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Y&R hunts for Sydney CEO, scraps regional structure after Howcroft exit to ‘get closer to clients’

Y&R COO Jason Buckley: "Sydney is our focus"

Y&R Brands is searching for a CEO to run its misfiring Sydney operation – but is not looking to directly replace Australia and New Zealand boss Russel Howcroft, whose departure to Channel Ten was confirmed yesterday.

The WPP creative network is looking to build its individual offices rather than opt for Australasian group structure – with Sydney “most in need of attention”, newly appointed COO for the Sydney operation Jason Buckley told Mumbrella.

“The business plan is to focus on improving our city structures, and get closer to our existing clients,” said Buckley. “Melbourne is performing well, Brisbane and New Zealand are hotting up. We know there’s a lot of work to be done to improve in Sydney.”

The company has been looking for a Sydney CEO for four months, since the Howcroft switch to Ten was known.

“Sydney is where the focus of business is in Australia right now. We’re happy with the people we’ve got, but will be recruiting a senior position to run the Sydney office,” he said.

While GPY&R Melbourne – which was built up while Howcroft ran the agency locally – is one of the country’s leading creative lights, winning more lions at Cannes than any other Australian agency, its Sydney sibling has been struggling to make an impact on the market, suffering from a revolving door of management talent.

Naseema Sparks, promoted from head of Y&R’s below-the-line offering Ideaworks to group MD of Y&R Brands Sydney in February, was the most recent executive to vacate the top job. Phil McDonald, who now runs the Brisbane office, also had a stint as Sydney boss.

The network has ruled out expanding the role of Y&R’s Asia president Matthew Godfrey to include Australasia, with the local operation continuing to report directly into New York.

Godfrey, an Australian, is considered one of the most talented CEOs in the region.

Buckley said: “Matt is a fantastic operator. But in Australia and New Zealand, 95% of our clients are local. When you’ve got that sort of balance, it’s difficult for an APAC person to do a job on ANZ. And markets like China, India and Indonesia are just too big a distraction.”

“The general view of Y&R globally is to keep the two operations separate,” he said.

Buckley said that the performance gulf between the Melbourne and Sydney operations would not be narrowed by a closer alignment of the offices, and stressed the need for each location to function independently.

“I don’t think the difference between the two offices is that big. What the market sees is six-12 months behind the reality, and there is a lot going on to raise our game in Sydney,” he said.

“There is a common thread that runs through each office that is fed to us through the Y&R network. But the reality is that cities are very different, with their own distinct personalities and cultures. Our business does not work like a McDonald’s,” he said.

“One of the best things Russel [Howcroft] did during his time here was bring us together as a crew across ANZ,” said Buckley. “We like one another. There are no arguments between the offices, and there are many things we share to improve the work and the effectiveness of what we do.”

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