JWT's new CEO faces hurdles

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Any semblance of a quiet honeymoon ended quickly for Peter Schweitzer. Before he had even served one month as CEO of WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Worldwide, he was forced to contend with account moves by major clients.

Last week, Kellogg USA consolidated its domestic advertising account with Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. The account was split between Burnett and JWT. As a result, JWT will lose eight cereal lines in the U.S., though JWT will maintain international duties for Kellogg. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Kellogg spent $55.3 million in measured media supporting those brands domestically in the first 11 months of 2000.

In the plus column for the agency, Unilever-a JWT client since 1902-assigned the agency duties for savory brands, including Knorr, in Northern Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific, which combined are projected to be worth $100 million in billings. The review followed Unilever's acquisition of Bestfoods last year. Other Unilever brands housed at JWT include Lipton teas, Ragu pasta sauces and Helene Curtis hair care.

All this is not to say Mr. Schweitzer is used to quieter times. A three-decade JWT veteran, he'd already served double duty as president of the agency and chairman of its North America region when-following the sudden resignation of Chris Jones due to health reasons last month-he stepped into the role of CEO.

The 61-year-old executive, who also held the reins of the Ford Motor Co. business, had the opportunity in 1994 to make a similar move, but declined for three reasons. He felt his children were too young at the time, and professionally, he thought the best job in the agency then was running the Ford account. "The third reason, at the time, was Thompson was a very well-managed place," he recalls of his decision not to pursue the CEO post. "This time there was more need from the Thompson standpoint." (Mr. Schweitzer remains president of JWT.)

His first task in his new role was to contact current JWT clients to ask them what the agency has done right and what the agency could do better. His schedule, in fact, calls for Mr. Schweitzer to meet with Kellogg executives today. "The purpose of my visit ... is to reassure Kellogg we consider them one of our top clients and will continue to service them in other markets to the best of our abilities," he said. Though Mr. Schweitzer said Mr. Jones was the top JWT executive most closely associated with Kellogg, he doesn't think the account shift was connected to his departure. "It was more of a financial reason," Mr. Schweitzer said.

Though he plans to allocate his time for clients based on where opportunities or problems are, Mr. Schweitzer noted both Unilever and Ford are particularly important to the $10.6 billion agency. "Every chief executive of this company, with the possible exception of Chris [Jones], has had a pretty direct strong relationship with Ford," he noted. Other key JWT accounts include Sun Microsystems and DeBeers.

One Ford executive expressed confidence in Mr. Schweitzer's new role. "[JWT] has been associated with Ford for more than 50 years, and for more than 25 years Peter Schweitzer has been the key link between Ford and the agency," said Jim O'Conner, president of Ford Division. Mr. Schweitzer's replacement on the Ford account is expected to be named by late March, along with several other high-level appointments, including a new head of JWT's North American region this spring.

"We've had some critical openings in management for too long a period of time. So No. 1 is let's get those critical jobs filled with good, intelligent people," he said. So far, he's appointed Michael Campbell as executive creative director of JWT, New York, and Simon Bolton as CEO of the London office. He does not, however, plan to immediately fill the chairman position that opens up in late February when Charlotte Beers' contract expires. "If someone brilliant comes along [who] we think can add value, then we'll fill it," he said.

The new CEO also plans to continue acquiring marketing services companies just as Mr. Jones did during his three-year tenure, citing strategic planning as a discipline he is most interested in building. "With great strategic planning, you are going to get better creative work, and there isn't a good creative person in the world who would disagree with that," he said.

Fulfilling those and other promises may be both Mr. Schweitzer's toughest challenge and his greatest ability, according to Ron Burns, global business director on JWT's Philip Morris Cos. account and a colleague of Mr. Schweitzer's since the mid-1970s. "He's a guy equipped with the experience and familiarity with the Thompson buttons to turn the company on and focus attention to deliver on promises," he said.

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