As Wavemaker, GroupM’s agency created from merging MEC and Maxus opens shop in India, Global Chairman, Alastair Aird and South Asia MD, Kartik Sharma of Wavemaker take us through their gameplan

13 Nov, 2017 by admin

As Wavemaker, GroupM’s agency created from merging MEC and Maxus opens shop in India, Global Chairman, Alastair Aird and South Asia MD, Kartik Sharma of Wavemaker take us through their gameplan



In January 2017, GroupM’s Global CEO Kelly Clark spoke to Alastair Aird and Tim Castree, global top executives of MEC, and first voiced his new aspiration for GroupM – the merger of Maxus and MEC to form a media, content and technology powered agency, Wavemaker. His agenda was change, and the evolution of GroupM into a futurefacing media holding company. One of his priorities was investing in the audience intelligence and activation solution [m]Platform, and the second was the creation of Wavemaker, bringing together MEC and Maxus, along with the expansion and growth of digital-first agency Essence. “It was driven out of a thought that we share a number of very similar clients – such as L’Oreal, and Vodafone across both Maxus and MEC – and the merger is a way for us to service those global clients better,” says Alastair Aird, Global Chairman of Wavemaker, who was in India for the agency’s formal launch. “The cultures of the two organizations are very similar, and we have strong talent values. Both Maxus and MEC have 80%+ clients that are local, and that’s very different from MediaCom or Mindshare, who are more skewed towards global clients. Neither MEC nor Maxus was among the Top 5 agencies on its own. Putting them together, GroupM has three of the Top 5 global agency brands. We announced it to our management team towards the end of June, and then  nnounced it in the marketplace.”

In India, Kartik Sharma, Managing Director of Wavemaker South Asia, says they took time to talk to clients, starting off by saying that ‘we are going to remain as Maxus in India’. “That was really because we wanted to buy time to talk to our clients, and wanted to make sure that what we were creating was going to be right for each of our clients,” he adds, saying that having spoken to clients, the verdict was clear - the right thing to do in India was for Maxus (and MEC) to become Wavemaker.


“When Kelly asked Tim and me to do this in January, we didn’t quite appreciate it - the amount of work, the complexity of what we were doing, and most importantly the impact it would have on all 8,500 people of going into a new organization,” recalls Aird, talking of ‘8500 personal changes’ that were imminent. While the team worked on it, external consultants were also called in to help draw the roadmap of how the change was going to happen. “The point which is really exciting is now, when it’s going live. We have gone live in India, Australia, Germany, and in the US markets. Our commitment is that we will be operating as Wavemaker globally by the beginning of January 2018,” Aird says. “We are probably 35% through the transition phase. We will be 65% through by the beginning of December, and 100% by January. The sooner we can get our people excited to move on to the next phase, the better. Only in certain markets where we have shareholder issues that need to be sorted out, it is taking longer.”


In the MEC+Maxus=Wavemaker equation, one of the toughest challenges was perhaps realigning the senior leadership in both the agencies to pick one leader for a market. There would be two CEOs in each market, heading each of the agencies, and other senior people of the same rank in the second rung leadership as well. The GroupM bosses brought in professional consultants to make sure that every decision about the leadership team was through a rigorous process. First, a senior management team mapped the attributes that they wanted future leaders to have. This was followed by a rigorous process of scoring everybody against those attributes, in all 50+ markets where Wavemaker would be launched. “It was a very rigorous process, and of course there have been occasions where we have had to part company with leaders, but what we also did is re-align some of them in new and challenging roles within GroupM or WPP. Gangs, for example here in India, will be leading Essence. In some markets, one of the leaders from either Maxus or MEC might have replaced the Mindshare or the MediaCom leader. MEC and Maxus are a starting point, but we looked at it totally as GroupM and realigned the talent,” explains Aird. Some roles must have become redundant, as there would be similar ranks in both the agencies… so were there any lay-offs? “In any merger, there is an element of lay-offs. That’s sad, but a realistic consequence of doing a merger. What we have attempted to do is minimize those lay-offs wherever possible. And at a senior level, that is more difficult, but for duplication in the lower levels of the organization, because we are such a big group, and because there is probably a 20% staff churn in any year, we have been able to reallocate those people who were duplicated to new roles. We may have reduced our headcount by 500 globally at Wavemaker, but for most of those people – at least 350-400 - we have been able to find new roles in the organization. So, I am very proud,” says Aird. Sharma adds that in India, they have been able to find roles for everybody found redundant in the merged organization.

Meanwhile, Kartik Sharma joins the global board of the new agency, while Ajit Varghese, former APAC CEO of Maxus, is moving to London into a larger role at Wavemaker.

There is no regional structure in the scheme of things at Wavemaker. Each office reports directly unto the global office. “We have centers of excellence for our clients - in London, New York, LA, Mexico, Miami, Hong Kong and Singapore - where we manage global clients, but we will not manage our business in the traditional regional structure because as I have said, we want to get local to global,” states Aird. And what happens to the structure of client-specific teams like Team Red and Team ITC in the new system? Aird says nothing will change. “When you talk about Team Red, that’s a global structure. Ditto for other teams. Team Red for Vodafone was part of Maxus, it’s now part of Wavemaker. And all of team Red is now part of Wavemaker globally,” he says.


The load of logistic challenges of the transition phase are soon going to be behind Aird. Business-wise, he is ensuring that his clients understand ‘why we are doing what we are doing, bringing our clients on the journey with us’.

“Clients have said what they care about is that they still have the same brilliant people working on the business, with the same passion. In the short term, it is about ensuring continuity of the business. In the long term, it is about success. The  future of this is about creating something that is bigger and better than the sum of the two parts - better than MEC, better than Maxus. That’s what we are creating,” Aird says.

He has just met some clients in Delhi and Mumbai, and the feedback he has got is, ‘It’s fantastic that you are taking India so seriously as an organization that the leadership is going to influence the global leadership’. “Kartik will have exposure to what other clients are doing in other parts of the world. And if that knowledge and experience come back to our business, the clients are going to benefit. The reverse is also true - they are doing great things in India, and they now have a platform to share it with our global clients,” sums up Aird, adding that he is headed to Europe and China for now, but hopes to be together with Kartik Sharma again in December in New York, “plotting what we are going to do in 2018”.


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