"I had an epiphany," says Jeff Hunt, the Austin, TX-based president and CEO of GCI Group.
"Until 18 months ago, I thought if you put your clients first, everything else took care of itself. I started realizing that our people are the most important thing we have. If you take great care of your people, they'll take great care of your clients - and that takes care of everything else."
Last year was a year of transition for GCI, and staying focused - on both staff and clients - paid off.
GCI came into WPP via the latter's acquisition of Grey Global. Hunt, who ran Texas and Latin America and served on the global board for GCI, took over as CEO last spring when Bob Feldman left to head corporate communications at Dreamworks Animation SKG. As part of the reshuffle, new GMs were placed in Atlanta, Austin, New York, and Toronto.
"When [there's] change, there's potential to create a lack of focus," Hunt says. "[But] we did keep our focus, and I'm proud."
"Jeff is universally liked," says Feldman. "The choice for my successor was a no-brainer."
The agency hit all financial targets and added important new business, such as Major League Baseball, portal software company Vignette, and a number of new healthcare clients, including Genentech. Big entertainment industry wins, such as Sony, Paramount, and THQ, increased the agency's West Coast presence.
Accountability is an "underpinning" of GCI operations. "Clients are under intense pressure to deliver ROI," Hunt says. "We've invested significantly in our ability to help quantify PR's impact and make a strong link between business and communications.
"For years, PR people were begging for a seat at the table, and now we have it," he adds.
"Expectations have been elevated. We want to be quantifiable in all we do. That's part of every program. And I've been working to get our people more comfortable with the ability to quantify."
Hunt is also instilling that same discipline into GCI by measuring staff satisfaction at each office and practice. "We're looking at hard numbers and facts, then holding leadership accountable," he says.
Hunt's leadership philosophy is anchored by his desire to build strong, enduring relationships, and he strives to lead by example.
"I am committed to making sure all senior people at GCI are directly involved with clients," he says. "My focus on clients [is] a way of leading by example."
"He has a unique background [having lived] in all corners of the world," Feldman says. "[His] interpersonal style [has] created a terrific network of relationships that very few achieve. That is not incidental to his success."
Those corners of the world have included the Far East, Mexico, and Europe, but Hunt's heart has always been in his native Texas. In fact, he stresses how "adamant" he was about not leaving Austin to run GCI's global operations, an admittedly unusual location for the head of a global firm. Of course, he does travel extensively to maintain face-to-face contact with clients and employees.
"Talent trumps geography," Feldman says. "His capacity to run the organization from Austin is not very different than if he was based anywhere else. At the end of the day, he's a great talent."
The past few weeks epitomize Hunt's hectic work life. He's been with clients and employees in London, LA, New York, North Carolina, Houston, and Atlanta.
Lynne Skinner, SVP of GCI Read-Poland in Austin, emphasizes that relationships have always been important to Hunt.
"He relishes relationships, and it's not B.S.," says Skinner, who attended the University of Texas at Austin with Hunt. "You almost lose sight of how brilliant he is because he's so genuine. He's so laid back. People take to him, and that allows him to help them. He's a friendly competitor, so [even] his competitors really like him."
President/CEO, GCI Group
President/CEO, GCI Texas and Latin America
Various posts with Burson-Marsteller. Began in NYC and held top roles in Korea, Mexico, and Europe, including his last post as vice chairman of client services in Europe