Profile: Barber relishes first CEO role - Paul Barber, chief executive EMEA, Ogilvy PR Worldwide

Former Football Association marcoms boss Paul Barber is refreshed, raring to go and proudly on message for his latest challenge at Ogilvy PR Worldwide.

He is just days into his role as CEO for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, but Sven and Soho Square seem like distant history as he spells out his ambitions in forthright fashion over breakfast at Canary Wharf.

Reasons why the job appeals are plentiful, including the chance to be CEO for the first time, the geographic scope and, in a repeated refrain, 'the Ogilvy brand - I think it's fantastic'.

But for a self-confessed football nut, how can the job - any job - compare with the one Barber left late last year, one that came with such privileges as access to a jubilant England dressing room after the 5-1 romp against Germany in 2001?

That September night in Munich, when 'Adam (Crozier, then FA chief executive) and I were down in the dressing room within seconds', was perhaps his most memorable moment during his four-plus years at the FA.

But if Barber is bitter about his exit (he doesn't deny he was ousted by new CEO Mark Palios - after all, he applied for Palios's job), he hides it well. Indeed he grins: 'I was the FA's first marketing director - and possibly the last.'

He reflects: 'Mark Palios had a different view of the world to me. He didn't think there was a need for a marketing department. That's life - I'm very philosophical about these things.'

Crozier, a 'long-standing friend' and now Royal Mail chief executive, says: 'Paul marketed the FA in such a way that it has funded all the major projects it is committed to. He deserves a lot of credit.'

Asked why he thinks Ogilvy PR global CEO Marcia Silverman and Mike Walsh, chief executive EMEA at sister ad firm Ogilvy & Mather, plumped for him, Barber says: 'I've been a marketing director, a buyer - I can speak the language of the other business heads. What Mike (saw was) the complete package.'

Barber has control of 31 offices and 300 staff across the EMEA region, including more than 50 in London. Business growth will come by 'new business, perhaps by acquisition and hopefully converting O&M clients to PR clients'.

Barber plans 'leadership by visibility'. He affirms: 'I don't stand on ceremony; I'm quick on email, quick on mobile. I want Ogilvy to have a very high profile. Historically, this hasn't been a priority: it is now. Mike has put PR very high on the agenda.'

Despite the bullish declarations of corporate intent, Barber shows elements of personal vulnerability, too.

When discussing his exit from the FA, for example, he replies: 'I talked to a number of headhunters; I was called the night I left, actually. It was a nice feeling to be wanted.'

The FA might be history but football remains his passion. He enjoys steering the nascent dribbling skills of his ten-year-old son, Sam ('I was a journeyman - my son is better than me'), and is a Tottenham Hotspur season ticket holder.

Barber was born in London and it was in the heart of the greenbelt just north of the capital where he faced 'the toughest press conference of my life' last October, when England players threatened to strike over the Rio Ferdinand drugs test debacle. Around 200 journalists and 20 camera crews convened on Sopwell House Hotel near St Albans for the 'most aggressive questioning' he says he is likely to experience.

But he points out that all his former jobs have had testing moments.

At Royal Insurance he was 'thrown into TV and radio', and at Barclays 'they made 6,000 redundant in one go'.

At 36, Barber's career has already taken in seven organisations. How long will he stay at Ogilvy? 'There's no better place to be than the world's largest marketing services organisation,' he says of Ogilvy holding company WPP.

If past form is a guide - Barber's job changes have always coincided with a major football championship - the bookies would put good odds on Barber moving on around the 2006 World Cup. Barber won't, of course, have direct access to England during that particular tournament.

But he'll certainly be watching how Becks and the boys are getting on, and sporting the Three Lions underneath the corporate suit.

RESUME

1988: Press and PR officer, Royal Insurance

1990: Public and media relations manager, Abbey National

1994: Head of corporate comms, Bhs

1996: Group corporate affairs director, Inchcape

1998: Director of comms, Barclays Bank Retail Financial Services

2000: Director of marketing, becoming director of marcoms, The Football

Association

2004: Chief executive EMEA, Ogilvy PR Worldwide

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