Lesnau anointed rainmaker at JWT

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J. Walter Thompson Co. is naming its first new-business chief to oversee North America at the same time that the longtime general manager of its Detroit and Houston offices quietly exits.

Roman Lesnau, 40, already a senior partner in the WPP Group agency's Detroit office, assumes the post of director-new business development, reporting to Bob Jeffrey, president of JWT North America. Mr. Lesnau will relocate to the New York office.

Mr. Jeffrey said that, with the post, JWT will now have "someone in this position 100% dedicated to new business." He cited the network's 2000 track record of $300 million in new net billings in the U.S.; its wins include Sun Microsystems, KPMG and Foster's Beer. "We had a really good track record in the last 12 to 18 months. It's amazing we didn't have someone dedicated to new business. We want to blow it out even further."

But the shop also posted some major losses during that time, much of it from offices overseen by Steve Brown, exec VP-general manager, who has left the agency. Mr. Brown, named to JWT's board last fall, was charged with running non-auto accounts, including Kellogg USA, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Kohl's Department Stores. Last summer, Kohl's moved its estimated $95 million creative and media account without a review to Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann-Erickson Worldwide; Kellogg in February shifted the business for eight cereals, estimated at $55 million, to Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. This year, JWT chose not to participate in a review for Goodyear, which ultimately moved its $60 million account to Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco.

Mr. Jeffrey declined to comment. Peter Schweitzer, the Detroit-based global CEO of JWT, was on vacation last week and couldn't be reached. An agency spokesman declined to comment.

Mr. Brown said "a lot of issues need to be resolved" before he could comment, adding only, "I'm proud of what my group accomplished. We had a great run."

A JWT insider described Mr. Brown as "a very good account guy" who "got stretched pretty thin" with responsibilities that "took more than one person to do."

Jeff Ewald, general manager of the Detroit office, will assume the duties of Mr. Brown, who first joined JWT in 1969.

With the appointment of Mr. Lesnau, the agency is clearly focusing on building new accounts. Detroit-born and bred, Mr. Lesnau joined JWT a year after graduating in 1983 from the University of Michigan with a degree in design and marketing. He was director of all JWT's regional Ford Division dealer accounts for Ford Motor Co. until late 1998 when he joined the shop's Ford International Group as business-development manager. He had headed new business at the Detroit office for just over a year.

"New York is the headquarters and portal for the agency and 90% of the time New York gets the RFPs," said Mr. Lesnau. His focus will be how to best use the network's resources for pitches as well as building and cultivating client relationships. "The best tool we've had when we go into a pitch is a recommendation from a current client," he said.

JWT's plan is to go after categories without network conflicts, including airlines, hotels, department stores, apparel and shipping.

JWT's Bob McClowry, exec VP overseeing 63 Ford dealer accounts, said his former underling was able to identify issues a new client might have and address them in pitches. Mr. Lesnau was instrumental in helping the agency win reviews for six regional dealer group accounts in 1997. "I always thought his perfect job would be new business."

Mr. Lesnau, who rises early to keep up his competitive rowing, said he's looking forward to his new job. "It's a difficult time right now and I thrive on competition."

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