The adman is indeed tough but also has a sense of humor and deftly uses it to his benefit. Mr. Lindner addressed the buzz head-on at an August meeting in Miami in a speech to 50 or so regional creative directors. As he flashed photographs on a screen of nefarious political figures, including Stalin, Mr. Lindner explained what he's learned from each. "Five minutes into it, the entire audience was laughing," recalls Marcio Moreira, vice chairman at McCann.
It was Mr. Moreira who wooed Mr. Lindner to the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency from Publicis Groupe, where he was vice chairman-Europe, Middle East and Africa at Leo Burnett Worldwide, and president of Publicis Groupe's Fiat Coordination Center.
"I am tough," concedes Mr. Lindner, 45. As Interpublic struggles to recover from repeatedly restating earnings due to accounting irregularities at its agencies around the world, the company needs people like Mr. Lindner, who takes the helm at the largest agency network in Latin America. He succeeded longtime Regional Director Jens Olesen.
Upon arriving at McCann and taking over the Mexican operation, Mr. Lindner had to act quickly to improve relations with key clients including Nestle and General Motors Corp., revitalize McCann's image in Mexico, and improve its creative product.
"I had a major restructuring to do in Mexico," Mr. Lindner says. "I changed 70% of the management and 50% of the employees."
Recent regional wins include media duties for Telefonica at Universal McCann and creative work for Coca-Cola Co.'s Dasani in Argentina.
Mr. Lindner's career credits include launching his own agency, Transatlantic, with TBWA as a minority shareholder; buying out TBWA and eventually selling his agency to WPP Group; building a fledgling global network, Red Cell, at WPP; and working for clients large (Procter & Gamble Co., Fiat) and not so large (Ermenegildo Zegna, an Italian luxury brand, and Italy's Wind Telecomunicazioni).
His foundation in small, creative agencies gives Mr. Lindner the credibility within the creative community to lure hotshots to McCann in Latin America, with recent hires in key markets Brazil and Argentina. "People have a great time working with him," Mr. Moreira says. "Nothing throws him off kilter."
Mr. Lindner, who was born and raised in Milan, chose advertising out of a desire to work in the communications industry in a job that allowed him to live all over the world. "My family [German Jews] has been moving from country to country for years, mostly escaping. It's something in my DNA," he says, tongue in cheek.
Spanish, which he's learning since moving to Mexico, is his sixth language. With his wife, Liane Martins Lindner, who's Brazilian, he prefers Portuguese.