Robert Sawatzky
Dec 10, 2019

The top 10 exits and entrances of 2019

Our cheeky annual look at APAC leadership changes was brought to you in 2019 by the letters D, A and N.

The top 10 exits and entrances of 2019

The agency revolving door kept on spinning in 2019. So much so, that there is no room in a top 10 listicle to cover-off all the important leadership moves in APAC. So just like last year we're lumping all these leaders who jumped ship or walked the plank, into categories. This leads us right into the biggest 'leadershipwreck' of them all...

1. Dentsu Aexit Network
Out: Nick Waters, Susana Tsui, Rob Hughes, Phil Teeman, Kristian Barnes, Sean O'Brien, Sunil Yadav, Jonathan Chadwick, Duncan Pointer, Sonal Patel, Arvind Sethumadhavan, Ruth Stubbs, Dick van Motman, Henry Tajer, Reg Davidson
In/Promoted: Takaki Hibino, Ashish Bhasin, Masaya Nakamura, Michelle Lau, Audrey Kuah, Angela Tangas, Jerome Whelan, Anand Bhadkamkar, Prakash Kamdar

The DAN departed

Whoa Nelly, this one's complex so let's begin from the top. DAN started the year with a major regional restructuring with job cuts in January followed by the departure of APAC chief Nick Waters who left to become the network's executive chairman for UK and Ireland... at least until about a week ago, when his second departure of the year was announced, with Waters leaving that job and the network altogether.

But back to Asia, where Waters' role was taken over by Takaki Hibino with a new strategy that involved more restructuring, including the hiring of Masaya Nakamura as APAC deputy chairman and chief growth officer in February, and the formation of new regional sub-clusters in March.

This was when it quickly became apparent that a deep leadership cull was underway. Rob Hughes, North Asia CEO and Phil Teeman, Southeast Asia CEO were both out. Susana Tsui was replaced as DAN China CEO (she resurfaced in September as the new CEO of media at TheAsianparent), by Michelle Lau. Add APAC media chairman Sean O'Brien, chief client officer Kristian Barnes and Amplifi president of Sunil Yadav to the list. Amidst the fray, it became hard for outsiders to tell who was being walked off the plank and who was jumping ship. Jonathan Chadwick, who had only recently joined at Carat APAC chief, was chosen to run a new amalgamated media unit, but he instead decided to pack it in and head home to Australia. Audrey Kuah took up the media role in his place. 

(Pause for breath of air).

As the year went on, more redundancies were uncovered, including former Vizeum APAC chief executive Duncan Pointer, APAC president of programmatic services Sonal Patel, and APAC chief strategy and innovation officer Arvind Sethumadhavan.

Wait, there's more. In September, DAN promoted Greater South CEO Ashish Bhasin to APAC CEO, relocating him to Singapore, though he stayed on as chairman for Dentsu Aegis Network India. (Anand Bhadkamkar was given the India CEO role). Prakash Kamdar, CEO of Isobar Singapore was named CEO, DAN Singapore. We also learned Masaya Nakamura (see above), who only in February was named DAN APAC's deputy chairman and chief growth officer, was now headed back to Tokyo to take up a new role as CEO for global client solutions.

No, we're still not done. Last month, DAN replaced its ANZ leadership team of CEO Henry Tajer and CFO Reg Davidson as the business struggled. Meanwhile, high-profile exits at the global level continued too, with iProspect CEO Ruth Stubbs leaving for Wavemaker in Europe and DAN's global creative CEO Dick van Motman pursuing new business transformation ventures. 

Phew. DAN takes our #1 spot by a landslide. And with three weeks left in 2019 who wants to bet the turnover is really over?

This article is filed under...
2019: The year in review

2. A Pat on the back at GroupM
Promoted: Mark Patterson

After nearly two decades in Asia, GroupM APAC CEO Mark Patterson will no longer be a fixture in the region from his home base in Hong Kong. But he will be back and forth. Believed by many to have been in the running for GroupM's global CEO job (which went to Christian Juhl), Patterson now finds himself Juhl's right-hand man after being promoted to global COO. With the reward comes much responsiblity though, with Patterson now effectively responsible for all regions and markets, trading and investments, services and IT functions.

The move comes after GroupM made a number of leadership changes in Asia-Pacific this year, including new CEOs for Northeast Asia, South Asia, Vietnam and New Zealand.

3. Male bonding at Wunderman Thompson
In: Annette Male, Justin Peyton 
Out: Caspar Schlickum, Bryce Whitwam
Reassigned: John Gutteridge

Let's face it, merging two big agencies can be awkward culturally and especially at the top when it comes to decision making.  In APAC, VMLY&R resolved this by choosing the faster-growing digital agency (VML) over the legacy creative brand (Y&R) for top spots. So many expected to see the logic applied here with Wunderman at the wheel. But the superagency's new global leaders had other ideas.

Yes, they tapped another fast-rising digital agency, not within WPP mind you, but from Digitas at Publicis where the popular straight-shooter Annette Male was brought in as APAC chief. Male was partly able to reunite her old band when her CSO at Digitas, Justin Peyton was transplanted into the corresponding role at Wunderman Thompson. 

While several Wunderman folks were given new APAC leadership assignments, Wunderman's regional CEO Caspar Schlickum was not one of them. He instead made his way to Accenture Interactive as head of their APAC managed marketing services arm. His counterpart at JWT, John Gutteridge, who had done an admirable job of helping turn the agency around, was reassigned to lead Australia and New Zealand. 

While it would be too much to list all the leadership changes brought to every market, a notable change happened in China where JWT CEO Carter Chow hung on to lead WT, while Wunderman chief Bryce Whitwam left after a decade in the role before resurfacing later this year to lead MRM McCann in China. 

