Matthew Miller
Mar 27, 2015

TBWA announces regional leadership changes: Keith Smith hands off to Philip Brett

GLOBAL - TBWA has announced a series of changes that will see Keith Smith reducing his role in Asia as Philip Brett is promoted to Asia president and Singapore becomes the network's Asia headquarters. In addition, Joanne Lao will move from Hong Kong to Shanghai as she is promoted to Greater China CEO.

L-R: Keith Smith, Philip Brett, Joanne Lao
L-R: Keith Smith, Philip Brett, Joanne Lao

The changes are connected to the network's appointment of Nils Andersson as president and chief creative officer for Greater China, news which Campaign Asia-Pacific broke Thursday

Smith, who in Brett's words is "synonymous" with TBWA in Asia, has remained de facto regional head despite being named president, international in 2006. He now becomes president international, global markets. He will support CEO Troy Ruhanen across 15 "core global markets in a new global client market structure", according to the company. For the record, the key markets are New York, Los Angeles, Canada, UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Greater China, Singapore, Japan and global client business unit TBWA\Media Arts Lab (Apple).

“With Troy, we’re going to travel to try and build our global presence together,” Smith told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "Our job is to really spread the TBWA culture, spread the TBWA business and make sure our offices are linking properly, pitching properly and using disruption properly.”

The title is similar because the role is actually a continuation of what Smith has been doing, except that he will now be active worldwide, whereas before his remit did not include the Americas, he said.

"It’s about making sure our network knits together and works together as an integrated network," he said, adding that he'll also ensure that no "bits fall off the edge".

Because Japan, China and Australia are among the agency's 15 key markets, Smith won't be saying farewell to the region entirely. "I’m not lost to Asia," he said. "I will still have an office in Hong Kong and will still be closely involved." He also mentioned Australia and TBWA's partnership with Hakuhodo as items he'll keep a close eye on.

As president of Asia, Brett, who was previously president of TBWA Group South and Southeast Asia, will take over day-to-day oversight. His remit includes three "focused regions": Asia, Greater China and Oceania.

Under Brett, Paul Bradbury continues as CEO of Whybin\TBWA in Australia and New Zealand, and Lao's appointment as CEO of Greater China fills a void left by Ian Thubron, who departed the role of Greater China president earlier this year. 

Lao has done a great job as MD in Hong Kong, Brett said, and her move to Shanghai is a logical one. “We want to see China and Hong Kong as a unified region, and we want to move [Lao] into a place of greater influence," Brett said. "And this gives us real momentum by joining up and connecting Shanghai and Hong Kong.”

Lao's team is strong on digital and activation, and TBWA wants her knowledge to help drive development in Shanghai, while Andersson delivers creative excellence across all the Greater China offices, Brett said.

“The plan is to really make Greater China work well," Smith said. "We sort of did it in fits and starts before, and we really want to smooth that pipeline now.” The agency is combining the most awarded creative talent in Greater China with a strong leader and digital native in Lao, plus Milo Chao, who is a very strong planner, Smith said.

Smith quipped that this team will be responsible for running the Greater China offices as a "one country, four offices system".

Lao's appointment also speaks to a commitment under Ruhanen to increase the number of women in key leadership roles. "There's a dearth of female leaders in the industry, full-stop," Smith said. "We're no exception. So to have a strong female leader in China is a great step forward for us." He added that identifying and grooming more female leaders will also be part of his new gig.

Brett stressed that Hong Kong remains an important office, both as a gateway to China and as either the hub or the home for important clients including Standard-Chartered. Singapore's status as a hub for many global clients is undeniable, so it's only logical to move the regional headquarters to where the majority of key client relationships exist, he said.

To lead Hong Kong after she moves to Shanghai, Lao has chosen to promote Jan Cho to general manager from her former position as business director and head of Digital Arts Network (DAN) in Hong Kong. Pauline Wong, previously group account director, will be promoted to fill Cho's business director role.

In Shanghai, Brian Swords remains as MD, but plans to relocate to Europe with TBWA later this year, though his role hasn't been determined, Smith said.

Brett said he feels fortunate to have worked closely with Smith, a "great mentor and one of the best people I will work with in my life".

Smith started his career in the UK, working at DDB, McCann Erickson and Grey. In 1983, he took a leadership role at Holmes Knight Ritchie/WRG and in 1989 became a partner at TBWA Holmes Knight Ritchie.

From 1993 to 1996, he set up Pan-European offices for TBWA International in Brussels. He then moved to Hong Kong, where he presided over the construction of a regional network that now spans 19 countries and employs more than 2,500 people in 45 offices, according to the agency.

Along with today's changes, TBWA also announced some appointments outside of Asia:
  • Luke Eid, global innovation director for TBWA\Worldwide (and former head of Digital Arts Network in Hong Kong) adds the role of President, Digital Arts Network
  • Nick Barham, chief strategy officer of TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles, adds global chief strategy officer to his existing duties.


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