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Auckland as HQ

By Vincent Heeringa

Sunday 1st February 2004

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To get a glimpse of what globalisation looks like, you don't need to visit a Nike factory in eastern Mongolia or eat McDonalds in upper Latvia. You could just stop by the Saatchi & Saatchi building in Auckland and have a coffee with Kevin Malloy. Who? Exactly. He has no customers here, nor staff. He occupies a small, borrowed office and works from 5.30am to midday, in time to catch the eastern US for the afternoon. Most of the time he has a phone stuck to his head, lives in email and travels a lot - in the last 12 months it's been New York five times, Cincinnati and Atlanta twice, Hong Kong and Shanghai twice, Geneva once and Australia a mere six times.

So who is Kevin Malloy? He's the international chief executive of the world's second largest media buying agency, Starcom MediaVest Group (SMG), part of the Publicis empire. A Kiwi who was prepared to chuck it all in to return home with wife Emma and three kids, Malloy's second in charge of a company that bills $US18 billion in media spend. And he lives in Epsom.

Weird? Yes, but here's how it happened. In 1986, a 21-year-old Malloy left for London, ended up in the ad agency DMB&B, did good and landed a plum spot in the international media division just as Eastern Europe opened up. "We were the first agency to set up a billboard on the road into Red Square."

His reliability and natural Kiwi pragmatism saw him promoted via Hong Kong as regional manager and then onto New York in 1996 as worldwide media director for DMB&B. Here he led the winning pitch for Proctor & Gamble's $US1.2 billion media budget - a massive project costing $US100,000 and taking a full year, just for the pitch. He was also instrumental in winning Coca-Cola's media business for all of China, another $60 million contract.

In 1998 the agency merged with competitor MediaVest, and Malloy ended up co-chief executive in the new business, now called SMG. The other chief, Jack Klues, is now effectively his boss. "Basically he was in charge of the US and I was in charge of the international business." Which is no mean feat - SMG has 110 offices in 76 countries.

But home has a pull not even the fanciest Manhattan apartments can appease. "We both always wanted to go back, and when you start playing rugby with your kids in apartment hallways, it's probably time to consider the shift." And so, the golden boy quit. Just like that. "It was pretty difficult. On the same day Klues gave me a Cartier watch saying how much he valued my work. Then that night, a client from Coke told Jack SMG wouldn't have that much of Coke's business if it wasn't for me. So when I sat down with Jack after dinner I thought, 'This is going to be an interesting conversation'. But to his credit he actually suggested that I stay on and try running the business from Auckland."

Twelve months on, a few things have changed. Malloy now only manages Australia and the worldwide P&G and Coke accounts. "In many ways 'chief executive' no longer applies to my role." But it seems to be working. In the last six weeks a total of around $600 million worth of business has been won across US, Hong Kong and Central Europe. Some things have stayed the same - the key clients are dotted all over the world so you may as well phone them from Auckland as New York, he says.

What do the clients think? Omar Rodriguez is the worldwide director of integrated communications for Coca-Cola and is one of Malloy's most important customers. Rodriguez is effusive about Malloy's talents: "Probably the best comment about Kevin's capabilities is that his media agency has won more new business from Coke than any other media agency around the world over the last eight years ... Kevin's deep understanding of our business, and his ability to translate that passion to the rest of his network, has made a significant difference in their success with Coca-Cola."

Yeah, but Auckland as HQ? Really? "His relocation has had little impact on our working relationship and his ability to serve our business. It most certainly changed his sleeping patterns, but he still manages to respond quickly and accurately even if he is doing it at five in the morning!"

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