Does the geographical location of a firm's CEO matter in the big picture?

Agency executives, especially those at global firms, need to be nimble enough to work across time zones. However, they should be careful not to do away with valuable face-to-face, in-person contact.

Yes

Aedhmar Hynes, CEO, Text 100
More than two and a half decades of experience at her agency and oversees a global staff of about 500 people

As CEO, I have always believed that I need to be based in the market that gives me the best opportunity to contribute to the growth and development of the agency on a global scale.

My leadership duties are to set the strategy and vision for the business, build a robust, rewarding culture, develop a talented team, and find ways to partner with the world's most important brands - from the industry's elite to pioneers that are opening our eyes to new markets or making us think differently about existing ones.

In today's business environment, one might argue that I could do many of those duties from anywhere, but I disagree.

At an agency with a strong technology heritage, I moved from London to the heart of Silicon Valley in the mid-'90s to build a broader professional network and capitalize on the growth in the sector. While I value my time in the Bay Area and I'm proud of the steadily growing presence we have in that market today, I found it challenging to lead a global agency from the last time zone in the business world.

Most people had finished their work day by the time mine started, so I made the decision to move to New York in 2000 and have not looked back.

Being located in New York allows me to partner with my EMEA team in the early morning, my North America department during the day, and my Asia-Pacific unit in the evening. While it makes for a long day at times, I'm in a position to lend my teams the real-time guidance and support they need to be successful across all areas of the business.

But my presence here is about so much more than benefiting from the efficiencies of a more convenient time zone. It's about growing a global, integrated communications agency from the media capital of the world. It's about nurturing relationships with some of our most key global clients, including IBM - a partnership we have enjoyed for more than 11 years.

Lastly, it's about being able to build and benefit from a professional network that allows us to use our technology expertise to expand into adjacent growth markets.

No

Peter Pedersen CEO, Grayling
Has worked in high-ranking agency leadership roles for more than 20 years, with expertise in the tech sector

In today's hyper-connected global economy, the notion of headquarters strikes me as a charming relic of PR's past.

By extension, where the CEO of a global organization happens to be physically based is of little consequence. My office is my smartphone, and so Grayling's headquarters travels with me across oceans and into client boardrooms worldwide.

Unencumbered by geographic silos, our leadership team is mobile, agile, and distributed, which has clear advantages. We make better decisions informed by diverse thinking and divergent points of view. Our senior executives are on the front lines, close to clients and even closer to staff. We maximize productivity by playing the time zones to our advantage, working around the clock to advance the objectives of clients.

When we need to come together, we huddle face to face via Skype*, use Yammer for quick side chats, and collaborate on presentations stored in the cloud. These enabling technologies further erode the value of a centralized operation with ivory tower leadership.

Decentralization means our local teams are empowered and expected to contribute at a global level. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Since embracing this concept, we've seen functional centers of excellence emerge. Having a design studio in Dubai may not seem like an obvious choice, but it serves our clients really well.

Social media has deepened our industry's understanding of network physics. We have all counseled clients that flat peer-to-peer networks such as Facebook and Twitter are infinitely more powerful than the onerous top-down structures of yesteryear. Yet as an industry, we're been remarkably slow in applying these lessons to our own institutional hierarchies.

It's time for PR firms to practice what we preach. Grayling needs to evolve as well, but as the guy at the top, it starts with me. I'm based wherever clients need me, and have the pleasure of working with a talented virtual headquarters team that spans four continents. This is the future of our industry. l

*Disclosure: Skype is a client of Grayling.


PRWeek's View
Agency executives, especially those at global firms, need to be nimble enough to work across time zones. However, they should be careful not to do away with valuable face-to-face, in-person contact, which has great intangible value.

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