay cheque. The 40-something was on a reported $1.5 million a year salary, a $250,000 a year bonus and a further $250K for his kids’ schooling and annual return trip back to the Motherland to visit family and friends. And, not to infer, it wasn’t deserved.

For the record, Monsees declined B&T’s opportunity to comment on this story but you can read his LinkedIn farewell below:

Sources close to Monsees have told B&T that he plans to remain in the country if the opportunity – that being another CEO role – were to materialise. Monsees believing he possesses the digital skills lacking in senior roles in Australia.

“His kids have made a huge effort to relocate to Australia and learn the language,” the source said, “he wants to remain in Australia for them, they really like living here.

“Jens wants to be a CEO of an ASX listed company. The country manager role he was offered by the London office is too lip service; plus, it would’ve locked him into a non-compete for 12 months and that would have affected his ability to take up a better role elsewhere,” the source said.

There had even been industry gossip he could take the top job role at GroupM –  hurriedly vacated by Mark Lollback in mid-March – although that now appears all a bit fanciful.

Monsees’ brief reign had also been plagued by murmurings of disquiet amongst WPP’s senior ranks that culminated in the departure of the agency’s elder statesman and talisman, John ‘Steady’ Steedman, in October.

The talk was that there was a clique of senior agency bosses – some who’d applied for but been overlooked for Monsees’ job – had bandied together to oust the German.

Last November, industry site Mi3 aired the dirty laundry, quoting an unnamed source “familiar with the situation” who said Monsees “doesn’t listen, he dictates and is ruthless around what his incentive is”.

In Monsees’ defence, the source added: “There are some people in WPP AUNZ who probably need to go, they’ve been there too long, they’re stuck in their ways.”

For his part, Monsees was big on transformation and there were few interviews he gave to journalists where the word wasn’t a recurrent theme.

In an interview with B&T in December he appeared to have a veiled dig at his conspirators within WPP towers when he said the main reason businesses failed to transform – there’s that word again – was the people, not the strategy.

“Often transformation projects are just focusing on changing capabilities, product service offerings, but in fact, they are leaving out the people,” Monsees said. “This is why in every successful transformation, we have to drive it from the people’s first talents, lifelong learning and being flexible or with a flexible mindset.”

But with Monsees gone, the question now remains who’ll take the reigns of the local operations and its 4000-strong staff? Will an Aussie be given a promotion or will the London head office parachute in a Brit keen on a three-year secondment in the Australian sun?

Announcing Monsees’ departure last Friday, London head office said the local Aussie operations would, in the interim, be managed by CFO Chris Rollinson and CCO Andrew Scott until a “new WPP leader is appointed”.

One WPP insider revealed to B&T that Ogilvy Australia’s David Fox was being groomed to be Monsees’ budget priced replacement. However, that idea all came to nought when, in mid-January, Fox announced he was leaving for a Dubai posting as Ogilvy’s boss of its Middle East and North Africa operations.

Another star performer and possible candidate is said to be its highly regarded chief strategy officer, Rose Herceg. (Read a recent B&T interview with Herceg here.)

One WPP staffer recently regaled B&T of Herceg’s merits: “She knows the business, knows our clients, understands what our agencies need to thrive; she’s ferociously smart.”

To his credit, Monsees championed the new WPP script from head office, that being likeminded agencies – say Wunderman Thompson – didn’t need to be managed internally, rather they’d be collaborative in a global sense. Rather than answer to a local CEO, Wunderman Thompsons everywhere would answer to Wunderman Thompsons!

In early May, seemingly innocuous news filtered out of the London head office that WPP had partnered with Microsoft (read B&T’s reporting here) that the two had partnered in a cloud-based scheme that enabled WPP’s creative agencies anywhere to create creative no matter where they were. A cynic might even suggest that creative was now being farmed out to the lowest bidder.

When pressed what the future of the AUNZ operations may look like, another senior agency boss told B&T: “We’d find out five minutes before you journalists do!” A reference that internal communications arguably aren’t what they should be.

But again, it’s unclear if WPP supremo Mark Read will appoint a CEO outright or instead prefer what’s commonly referred to as a country manager.

It’s a similar model adopted by ViacomCBS for its Network 10 operations here in Australia where two local 2ICs – in this instance Beverley McGarvey and Jarrod Villani – simply do the bidding of ViacomCBS’ New York head office.

But all this arguably doesn’t answer WPP’s most pressing concern – a feisty boss for its underperforming GroupM agencies who, it has to be said, haven’t won too much in recent times.

GroupM – as it is in every territory that WPP operates – is the holding company’s cash cow and sadly the cash register hasn’t been ringing as loudly as it should be of late for the bean counters back in London.

Things soured markedly when, in March, MediaCom lost the Victorian Government’s $100 million media spend to arch-rival OMD.

In late March MediaCom came oh-so-close to redeeming itself when it narrowly missed landing the Toyota media account. Again, the $100 million-a-year pitch driving off to Publicis’ Spark Foundry in a fit of tear-inducing exhaust fumes.

By this stage, someone at WPP – be it Monsees or overseas – had had enough and GroupM CEO Mark Lollback “departed immediately”. Still, Lollback was defiant, insisting he wasn’t shown the door, telling B&T he’d actually resigned from the role – to take up director opportunities – as far back as Christmas.

All that said, GroupM appears to have two outstanding candidates for the role in Mindshare’s Katie Rigg-Smith and Wavemaker’s Peter Vogel, yet neither name appears to be getting much traction in betting circles.

As Mark Read declared last Friday in announcing Monsees’ departure from, what is, WPP’s fifth-biggest global market: “We have fantastic agency brands in Australia and New Zealand – which are among our most important global markets – and we are very excited about their potential to grow and to meet the needs of our clients in a fast-changing world.”

Once again, it remains a fascinating yet tense time for the Australian operations of the world’s biggest media conglomerate.





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