It's not so strange then to learn that Robin Kent, chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Universal McCann Worldwide, originally wanted to become a professional backgammon gambler. He even dropped out of college to pursue his dream. Then "somebody offered me a job when I was 21 as a TV buyer and I took it."
Mr. Kent, 47, came to the U.S. from the U.K. in 2000 to be president of Universal McCann, and was promoted to chairman-CEO this year after presiding over possibly the best winning streak of any worldwide media shop. In 2002, Universal McCann won 11 out of 13 U.S. pitches totaling more than $1 billion in new billings. The new business included a raft of media-only accounts, such as Maytag Corp. and American Airlines, as well as media business for accounts that were shared with creative sibling McCann-Erickson Worldwide, most notably the $230 million Wendy's International business.
Mr. Kent has been doubling the cube, in other words, raising the ante since he arrived at Universal McCann, New York. "It's a gamble to bring a European to head a global organization in a market that is alien to that person," he says. "But it's not really that alien because it's all just media."
Mr. Kent spent four years as the shop's regional director of Europe/Africa/ Middle East, where in London he helped build Media in Mind, the agency's proprietary consumer insight tool that taps into an 80,000-respondent database in 50 countries.
The development of research tools and systems in Europe "was paying off in winning new assignments from existing clients and new clients," Mr. Kent says.
Mr. Kent's mandate was to re-create his success in Europe by remaking Universal McCann's reputation in the U.S. from bulk buyer and ad agency-dependent media shop to a media-only player that gave high priority to media strategy. Coming from the U.K., the home of media strategists, Mr. Kent obviously knew how to move his stones around the board. He quickly established a "communications architecture" practice at the shop, offering a media-neutral approach for clients, and he also oversaw the creation of Universal McCann Solutions, which tracks a client's return on investment.
Jim Heekin, chairman-CEO of McCann-Erickson WorldGroup, met Mr. Kent in 1998. "The kinds of things that Robin was doing ... impressed me, and when I came back here to take the CEO job, I asked him to come and run our worldwide media operation."
That's not too shabby for a man who almost threw dice for a living.