WPP’s Jens Monsees ‘reflecting’ on need for John Steedman COO replacement: ‘Never say never’

WPP AUNZ’s chief executive, Jens Monsees, is undecided about whether he will hire a new chief operating officer after John Steedman’s retirement last month.

Steedman – who acted as caretaker CEO between Mike Connaghan’s departure and Monsees’ installation a year later – performed the COO role for the first year of Monsees’ leadership, but WPP is currently “reflecting” on the need for a successor.

“We didn’t have that COO role in the past, when I arrived, and we thought, it’s a fantastic handover because Steady knows all the areas of the business, he knew all the clients,” Monsees told Mumbrella.

“So he very much was working with me hand in hand to help me to understand Australia, the clients, our different business solutions.

“The COO had been created for that purpose. We are reflecting. I don’t have an immediate successor in that role because it was created for specific reasons, but let’s see, maybe there is a need.”

Not filling the role would mean saving on a sizeable salary, in a year the holding company has implemented a $70m cost savings scheme. Steedman had a fixed remuneration of $950,000 in 2019, and earned an additional bonus of $150,000 for achieving above his target, half of which was paid in cash.

Should Monsees rule in favour of recruiting a new chief operating officer though, their role would align with the second phase of his now-renowned transformation strategy, involving a new leadership model, a ‘campus’ structure in smaller markets seeing brands united under one profit and loss statement, and the streamlining of the number of brands within the WPP portfolio.

“Our first phase of transformation will be ready in Q1 2021, and then we will move into the second phase. I never say never. So we [will] just see where we are and what we need,” Monsees said.

“There’s a very important mantra of mine, which is ‘structure follows strategy’. So what is our strategy? What is our transformation? What structure do we need to be most successful? And then what roles [do] we have in that structure? And then what people [do] we have to fill those roles. And if we need a specific skillset, then we would hire. We like more to promote than to hire.”

Steedman retired last month

Monsees stressed that Steedman was instrumental in helping him settle into the CEO role, and added he is “very, very grateful for all the insights and the experience and the help that he was dedicating to me”.

“After one year of helping me, he decided also that it’s now time for him, which I perfectly understand,” he said of the industry veteran’s retirement.

“He tried to retire three times and with now being the third time, I think it’s also good that we could let him go in good conscience and say, ‘Yes, you really deserve it’.”

Speaking to Mumbrella after the release of the company’s third quarter results on Friday, Monsees noted that he is proud of his team and how it has negotiated the COVID-19 pandemic.

The local arm of the world’s biggest advertising company posted earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of $24.6m for the quarter thanks to cost savings, government subsidies like Jobkeeper, and better-than-anticipated performance from the group’s agencies.

Its net sales were down 14.3% year on year to $153.6m, well ahead of the market’s drop of 27.1% for the period, “which is a huge number”, according to Monsees.

“It’s obviously a mix of things, but, without our transformation, we would not be in such a strong shape where we are right now,” he said.

“We went beyond my expectation. And then also, we have a lot of investor talks in the moment and they are also congratulating us, which was great to hear as well.

“I just was sitting down with some of our client leaders and they said, ‘It really feels there’s a big change’.”

Jens Monsees will be speaking at Mumbrella 360 Reconnected from November 17 – 20, 2020. Grab your tickets here. 


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