4. Farewell to Cadell
Out: Charles Cadell
In: Alex Lubar

One of the region's most experienced agency leaders, Charles Cadell, who served everywhere from Malaysia, Hong Kong, Thailand and India to Singapore and Japan for more than 20 years began his transition out of his role this year at his own request. 

His replacement as McCann Worldgroup's APAC chief executive has been Alex Lubar from McCann UK, which involved bringing back the head honcho's office to Singapore. Cadell had previously run the region from Tokyo since 2016 where he also led McCann Worldgroup Japan, a market he was endlessly passionate about. Antony Cundy took over the Japanese leadership on October 1st.

5. Hit the road, Jack
Out: Jack Ma
Promoted: Daniel Zhang

Oh what will we do without Alibaba's former frontman Jack Ma squealing on stage on his motorcycle with full leathers, or belting out tunes in pure celebration of the ecommerce empire he built.  But as Ma peels offstage and heads down the road, leaving his chairman role to staid successor Daniel Zhang, we know Alibaba's tune will never quite be the same.

Okay, this one's a bit outside of the marketing communications wheelhouse, but not really. On many levels it is the most significant company departure this region has seen in decades. Not just because Alibaba is critical for every brand in China as the leading ecommerce marketplace, but also because of Ma's personality. His showmanship made him a rockstar entrepreneur like China had never seen before and a bridge between two massive world economies in China and the West. That role is a crucial one, so it's good to see Ma continuing to work at global forums and in back rooms to mend relationships, even if it's more fun to see him center stage.

6. Au revoir, Mi Amour
Out: Mike Amour, Valerie Madon 

Havas began a process of reviewing its APAC operations earlier this year, opting "to connect media and creative leadership more directly to local APAC market teams." In a nutshell, this meant Havas no longer felt it needed a regional CEO in place, and long-serving APAC chief executive, Mike Amour left the businesss in October after a period of transition. Now, leadership in key markets like Australia and China directly report to global leaders in New York and London, while India and SEA does the same, but via Vishnu Mohan who remains in charge of those markets. 

Another significant departure at Havas this summer saw Singapore chairwoman and Southeast Asia chief creative officer Valerie Madon say goodbye in July. And while some speculated she might be looking to expand her family ice cream business, she instead was scooped up by VMLY&R

7. TBWA's disapPearman
Out: Ian Pearman
In: Sean Donovan

This is a curious one, since Campaign caught wind of information involving Pearman's departure well before the agency was able to confirm it. The long-serving CEO of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO in the UK was given a new role within Omnicom leading TBWA in Asia in May 2017, but 20 months later he hung up a 23-year career in advertising this February to "scratch that entrepreneurial itch" setting up an as-yet unnamed consumer services firm. So the full story has yet to be written here.

In May, TBWA brought over Sean Donovan from South Africa to be its new Asia president (who curiously is a slightly-younger-looking dead ringer for global CEO Troy Ruhanen). 

8. These Monks are one with the Spirit
In: Scott Spirit and many new S4C converts

S4 Capital has been growing like a weed in Asia-Pacific this year, so it sort of made sense to appoint its new global chief growth officer in the region. So who else should Sir Martin Sorrell turn to than Scott Spirit, who had the same role at WPP but loyally followed Sorrell out of the holding group. Spirit told Campaign he liked joining what essentially is a scrappy startup, whose main content and media brands in MediaMonks and MightyHive are prickling a few feathers as they compete with agencies and pick up some of their talent.

In June, MediaMonks announced a trio of APAC-level hires including Sanne Drogtrop from W+K in Shanghai and former APD CEO Tobias Wilson in Singapore. As MediaMonks expanded with missionary zeal through acquisitions like BizTech and White Balance, and Mighty Hive picked up Datalicious and set up shop in markets like India, leaders like Smita Salgaonkar (former GM at OMG) got onboard. To keep up with the all the announcements, S4 brought in Deepa Balji from Publicis as marketing and comms director. 

9. In Essence, a promotion
Promoted: Kyoko Matsushita

Essence just couldn't promote Kyoko Matsushita fast enough following a great track record in Asia-Pacific that saw the data-driven agency grow exponentially.  No sooner had Matsushita been elevated from APAC CEO to global chief client officer in May, than she was back on the escalator. 

As Essence global CEO Christian Juhl catapulted into the GroupM CEO role replacing Kelly Clark, his job became available and this time, Matsushita merely needed to slide over into the San Francisco corner office instead of puddle-jumping the Pacific. But by now, she's used to leaps and bounds. 

10. Back on the Chiang gang
In: Cheuk Chiang

Okay, we could have included this in the top story, but this year DAN was much more about exits than entrances, as in this case. When Cheuk Chiang left Omnicom Media Group as APAC chief a year and a half ago, he wanted to reconnect with family in Australia. While down under, he helped start up a new predictive-marketing tech firm called Mutiny, happy to move away from legacy structures and traditional agencies unable to change course, he told Campaign

So why return so soon to Asia to head up Dentsu Aegis Network's Greater North region at a time of great business pressure? Chiang told Campaign that he sees DAN forging a new path forward, built around solving client problems. Given Dentsu's well-publicised struggles in China of late, one can be certain there will be no shortage of problems to solve. 

Bonus special mention:

OMG, which saw Torie Henderson depart and Mike Cooper return. Add in OMD, where Aaron Wild left the China business and strategy head Paddy Crawshaw left to join a startup.

And to Nirvik Singh at Grey Group. The leader for APAC, Middle East and Africa, added global COO to his responsibilities this year.

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