Tim Andree Takes Dentsu to New Heights

At Ease in Both U.S. and Japan, Exec Powers Agency's Westward Push

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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.

Credit: David Yellen

"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.

Mr. Andree's story, as that of many very tall men, begins with basketball.

He was the first player at Brother Rice High School in suburban Detroit to be drafted to the NBA, selected in 1983 by the Chicago Bulls. Rice is a boys-only Catholic high school; Mr. Andree, the youngest of 12 children, was raised in a deeply religious family.

"Dad worked hard and Mom prayed a lot," he recalls.

His father was a union ironworker who also took shifts as a night janitor and butcher in the hope his kids would have white-collar jobs. His mother's prayers must have been answered: one sister is a nun, two brothers are Catholic priests and all 12 kids have college degrees. As for his dad, Mr. Andree honors him by sticking to white-collar dress, eschewing the now-standard Madison Avenue uniform of casual jeans and sneakers for dark suits and snazzy ties.

That upbringing and Mr. Andree's family have clearly made an impression on his professional life. In his LinkedIn profile, he describes himself as "husband, father, loyal friend, leader, author, marketing and advertising honcho, basketball coach, globe-trotter."

For a man who flies from L.A. to London to Tokyo, then Russia, Brazil and Australia in the course of two months, the globetrotter part came early. Mr. Andree's first trip abroad was barnstorming Europe in exhibition basketball games. After stumbles in the NBA, he turned to pro ball abroad, touring 20 countries before playing in Monaco for the Grimaldi dynasty.

"My stock really fell after I left high school," he says of his basketball career.

But it was basketball that also wrote Mr. Andree's first ticket to Japan. Knowing his days in the pros were numbered, the economics major at Notre Dame asked his agent to find him a team that could also teach him about business. The Toyota Pacers had just the setup.

As part of his contract, Mr. Andree would practice with Toyota's team every week, play games and report to its global sales office in Tokyo. It was 1985, and he was the first foreigner in the building, he says.

Recalling those days, Mr. Andree utters Japanese phrases before translating into English. Searching for the name for company housing, he first sees the word in kanji characters in his mind's eye and eventually comes up with shataku. He declined those accommodations, meant for single executives, as he was happy to cook and clean for himself. He was eventually joined by his college sweetheart and now wife, Laureen.

"At first, they didn't know what to do with me," Mr. Andree says of his first few months at Toyota. "They wanted me to come in at 11 and leave at 1 and come to lunch with them."

He'd show up early anyway and invent tasks for himself, including cutting and sorting reams of thermal-paper faxes arriving daily from Washington and Brussels, organizing them into neat piles with summary notes on top.

Managers eventually took interest in him and, as more foreigners joined the office, Mr. Andree rose. Toyota eventually moved Mr. Andree, Laureen and their then 2-year-old son Tim Jr. to New York to lead external affairs, corporate advertising and investor relations for North America.

"To have your first business experience not only overseas but at a company that really trains you to think and how to manage, I was in the right place at the right time," Mr. Andree says. "I got lucky."

After 13 years with Toyota, including five in a basketball uniform, Mr. Andree was hired to a marketing post at Canon. (Both companies are now Dentsu clients.) At his next stop, a short stint at private-equity firm The Dilenschneider Group, he began to develop the deft touch with mergers and acquisitions that has served Dentsu so well. Today, with Dentsu's track record and cash, Mr. Andree is among the first people to get the call when hot agencies are looking to sell.

He no longer plays ball because of a bum knee, but his love for the sport is palpable on a rainy Wednesday evening at Madison Square Garden, where a somewhat damp Mr. Andree miraculously folds himself into a stadium seat. (He travels without an umbrella. He says he's never found one big enough.)

Tim Jr., 23 and the oldest of six, is also at the game. He too played basketball for Notre Dame, and his college roommate Luke Harangody, now a Cleveland Cavalier, is playing the home team. Spectators making their way to their seats eye the elder Mr. Andree curiously, searching his face, trying to determine whether he's a retired basketball star.

