VMLY&R names Thomas Tearle as CEO as Jon Bird made chairman

VMLY&R is experiencing another leadership shake-up with current CEO Jon Bird elevated to executive chairman of the agency, Mumbrella understands.

In Bird’s place, the WPP AUNZ agency has appointed Isobar’s managing director Thomas Tearle.

Bird has only been CEO of the agency for 20 months, returning to Australia from VMLY&R New York to take up the role following the departures of co-CEOs Pete Bosilkovski and Aden Hepburn.

Jon Bird is becoming VMLY&R’s executive chairman

Bird has been with the agency network since March 2016 when he joined VML New York as executive director of global retail and shopper marketing. He was promoted global chief retail and commerce officer in 2018.

The change in leadership comes three months after it was announced that WPP experience agency Geometry would join VMLY&R as ‘creative commerce company’ subset, VMLY&R Commerce.

WPP AUNZ has been on a course to transform its agencies and service offerings several years; a path which has seen the mergers of Grey and The White Agency to form WhiteGrey, JWT and Wunderman combining as Wunderman Thompson, and the formation of VMLY&R from VML and Y&R.

The push for transformation has been accelerated since Jens Monsees stepped into the role of CEO of WPP AUNZ in September 2019, laid out his plan for the group to reduce the number of agency brands,  and bolster tech and data capabilities.

The appointment of Tearle from Isobar is another indicator of these motivations, with Isobar experiencing its own merger with creative agency With Collective to “unite and optimise [its] complementary capabilities, and untap even greater opportunity for our clients and partners.”

The merger made Tearle Isobar’s managing director, stepping up from his previous role as general manager of the agency’s Sydney and Canberra operations.

Tearle has spent seven years with Isobar, and previously worked at WPP’s Wunderman.

His appointment will see the agency focus on continuing to develop the agency’s digital, CX and commerce capabilities. He will become a member of the WPP AUNZ brand leadership team, reporting into Monsees locally and VMLY&R global chief marketing officer, Beth Wade.

Thomas Tearle

In a statement given to Mumbrella, Isobar ANZ CEO Erik Hallander, said: “I’m really stoked for Thomas; he’s been an amazing colleague and friend, and I’m grateful for everything he’s done for our business. While I’m sad from a professional point of view, personally I’m excited for the next step in his career.”

Hallander also explained that  client partner Johan Borg will be stepping in as acting GM while “we assess what’s required for the Isobar business.”

“Johan has done an incredible job to date and will absolutely help drive the business momentum, especially during such an exciting time of combining Isobar and Accordant into a unified business,” Hallander added.

Mumbrella understands that Tearle has been placed on gardening leave from Isobar.

VMLY&R had a shaky start after its merger coming into effect 2019. The success of reclaiming the creative account for Defence Force Recruiting, was followed four months later by the departure of Y&R’s CEO Bosilkovski and then VML’s Hepburn a month after that.

The two leaders’ departure from the business sparked a mass exodus of senior staff. The start of 2020 then saw McDonald’s consolidate its social and digital with its creative agency DDB Sydney, sparking a round of redundancies and staff redeployments at VMLY&R.

The news also comes soon after another WPP merger took place, with Ikon joining AKQA. Last year the WPP globally formed AKQA Group, with Grey Group and AKQA coming together and the two agencies here in Australia sitting alongside eachother.

UPDATE 10:48am – WPP AUNZ sent out a statement including the following comments

Thomas Tearle, said in a statement: “After seven incredible years at Isobar building the businesses in Sydney and Canberra, this is the perfect opportunity for me to help take the VMLY&R business to its next stage, as customer expectations of seamless digital, brand and commerce experiences have really accelerated over the last twelve months.

“The combination of developing exceptional capability and delivering ground-breaking work from VMLY&R over the last few years has put the business in pole position to help clients capitalise upon these opportunities, and I’m so very excited to shape the next chapter in that journey.”

Jon Bird added: “I am thrilled to welcome Thomas to the VMLY&R executive team. VMLY&R is all about ‘Creating Connected Brands’ for our clients, and Tom’s expertise in building innovative digital platforms and experiences will help continue to deliver on that promise.

“It’s gratifying to be able to hand over the day-to-day leadership to such a high-calibre individual, to best answer what clients are looking for today.”

Jens Monsees: “Tom’s world-class experience in delivering truly effective connected digital experiences is a real boost to WPP AUNZ’s already impressive leadership capacity.

“I look forward to working closely with Tom to define the next stage of VMLY&R’s journey within the WPP AUNZ portfolio of brands.

“Combining cutting-edge technology with our world-class creative capabilities is what sets WPP AUNZ apart, and Tom’s appointment is indicative of the strength of our vision. It’s also great to have him back in the WPP AUNZ fold.”


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