Former Interpublic Group of Cos. exec Steve Gatfield is joining Naked Communications as New York-based co-chairman starting June 1 to help grow the international agency, part of Australia's Photon Group since 2008. He'll work closely with Jon Wilkins, Naked's founder and co-chairman.
Mr. Gatfield, a former Leo Burnett executive, joined Interpublic as exec VP-strategy and network operations but wanted to get back to running a network. The holding company tapped him to be CEO of Lowe Worldwide in 2006 and determine if the struggling network could survive. Mr. Gatfield spent three years at Lowe and achieved a turnaround in growth and profitability.
For the past two years, Mr. Gatfield, 52, has been working in digital content and emerging-media technologies. He's a director of digital-entertainment company Believe Entertainment, and a founding investor in social targeting platform 33Across.
"It's fantastic to have someone partnering with Jon to oversee the global operation," said Paul Woolmington, founding partner of Naked Americas. Naked currently has 14 offices around the globe, including Amsterdam, Auckland, London, Melbourne, Minneapolis, Mumbai, New York, Paris, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and three offices in the Nordics.
"Jon and Steve have a great relationship, which is obviously a key ingredient," said Mr. Woolmington. He said Jeremy Phillips, the CEO of Photon Group, was also very involved in the hire, as he "has got huge ambitions for us and for Photon Group."
"It's been something we've been thinking about for a long time, trying to find someone who'd allow us to get to the next level. ... Naked has got incredible ambitions," he said. That includes "deeper services and more geographies."
Mr. Gatfield's experience with companies in need of a turnaround will be useful at Photon. The company has struggled with high debt and falling revenue. Photon raised money in late 2010, ending a period of uncertainty that the company said created "some distraction for staff, clients and potential hires." The restructuring included reducing Photon's operating units from 45 to 26, through mergers and sales, and repayment of part of the company's debt in January.
In a filing for Australia's stock exchange earlier this month, Photon said net revenue fell by 6% for the 10 months ended April 30, from the same period a year earlier. Net revenue for the international division fell by 8% for the 10-month period, which Photon attributed to "the lower results of Naked and [custom research firm] The Leading Edge in [the first half of 2011] versus the prior period, however the performance of both these agencies has improved since earlier in the financial year."
Photon noted in the filing that the company's debt at the end of April was $222 million, with an additional $33 million of cash payments due over the next four years to companies bought by Photon. Most of that money -- up to $27 million -- is expected to be due in the next six months, the company said.
At Naked, Mr. Gatfield is likely to look at two fast-growing areas the agency hasn't entered yet: China and Latin America. At Interpublic, he was involved in new ventures in China and Brazil. Before that , he worked at Leo Burnett, and ran that network's Asia operations before becoming Chicago-based chief operating officer, until Burnett eliminated that position in 2003.
"We're a global enterprise and someone of Steve's caliber, with amazing marketing services experience and operations experience, is wonderful," Mr. Woolmington said. "He's going to be doing quite a lot of travel, and he's going to start ASAP."