Andree shoots, and he scores.
Andree shoots, and he scores.

The Garden is familiar territory for Mr. Andree. Cavs coach Byron Scott stands across the court next to Cleveland's bench. He was on McDonald's All-American team with Mr. Andree in 1979. The founder of Firstborn, Michael Ferdman, comes to say hello. Knees jammed against the plastic seat-back in front of him, Mr. Andree barely has to look up to speak with Mr. Ferdman, who, clad in his characteristic skullcap, is attending the game with his creative director and second-in-command at the agency.

Mr. Andree's center-court seats that February night came courtesy of the NBA. After all, NBA Commissioner David Stern was once his boss. Having been to Asia with Mr. Andree when he served as the NBA's senior VP-marketing communications, Mr. Stern calls him "the tallest man to ever speak Japanese."

Mr. Stern recalls Mr. Andree's phonebook-like guides, meticulously arranged so every subject had its own tab. "We were so organized we didn't know how to deal with it," laughs Mr. Stern, adding that Mr. Andree would sometimes sleep at the office. Today, Mr. Andree is notorious for answering emails and phone calls at all hours regardless of the time zone. Some wonder if he ever sleeps.

With both basketball and business so intertwined in his legend, it's no wonder Mr. Andree draws parallels between advertising and the game. "This business is so remarkably aligned with sports," he says over dinner at Nick & Stef's, a steakhouse that 's part of his Knicks ritual. (He recommends the fillet, but orders crabmeat cocktail and a tomato salad.) "You've got to have talent and a game plan everyone's buying into. I've been taught how to play on a team."

That's evident when Mr. Andree, discussing Dentsu's recent success, tries to deflect attention from himself to executives such as Bryan Wiener and Will Margiloff at Innovative Interactive, Mr. Ferdman, or the new CEO of Dentsu America, David Cameron. He extols the unwavering commitment to client service of John McGarry, who was recently elevated to a Dentsu corporate role to take global the agency he founded with Gordon Bowen.

"He doesn't seem to have an ego," says Mr. Bowen of Mr. Andree. "He puts the needs of the organization first."

That team sensibility has helped elevate Mr. Andree from CEO of DCA Advertising (Dentsu America's former name) in 2006 to the leader of its global network today. Mr. Andree's original order was to make Dentsu more appealing to American clients, but rather than try to overhaul its existing agency, he sought out shops he foresaw becoming engines of client growth.

After the McGarry and 360i deals, Dentsu tasked Mr. Andree with building its agencies elsewhere in the Americas and Europe. He was named CEO of Dentsu Network West, which put all its agencies in those regions under common leadership, in 2010. Now, Dentsu is adding Asia -- excluding Japan -- to that responsibility. Dentsu has reorganized all its agencies outside of Japan into a new global entity called Dentsu Network. Mr. Andree will serve as president-CEO of that network.

But it hasn't always been a smooth climb. Not long after Mr. Andree became CEO at DCA, which he soon rebranded Dentsu America to bring the venerable Japanese name to the U.S., a culture clash arose. A former creative director filed suit against him and the company, claiming he was fired for speaking out against sexually charged incidents, including some at a Czech brothel and Tokyo bathhouse involving preceding CEO Toyo Shigeta.

The suit was settled but cast a cloud over Mr. Andree's early triumphs at Dentsu, including his first acquisition, Attik. That cloud soon cleared when, in 2008, Mr. Andree became the first non-Japanese executive officer on the Dentsu Inc. board.

As part of the honor, Tim-san took the customary two-day trip up Mount Fuji. Once at the summit, he did what all Dentsu employees have done since 1925: Watch the sunrise, mail postcards to clients and pray at Sengen Shrine for business growth. It's a fair bet those prayers were in both Japanese and English.

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