Easy-going, yet motivated, ad man Simon Bolton is about to move over into design, with a new top role at Enterprise IG. David Benady talks to him about the challenges involved and the changes he plans to make
WPP’s surprise appointment of former advertising boss Simon Bolton as global chief executive of Enterprise IG comes as the marketing services giant seeks to boost the brand and design consultancy’s standing in the US and Asia. He takes the job of Dave Allen, who is transferred across WPP to head Team Vodafone from within JWT.
The diminutive Bolton, a diving fanatic who is described as a ‘bundle of energy’, is a favoured executive of WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell, despite being ousted as chief executive of JWT UK & Ireland in November, after presiding over a string of account losses and falling out with the agency’s creative director Nick Bell.
Since joining JWT in 2001, he helped the London shop rise up the UK ‘billings table’ from number eight to number two. But when the agency failed to win the Sainsbury’s and BA accounts last year (which would have made it the UK’s largest advertising agency), and lost Persil/Omo and Axa, Bolton was scapegoated and it was time for him to go.
Speaking from Thailand where he is on holiday until taking up the reins later this month, Bolton denies that a space was created especially for him at Enterprise IG and dismisses those who see the new job as a demotion.
Bolton has spent his working life in advertising, starting off as a management trainee at WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather (after initially training as a chef). Some have questioned how he will make the transition to the more gentlemanly world of design.
Far from being the typical swaggering and egotistical ad man, people who know him describe Bolton as a sensitive soul (though with the skin of a crocodile) whose confidence was badly shaken after being ousted from JWT. Bolton sees his present task as building up the global Enterprise IG network of 21 offices and cementing relationships with multinational clients.
Some see Enterprise IG as a mixed bag of design operations, mashed together by Sorrell, according to a corporate plan where marketing services can be cross-sold, serving shareholder interests rather than relishing the craft of design. It has also been suggested that morale is low and its performance has been unfavourably compared with that of WPP stablemate Landor Associates.
Bolton responds, ‘Part of my job is to bring a strong culture to the group and establish a culture the team believes in. There are opportunities to build in North America – I love working there.’ He sees his strength as being able to manage large corporate clients. Bolton adds that he will be looking to buy more consultancies, and doesn’t rule out acquisitions in London. He is also likely to make new hirings.
Ex-colleagues describe his easy-going manner as a calming influence, particularly on creative teams. Peter Cowie, JWT’s new business director, loyally says, ‘It took the industry by surprise when he joined JWT and he had to earn his stripes. He did a fantastic job and is hugely respected by Sorrell, whom he worked closely with on Samsung [a short-lived £415m global account win for WPP]. Martin has been instrumental in keeping him within WPP. The context of this job is moving from CEO of JWT UK to a worldwide CEO role, which is a different experience.’
Rooney Carruthers, creative director of advertising agency VCCP, who worked with Bolton at FCB in San Francisco, says, ‘Simon is a very straight bat – he doesn’t leave things to chance. He doesn’t like walking into a room without knowing all the answers, which is just as well, when you’ve got Sorrell asking the questions.
‘He is a friend of the creative department, very approachable, user-friendly and likes a laugh down the pub. He is good on big business – a big corporate man and a big team player,’ says Rooney. He adds that Bolton is the sort to spend a year trying to convince a client to approve a challenging piece of work, long after creatives will have thrown up their hands in despair, and suggests that the move has to be seen in the context of the increasing convergence between advertising and design.
Bolton is a keen adherent of Feng Shui, which he learned about during a spell in the Far East. He thinks it’s common sense, and big changes can come about through making very small alterations. And alterations at Enterprise IG there will be.