David Walden stepped down as the CEO of Whybin\TBWA yesterday, after 14 years at the head of the agency he helped found. Although many had predicted his resignation last year, few would’ve picked former APN chief operating officer Todd McLeay to replace him.
McLeay held the COO role at APN for a full year before he restructured himself out of the position. He tells StopPress his short stint at the media company was the natural conclusion of a year of changes and restructuring across the entire business and New Zealand’s newspaper landscape, much of which he was responsible for.
“In the back half [of 2012]it became obvious to me the organisation had become too top heavy. It had me as the COO and Martin Simons as the CEO, and there was a way to organise the business that was more effective than both of us doing these roles,” says McLeay.
“Whether it’s a year or three years, you get to a natural point where you can’t just hold onto a position just because you’re in it, especially in a difficult industry like this.”
The end result saw the restructuring of APN’s sales departments, and the creation of a chief marketing officer role at the company. There were opportunities for McLeay to find other work within the company, but he says after being the CEO of NZ Lotteries (a role he held for six years) he had higher aspirations.
The Whybin gig came together in January, says McLeay, although sources at APN say he was virtually hands off since December.
McLeay says his first task at Whybin is to ensure the smooth transition of the CEO role between himself and Walden, who will be assisting him while working as a consultant for the agency. Keeping Whybin’s culture unchanged will be a challenge for McLeay, who has to climatise to an agency that has grown for more than a decade around the personality of the CEO he is replacing.
He admits he has large shoes to fill.
“It’s not until you get inside an organisation you understand what it is about that culture that is unique. Devo has created something here that is special. Not only do you not want to lose that unique element, but you also need to bring something different to the party as well,” says McLeay.
Although he doesn’t have traditional agency experience, McLeay says his previous work at Vodafone, NZ Post (where he was the CMO), and at the head of NZ Lotteries, has given him an appreciation for the industry.
McLeay says it’s still too early to start discussing the future of Whybin, but he would like to put more focus on digital creative work within the agency, an area he is greatly interested in. McLeay, who’s worked with the NZ Marketing Association’s Data Advisory Network, says the lines between what was once traditional marketing spend and IT spend is increasingly blurring, and is an area of potential growth for the industry – pointing to customer facing technologies like airport kiosks as an example.
“The last few years have seen a real emergence and consideration for digital and data, and we need to ask ourselves how do we mix that in with great creative,” says McLeay.
He says the rest will become clearer as he gets a chance to meet the people within the agency.