Tim Andree was a popular man on Tokyo's notoriously packed trains. Crammed sardine-like during the morning commute, Japanese passengers would maneuver to stand next to him, lean comfortably against his 6-foot-11 frame, and catch a snooze on the way to Ichigaya Station.
So it goes for the affable Mr. Andree, who now has an entire agency network leaning on him. Born in Detroit but introduced to business in Tokyo, he leads Dentsu's global operations from an office in TriBeCa. Mr. Andree is a unique breed of executive, at ease in both cultures. That's probably why, since joining a Dentsu shop in New York just six years ago, he's been able to give Japan's largest agency its first fighting chance to succeed in the U.S. after more than 50 years of trying.
"I believe in destiny, and I think the fact that we met Tim Andree comes from destiny," says Yuzuru Kato, Dentsu Inc.'s senior VP for Japanese operations, through a translator. "He all of a sudden appears like a savior to help us."
Dentsu Inc., a 110-year-old agency dominant in Japan, had long tried and failed to gain traction in the states through alliances such as Dentsu Young & Rubicam, Havas Dentsu Marsteller and, the biggest bet, a 21% stake in Bcom3.
Mr. Andree's approach has instead been to buy and build. He's made smarter bets -- and maybe gotten a little lucky. Under his guidance, Dentsu paid well for top-of -the-line U.S. shops, such as Attik; Firstborn; 360i, and its parent Innovation Interactive, and most notably, McGarryBowen -- the new-business machine so formidable it's been named Ad Age Agency of the Year twice in three years.
"Those were tasteful acquisitions that demonstrated sophistication," says Russel Wohlwerth, a longtime agency search consultant who recently launched External View Consulting Group. "It's changed the perception of Dentsu from aimless wanderer in the U.S. to serious player with a good sense of the market."
In 2010, Dentsu's stateside revenue more than doubled to $218.4 million from 2009, according to the Ad Age DataCenter. During Mr. Andree's tenure, Dentsu's percentage of revenue from the U.S. has jumped to more than 6% in 2010 from 1.5% in 2006. When he joined, Dentsu's top 10 clients in the Americas and Europe were Japanese. Last year, that list included U.S. marketers such as Kraft and Verizon and only two Japanese companies.
Watch for Mr. Andree to make Dentsu more competitive in South America (he's been spending lots of time in Brazil). The industry is also waiting to see if he'll add a media-planning and -buying firm to the fold.
With his snow-white hair, a complexion made for sunburn-prevention ads and height towering more than a foot over the average Japanese man, the 50-year-old Mr. Andree should seem out of place in Dentsu's mammoth headquarters near Tokyo Bay. But "Tim-san," as he's called, embodies the agency and its culture, which is sometimes at odds with the American way of doing business.
"The concept of service is really important in Japanese business culture, especially in professional services," says Rochelle Kopp, managing principal of Japan Intercultural Consulting. "In the U.S. we say "The customer is king.' In Japan, the saying is "The customer is god.'
"There are people in business that think leadership is power and control, and people who think leadership is service," Mr. Andree says. "That's why I'm comfortable at Japanese companies."
Indeed, he is equally at home drinking Coors Light at Knicks games as he is ordering dried stingray with mayonnaise in fluent Japanese. He calls Nishi-Funabashi, the Tokyo neighborhood where he lived, "the Bensonhurst of Japan," as it shares the same quiet characteristics as its Brooklyn counterpart. And his height differential is taken in stride. "He cannot find a place to hide," joked Dentu's Mr. Kato.