The Player: Lace intends to put Grey's London office back on map

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A giant banner bearing the legend "under reconstruction" greets all visitors to Grey Worldwide's London office. The words apply to more than just the building's facade. The whole agency is in the process of radical change, thanks to its whirlwind CEO Garry Lace.

When Mr. Lace, 35, joined Grey in November last year, the agency needed to raise its creative heat. Dominated by three multinational clients-Procter & Gamble Co., Mars and GlaxoSmith Kline-its creative profile was zero and, despite being the 14th biggest agency in the U.K., it was invisible.

Then came Mr. Lace. Jaws dropped all over town when it was announced that he had quit as CEO of Omnicom Group's TBWA, London, to take up a role at Grey that had been vacant for 18 months.

"I was fascinated by people saying that Grey couldn't be turned around," Mr. Lace said, "I didn't believe it. Anything is possible, and I fancied a challenge."

He's determined to make an impact in the local market, and to be among the top five agencies for new business in 2003. In his first six months, Grey won Visa International and Dairy Crest, together worth $50 million.

Suddenly, Grey Worldwide, London, started attracting some of the brightest people in the business from shops with creative reputations like Publicis Groupe's Fallon and Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

"There are two types of people in the world: drains and radiators," Mr. Lace told his staff when he joined. "I want 250 radiators in this agency." Then he cut 48 jobs.

Mr. Lace is an industrial strength power heater. "People love being with Garry," said Johnny Hornby, partner at London's Clemmow Hornby Inge. "He has phenomenal determination and a sense of humor that can always turn a situation."

pitches lost

Carolyn Carter, president, Grey Global Group Europe, Middle East and Africa, likes the energy he has brought. "Clients can feel his commitment, and there is a buzz going on here."

But the London office still has a long way to go. The agency recently lost out on two big pitches-Royal Mail ($33 million) and McCain Foods ($25 million)-although Grey's presence on the shortlists was a mark of progress.

"I'm impatient for change, but I have to keep reminding myself that success of the kind I want takes time," Mr. Lace said, "and I can't do it on my own. I'm responsible for the mood and the money, but the management team will set the strategy and the creative agenda."

Mr. Lace joined Saatchi & Saatchi in 1990, then moved on to Young & Rubicam, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. In 1997, he joined Simons Palmer Clemmow Johnson. When Simons Palmer merged with TBWA in 1998, Mr Lace emerged as a major player in the new lineup.

"One thing I'm prepared to do is take risks and make mistakes," Mr. Lace said. The real test will come in 18 months' time: "By then," he said, "I want the name Grey to be seen as ironic."

Fast Facts

Name: Garry Lace

Age: 35

Now: CEO, Grey Worldwide, London

Challenge: To make Grey a player in the competitive London market

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