Driven to domination

Zipping along in Jaguar's secret new supercar, with the company's £100m account safely in his back pocket, David Jones reflects: 'This is an amazing business to be in.' Ian Burrell meets the star of Euro RSCG New York

At the age of 37, David Jones runs the advertising agency that in the past six months has done more business than any other in the world, winning contracts worth $500m (£265m). He's British, but has played rugby in France at top divisional level, and took on the US tennis star Michael Chang at tournament standard.

At the age of 37, David Jones runs the advertising agency that in the past six months has done more business than any other in the world, winning contracts worth $500m (£265m). He's British, but has played rugby in France at top divisional level, and took on the US tennis star Michael Chang at tournament standard.

When he was 32, he was running the most successful ad agency in Australia, going for an early morning surf each day so that he "felt like a god" when he arrived at his desk at 9am.

When he worked in London, he chose to live in Paris and commute on Eurostar. Now he's living in Manhattan (on the border of Tribeca and SoHo), where he runs the agency Euro RSCG New York.

Last week, he was briefly in London, having flown in to meet executives at Jaguar, which has just awarded Jones and his team its £100m global account .

As part of his visit to the Coventry plant, where Jones was given a four-day induction in what makes Jaguar tick, he got to go for a ride in the company's top-secret state-of-the-art sports car, which won't be on sale for at least a year.

"They put a body kit on it so that you can't see what it looks like. It was like something from Mad Max 2, covered in black tape and boxes. But god, did it move," he says.

Jones landed the Jaguar business (a dedicated team has been set up in London to handle the account) in the face of extraordinary competition, not least from Young & Rubicam, the agency that had the contract previously, and which is part of Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP empire.

Jones says that the first phone call he received after winning the Jaguar business was from Sorrell's "top head-hunter".

He says: "I will return the call in good time, but I'm not interested in going anywhere. We are on to too much of a good thing."

Sorrell was no doubt also smarting from the fact that Jones and his team had also beaten him to another lucrative account - working for the financial services supremo Charles Schwab.

One American journalist who interviewed Jones recently suggested that he had bucked a trend which suggests that British advertising stars come to New York and watch their careers hit the buffers.

"There's a myth around the US about Brits making it in advertising in New York and about how they don't," Jones says. "The journalist said to me, 'You seem to be bucking the trend.' I always say, 'David Ogilvy didn't do so badly.'"

What Jones also said was that, though he was born in Britain, his outlook is wholly international. "I lived and worked in Germany for four years, I lived and worked in Paris for four years, then I lived in Australia. My wife is French, and I speak fluent French and German," he says.

When Jones was a student at Middlesex Business School, his "whole life was about sport". He was a more than handy three-quarter at rugby union, but tennis was his real strength, resulting in frequent trips to tournaments in the US.

"My claim to fame is being thrashed by Michael Chang the year before he won the French Open. He was only about 15 at the time, and I thought I had been beaten by this kid."

Jones was such a sports obsessive that he jeopardised his degree by neglecting to find himself a work placement. At the eleventh hour, he began calling advertising agencies, pretending to be a marketing director at Coca-Cola.

He remembers: "Fifty per cent of them told me I was a time-waster who would never work in advertising. The other half praised my initiative and told me to come in."

He took a placement at the BDH agency, and before his stint was finished, the student Jones had won a tidy piece of business in the shape of the Pritt Stick account (the glue-stick product owned by the German company Henkel).

"I ended up pitching to Henkel's worldwide board at the age of 21, in German. BDH gave me a level of responsibility that I would never have had if it had not been a European account and I had not spoken fluent German."

He returned to business school, but the agency asked him to carry on working for two days a week.

His rise to the top from there has been inexorable. From BDH, he went on to become, at 28, the youngest board member of Abbott Mead Vickers/ BBDO, where he ran the Pizza Hut account and also worked on the computer-generated campaign for Famous Grouse whisky that is still running.

Then Euro RSCG (part of the French-owned Havas group) gave him the chance to run its Australia operation at the age of 32. The move was so successful that GQ's Australian edition was soon photographing him wearing Armani as one of Australia's "Top Ten Businessmen under 40".

"The key to success in this business," Jones says, "is that you put together a team who will work really well together, whose strengths and weaknesses complement each other and who are going to have a whole bunch of fun."

He came back to London to oversee Euro RSCG's global accounts (made up at the time of 42 multinational clients) and then headed to the flagship New York office last September.

Unlike many people in adland, he's not despondent about the future. The internet, SMS and viral ads make this "the most exciting time to be in advertising in history", he says.

But then, David Jones has more than enough reasons to be upbeat.

"I was sitting in the Jag sports car on Wednesday, with my cheeks being pulled back across my face, hurtling down country lanes and thinking, 'I get paid to do this.' It's a pretty amazing industry to be in."

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