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Industry Contributor 11 Nov 2019 - 4 min read

WPP's new Australian CEO Jens Monsees a "culture guru" at Google

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor, Mi3

In his first official outing to investors last week, WPP's new European CEO import, Jens Monsees, gave some juicy hints on what his strategic plan will look like when he unveils it in February next year. Amid the clues was also this classic: "I was very proud of it - I was once called the culture guru at Google and there are just 25 on a global scale and you cannot be appointed to be a culture guru. You can just be elected by your staff."

Context is important - Monsees was was talking about the transformation overhaul he is working on at WPP and the structural and culture change that he says was needed. Speaking of transformation, the market is rumbling with conjecture that WPP is about to appoint a new chief transformation officer or something like it.

Key points to investors last week included:

  • Chairman Rob Mactier signalled some proceeds from WPP AUNZ's $168 million share of WPP Global's Kantar stake sale "may be required to support the strategic plan being developed by Jens."  That sounds like a serious strategic plan.
  • Monsees flagged e-commerce, adtech, martech, IT implementation and new alliances with the likes of Salesforce and Adobe as new growth opportunities
  • He wants to better bundle WPP's disparate divisional offers - an orchestra playing together, not a single violin, trumpet or drum, he says. "I would say there is room for improvement". 
  • WPP's collection of brands reminded him of his time at Google in Germany with multiple brands that needed stitching together. Digital, tech and personalisation were key themes for the new WPP. 
  • Bunnings CEO told him there are "too many fragmented people I need to talk to at the moment in your organisation. Let's make it work and bring it closer together."       

Like most holding companies, the turf wars are fierce inside WPP's local portfolio. Probably why we heard Monsees talking up his "culture guru" status. He's going to need all of it to shift a pretty entrenched line-up of executives and functional divisions. 

His hints around tech, martech, IT implementation, Salesforce and Adobe are future competitive flashpoints but WPP is playing catch-up compared to holding company rivals and consulting firms. In an Mi3 interview in June, Dentsu's CEO Henry Tajer flagged a similar strategy. Publicis is also starting to bite with its Sapient unit - interesting that Monsees cited his conversation with Bunnings CEO given WPP is understood to have lost a major Bunnings digital retail transformation contract to Sapient in recent weeks. Accenture and Deloitte were said to be in the bidding line-up too.

With Monsees' background at Google in Germany - he referenced it several times - does he intend to Google-ise WPP with more bot-like armies of process and metrics? The irony there is that most tech companies - Facebook, Amazon, Google, Salesforce and Adobe are incredibly globally centralised and scripted machines. Tech sales machines. That will go down well in the creative camps. 

Put February's strategic plan in your diary. Either heads will roll or egos will get punctured. We just don't need another Google copycat culture. If you haven't noticed, it's got a few issues of its own to deal with - globally.     

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Paul McIntyre

Executive Editor, Mi3

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