The Player - Heekin's vision: Make Euro a streamlined global power

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Ousted from the top job at global agency network McCann-Erickson WorldGroup in February 2003, Jim Heekin one year later is again at the helm of a global agency network. Depending on whom you ask, Mr. Heekin, 54, chairman-CEO of Havas' Euro RSCG Worldwide, is a peerless advertising strategist who took the fall for others at Interpublic Group of Cos. or a well-regarded team leader promoted beyond his abilities.

As head of McCann-Erickson North America during the booming 1990s, Mr. Heekin led the agency to new heights of growth, reeling in some of its largest clients, including MasterCard, Motorola and Lucent Technologies. He was promoted to chairman-CEO in April 2000. But his early 2003 discharge over accounting irregularities revealed his shortcomings as a manager, his critics said. Now Mr. Heekin has the chance to silence his doubters.

After joining Euro as president-chief operating officer in September 2003, he gained a public vote of confidence in January, when Havas Chairman-CEO Alain de Pouzilhac promoted him to succeed retiring Euro chief Bob Schmetterer. Mr. Heekin's task: Remake Euro RSCG into a brawny network accomplished in all marketing disciplines from a loose confederation of independent-minded partnerships.

To pull it off, Mr. Heekin must combine grand vision with realism. He's got little room for error, for following Havas' reorganization, begun last fall, Euro now comprises over 70% of its parent company's revenues. Commenting on Havas' 2003 performance in mid-February, management blamed Havas' below-expectation operating income on Euro RSCG's "underperformance." Mr. De Pouzilhac wants a change. "I am totally unhappy to be at the bottom of our competitors in terms of organic growth. We need action," he said.

RALLYING HIS TROOPS

Mr. Heekin is rallying his troops. At a January gathering in London of Euro's top 100 executives, he stressed Euro stands apart from competitors because of its single profit and loss structure in each major market, and the network's offering, dubbed "creative business ideas." The latter, the brainchild of Mr. Heekin's predecessor, combine product-and-brand positioning with business strategy, aimed at increasing sales.

In recent years, however, those differences have not consistently translated into success. Global marketers like Intel, Volvo and Reckitt Benckiser are on Euro's client roster, but the network, said one former Euro executive, is "not a top-of-mind name." Euro, ranked by Ad Age in 2003 as the world's fifth largest network, is a young 12-years-old, built through the acquisition of boutique shops, run very often by strong-willed entrepreneurs focused on their own operation rather than the whole. "Heekin has to get agencies with such very different personalities to work together," said Leslie Winthrop, managing director, consultancy AAR Partners.

He is also pushing offices in each Euro market to operate as the highly successful Paris entity does. Longtime Euro client Volvo, for instance, told Euro's New York office it is looking for a more holistic approach. "We want to see all elements instead of looking at things piecemeal," said Jim Borsh, national ad manager of Volvo Cars of North America.

Most importantly for Havas' and Euro's success, Mr. Heekin is insisting on operating profit margins of 15% to 18% and growth. Success in North America, the world's largest advertising market, is critical, which puts Euro's offices in New York, Chicago and San Francisco under scrutiny. In Chicago, where Euro's operation is floundering, a new creative chief will soon be hired to replace Jim Schmidt, who left in January. (AA, March 1, P. 10) Additional changes are in the works."I'd like to feel good about the leadership team there within the next two to three months," he said.

Transforming Euro into a global player won't be easy. "There's a bit of a price to pay," said Mr. Heekin, because it requires sacrificing individual identities and methods and adopting shared ones, and "quite frankly, not taking no for an answer," he said.

contributing: jean halliday

Resume

Name: Jim Heekin

Age: 54

Now: Chairman-CEO, Euro RSCG Worldwide

Who: Mr. Heekin spent 10 years at Interpublic's McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, and served as chairman-CEO from 2000-2003. Prior to McCann, he ran New York operations of J. Walter Thompson, part of WPP Group.

Challenge: To transform Euro RSCG into a recognized, cohesive global network sharing processes and more major global clients. Win more business from current and new marketers.

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