Player Profile: After rising high in U.K., Mair takes on Manhattan

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After fewer than two weeks on the job, Lesley Mair's recommendation for a "press" effort nearly resulted in a public-relations push for a client instead of the print campaign she intended. But the 43-year-old Brit, who took the post of president-CEO of the New York office of Omnicom Group's Rapp Collins Worldwide this month, is not letting the "language barrier" slow her down.

"Unless you're going forward, you're going backward," said Ms. Mair, who spent her career in London and was most recently managing director of WWAV Rapp Collins, London, as well as chairwoman of the WWAV Rapp Collins Group, consisting of agencies and database, list-brokerage, media and consultancy businesses across the U.K. WWAV is the biggest non-U.S. revenue generator for Rapp Collins, the No. 5 marketing-services shop in the world.

Ms. Mair came to New York-the headquarters office for Rapp, which posted $166.4 million in U.S. revenue in 1999-to push herself as a marketer. "I think I know the U.K. marketplace incredibly well. If I want to offer more to clients, unless I poke my head into a slightly scary place-to markets I don't know-I stop learning. And the minute I stop learning, I get a little bored," she said.

But Ms. Mair, who succeeds David Scholes, who left Rapp to become president-CEO of Omnicom's CRM specialist Targetbase, Dallas, is also thinking about her career path with the move. "I'm still very ambitious," she said. "And in truth, I need to work on Madison Avenue to get the most of my potential."

That potential might well position her for an expanded worldwide role. Although she's left her post overseeing the U.K. operation, she remains part of Rapp's worldwide executive board, and can therefore contribute to the strategic direction of the network. "Lesley, across the global network, is one of the real superstars," said Rapp Collins Worldwide CEO Malcolm Speed. "From the perspective of Rapp globally, I think the fact that she ran our most substantial office outside of the U.S., and that she's running one of the most substantial offices in the U.S., positions her very strongly for continued, additional responsibility within the global network."

But in the short-term, she's focusing on her two most important assets: clients-which include Pfizer, Mercedes-Benz, Kaiser Permanente and RadioShack-and staff. She hopes to "get to the end of the year with a really well-entrenched skill-set expansion program working and happening so that every time clients are talking to an account planner, those people are armed with the tools to get the best advice."

Chris Gordon, chairman-CEO of WWAV Rapp Collins Group in the U.K., said Ms. Mair takes a special interest in improving her staff, and that sets her apart. "She takes people who work with her and for her to places they didn't ever expect to go. She helps them achieve standards of success they never thought they would," he said.

Ms. Mair's philosophy is that an empowered staff makes the agency agile, smart and mature enough to serve clients in a channel-neutral, media-neutral way.

"Heaven in an agency is when the client sits down to talk about the proposition they have and the person they're talking to tells them what they should be doing to be right, irrespective of whether there's a revenue opportunity for the agency," Ms. Mair said. "If you give really good advice to clients and don't think about the money at the top, you will make more money at the bottom."

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