'Mr. Change' set to storm New York, and he doesn't care if you like him

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"let's not muck about. I'm Mr. Change," is how Mark Wnek, the new chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Worldwide New York, introduces himself.

He will demand a whole new attitude and energy from his staff: Anyone not prepared to put in long hours and high intensity should be very afraid.

"I'm here to galvanize the place and be a catalyst. If they are not achieving, people will have to be re-motivated," he threatens. "And if I haven't got the right people I will have to find them. People will know that more is required from them-I have a reputation."

Mr. Wnek, 45, born in France of Polish parents and raised in the U.K., made his reputation in London in the `90s. With Brett Gosper (now president of Omnicom Group's TBWA New York), he transformed Euro RSCG's London office from a weak amalgamation of Havas agencies into a formidable shop that excelled at new business while creating effective, populist campaigns.

Garry Lace, CEO, Lowe London and a close personal friend of Mr. Wnek since they worked together at Euro, said, "Mark regards, rewards and cares deeply about loyalty. He is a fantastic creative talent and he knows his own mind."


Before joining Euro in 1994, Mr. Wnek spent five years at Lowe London. There he developed a respect for the network and its culture as well as winning a Cannes Grand Prix for Heineken.

"Lowe doesn't have the cachet in the U.S. that it has in the U.K.," he admitted. "I need to import a bit of that. The beauty of Lowe is that it is idea-centric. My challenge is to put the whole company up on a different level and to not lose what we have-including the feeling that the worst is over."

Lowe-despite winning the prized Nokia account-has had a tough time recently. The loss of HSBC and Braun and a steady exodus of Unilever brands have made the agency an Interpublic trouble spot.

Chris Pinnington, CEO, Euro RSCG U.K., said, "Mark is an obsessive character and will be obsessed about getting this right. I couldn't think of a better person to be thrown into an agency that needs a shot in the arm."

"The challenge was instantly intriguing," Mr. Wnek said. "The harder they paint it the more intriguing it is. I'm so competitive it's a disease. I tend to be 24/7 and the fun of competition drives me. I only care about being respected, I don't care about being liked. Being liked is for a dinner party or for home."

Mr. Wnek, who is famous for telling staff at Euro, "The day brands have Christmas off, I'll have Christmas off," has not had his passion for the industry dimmed by fatherhood. He has two young sons by his fourth wife, but admits, "My natural function is to be thinking about my clients all the time, even when I'm bathing a child. The curse of the creative is that you're never not doing it."

Surprisingly for such a driven, confident and well-connected individual, Mr. Wnek's attempt at starting his own agency was disastrous. A partnership with another controversial U.K. figure, Ben Langdon, lasted just over 10 weeks until Mr. Langdon dramatically deserted the agency in March 2004 to take Mr. Wnek's former job as chairman of Euro RSCG London.


"I learned nothing from it," Mr. Wnek said. "It came and went, it was nonexistent. It made me believe in the essential goodness of people because of the reaction I got from the advertising community. Maybe it was a little bit humbling but it's the children thing that's really humbling. It reintroduces you to your own humanity."

Mr. Wnek claims that he is now a "tempered radical." He is "more fun and less furious than I used to be. It's years of experience plus the love of a good woman."

For the last year he has written an opinionated advertising column for London newspaper The Independent. He was considering writing full time until the Lowe offer came along, but has now given up the column.

"I'm looking forward to taking part in the great competition," he said. "There's no bigger calling. I'm Polish so the U.S. is the promised land. I wouldn't be one-millionth as excited about going anywhere else."

Just Asking

What are you looking forward to about living in New York? To my dreams coming true. I get goose pimples every time I land in the U.S. It's the theatre of dreams; it's life-affirming and crazy. After a lifetime of watching "Kojak," I'm suddenly going to be in the show.

Any regrets? At Euro I was awful. I got scared and it makes you behave at your worst. I was more unkind than I'd wish on an interpersonal level.

How are you personally preparing for the move? By getting in shape. I need to lose my belly. My doctor said I had a phantom pregnancy-my metabolism slowed and I took on the aspect of my pregnant wife.

What's your favorite ad? Budweiser's "Wassup?" I was on the Cannes jury that gave it a Gold in record time.

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