Profile: The power and the passion - Ray Kotcher, global chief executive, Ketchum

This summer, Ray Kotcher would love to spend the weekends sailing his new boat in the choppy seas off Long Island, but there is a different navigational challenge looming this year for Ketchum's global chief executive - in July he will weigh anchor in London for six weeks to help steer the agency's European operations.

Talking to PRWeek during a recce in the UK, and accompanied at interview by Europe CEO Jon Higgins, Kotcher says the aim of his summer sojourn is 'both symbolic of the increased focus Ketchum is giving to Europe and to give Jon as much support as he needs'.

Aside from strong hints that an acquisition or two is likely, Kotcher gives little away about what's planned, though there are references to 'targeting' the consumer technology and corporate arenas. And, Higgins jokes, 'it's essential for any global CEO to experience the Central Line at the height of summer'.

Kotcher grew up in the New York borough of Queens and lives in Manhattan and Long Island with high-school sweetheart Betsy, with whom he has two children. He has a BA in English from the State University of New York and a Masters in PR from Boston University.

He was brought into Ketchum by recently retired chairman David Drobis in 1983, a time when, he recalls, Pittsburgh - the city in which the agency was founded in the 1920s - was 'still the epicentre of the Ketchum universe'.

The agency has grown massively since then, of course; it joined Omnicom in 1996 and Kotcher's remit takes in 54 offices, 21 of which are wholly owned.

Kotcher's passion for Ketchum, and specifically examples of what he calls the agency's 'collegiality', dominates the discourse - half-way through he produces a colourful A4 memo of the 'scheduled learning activities' for the 'Global Ketchum College' with the sort of pride typical of a parent passing around Polaroids of a newborn. Even those outside Ketchum validate Kotcher's relentless commitment. Tom Martin, president of august US trade body the Arthur W Page Society, praises Kotcher's role in creating Ketchum's 'strong corporate architecture'.

Ketchum's top-level stability, Kotcher says, marks it out from the 'incredible churn' at many rivals. He says his career's most satisfying moment was the 'well-planned transition phase' during Drobis's retirement. Since he became CEO in 2000 he has overseen three US acquisitions in addition to developing its own Ketchum Entertainment Marketing and Concentric Communications brands.

Though prohibited by Sarbanes-Oxley from revealing financial data, Kotcher says Ketchum had a 'very healthy' 2003, with 2004 shaping up to be 'even better', with plenty of new global business in the pipeline. Clients include Eastman Kodak, FedEx, IBM and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. One account he wishes he still worked on is Visa USA, the loss of which two years ago he describes as the most 'trying' period of his career. 'I was intimately involved with that client.

Our work was terrific and, to this day, stands as some of the best work we have done, but we did not prevail,' he says.

Given the reverential zeal with which he talks about Ketchum, it's amazing to think Kotcher once had a career outside the agency. But before joining 21 years ago he worked as a high-school English teacher for four years, then at Burson-Marsteller and ad agency JWalter Thompson.

But he always wanted to work in PR 'or some form of media or communications', he says, remembering his keen adolescent interest in theoretical tomes on communications. He name-checks media pioneer Tony Schwartz's 1973 book The Responsive Chord ('Gosh, you're making me wanna go back and read that book!').

What motivates him today? 'Ketchum,' he says. 'It sounds like a bunch of hooey, but it's Ketchum. It's hard to explain - it's an emotional attachment.' And what does Higgins make of his boss? 'What makes Ray a stand-out leader is his ability to get everyone around him to do the same thing,' he says.

'This kind of passion comes through in his personal life, too - it's who he is.'

Posing for the photographer, Kotcher points out that his European summer will mean he'll have little time for boating. But he and Betsy are, he adds, very excited about 'breakfast at Wimbledon'.

RESUME

1978: Account executive, Burson-Marsteller

1979: Account supervisor, JWalter Thompson

1983: Vice-president, Ketchum

1992: President, Ketchum

2000: Global chief executive, Ketchum

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