20 questions: Bob Jeffrey

One of the first things Bob Jeffrey did in 2004 when he became chief executive of JWT, the New York-based advertising agency, was to rebrand the business, which, for 140 years, was known as J Walter Thompson.

He was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. His father was a truck driver and his mother a community organiser. He studied English at Manhattan College and began his advertising career in 1982 as an account executive, first at DDB and then at Chiat/Day in New York. He joined JWT as New York president in 1998.

Describe your management style within 10 words.

Athletic – maximum performance and good coaching.

Which fictional or historical character do you most identify with?

The two JKs. Jack Kerouac for his creativity and Jack Kennedy, for his great leadership, charisma and communication skills.

Describe your ideal deputy? Someone who wants my job.

MBA or real-life experience?

Real life. I don’t put a premium on an MBA.

Have you ever cried at work?

Never. Though I get close on happy occasions when I have got new business.

Which characteristic do you most deplore in yourself?

I’m too diplomatic. Sometimes it’s better to be direct in difficult conversations.

And in others?


What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

Relax and be open to possibilities. I was the oldest of seven and have an A-type personality. I was sometimes too impatient.

What one thing would improve your life?

Travel less and spend more time with family and friends.

Which book has proved the most invaluable for business?

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It captures the unbridled ambition of American culture.

iPhone or BlackBerry?

I have every single device at the moment – Nokia, iPhone, BlackBerry and iPad. I’m fascinated by technology and need to keep abreast of different platforms for my job. You have to know when to unplug, however.

Who do you most admire?

My parents – I’m from a working class background and they emphasised self-improvement and education to their seven children.

Favourite ad you’ve ever done?

The De Beers ads created a business for them.

Worst ad?

Years ago I did some work for Procter & Gamble (while at a different agency) on a liquid soap called Rejoice. The ad was clichéd and formulaic and featured two women in the kitchen.

Ad you wish you’d done?

Watching the Apple ad ‘1984’ come on during the 1984 Super Bowl made me glad to work in advertising.

Greatest achievement?

Becoming CEO of JWT. It’s the oldest brand in advertising and I want to lead it into the future.

Greatest mistake?

When I don’t follow my instincts and make bad recruitment decisions. In a big organisation sometimes people try to logic you into different decisions and I override my gut instinct.

Do you deserve your pay?


What is the worst part of your job?

Losing a client which means you then have to let employees go.

And best?

When you’re involved in a creative product and people love it.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who built a personal and business legacy.

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