Patrick Xu and Ashutosh Srivastava have been appointed as CEOs of GroupM, WPP's media investment group, within Asia-Pacific. With distinct geographic responsibilities, the duo will replace Mark Patterson, who had been promoted to a global COO role in November last year.
GroupM announced that it is expanding Xu's China CEO remit to Hong Kong and Taiwan markets. Xu will also remain WPP’s China country manager. Srivastava will take responsibility for all other GroupM Asia-Pacific markets, effective immediately.
Xu will be based in Shanghai and Srivastava remains in Singapore.
In their new roles, Xu and Srivastava will join recently named EMEA CEO Demet İkiler as the newest members of the GroupM's global leadership team and will be responsible for strategy and operations throughout the APAC region across GroupM’s agencies, including Mindshare, MediaCom, Wavemaker, Essence and m/Six.
The appointments of Xu and Srivastava are part of a raft of changes at the company, starting with the appointment of a new CEO in Christian Juhl to replace Kelly Clark as global CEO in late 2019. Once in place, Juhl had made a series of appointments at GroupM and its agencies, as he sought add fresh impetus and verve to an entity that some observers feel at times has struggled to find its place and purpose. Most recently, Juhl has changed leadership in the UK, in a continued push for growth.
In Asia, the growth of GroupM's business and the region's size and complexity has compelled it to spilt up the responsibility of managing the disparate geography, both Xu and Srivastava said.
Srivastava now takes charge of driving growth in Southeast Asia, where Indonesia has been performing strongly alongside other growth markets such as Thailand and Vietnam. Elevating the Philippines unit will be an area of focus, as will reviving flagging fortunes in Australia. Srivastava will also work to manage the development of digital platforms, services and back office functions in India. "There are different priorities for different sub-regions, but all big areas of focus for us," Srivastava told Campaign.
Over in Greater China, Xu will continue to focus on managing growth in such a huge and challenging market (the second largest globally for WPP, GroupM's parent) and more immediately, steer the region's revival from the ravages of COVID-19. He expects mainland China to start emerging from the trenches quicker than many predict and wants to ensure the entire Greater China region is well positioned. "We want to have the same (growth) momentum in Hong Kong and Taiwan," he told Campaign.
"We have the fastest-growing and the most progressive digital markets in the world with incredible diversity of media landscapes, cultures and consumer preferences," Xu said in a statement. "Our joint leadership will do all we can to enhance synergy and create more value for our clients as well as our media and tech partners.”
Srivastava also thinks GroupM can also play a bigger and more impactful role in Asia. "Our job is to outpace the market and therefore have a higher level of deployment ... we work with so many global clients in our agency, it would be easy to replicate some of those practices in Asia and scale it to a much broader part of our client portfolio," he added.
On the ground, the executive committee for Asia will now report to both Xu and Srivastava, since there are yet several Asia-wide mandates being run.
Despite these challenges, Patterson thinks this dual appointment--with two Asians leading the region for the first time--is a strong step forward. “Patrick and Ashutosh will raise the bar in the region for our people and clients, of that I have absolutely no doubt at all," he told Campaign. "In my new role I will do all can to help them accomplish that and achieve the changes, the goals and the vision for the business we have laid out globally.“
GroupM APAC has a a market share of 43% in the region, with 12,000 people and nearly $16 billion in billings across 16 countries (COMvergence, 2019) – including three of the top ten markets globally.
Patterson reckons that given the breadth and depth of GroupM's business, having two senior executives, with distinct responsibilities, helps, rather than hinders the firm's business. “We elected to structure the region this way given its size and cultural diversity,” he added in a press release. “The leaders of this region require broad and deep local market understanding and cultural insight as well as a hands-on approach working with the regional and market teams.”
In terms of the future, both leaders will have two areas of focus. One is making sure GroupM agencies are able to differentiate and strengthen themselves in the market place and secondly to keep up the quality of work.
How they got here
Xu joined GroupM in 2014 as China CEO, leading the group to double-digit growth annually since 2015, the company stated. In early 2017, he added WPP country manager to his remit, responsible for WPP’s third largest market with more than 10,000 people across the group.
Srivastava, meanwhile, has spent over two decades at various WPP entities. He joined WPP in 1997 in India with J. Walter Thompson, leading the Unilever relationship until 2001. In that role, he helped consolidate the business across South Asia and MENA, culminating in the launch of Mindshare in that part of the world.
He was subsequently the CEO for GroupM in South Asia, before moving to Singapore to be Mindshare APAC CEO in 2006. He then became Mindshare’s global products and talent leader from 2012-14 and, since then, has been CEO for its growth markets group covering APAC, MENA, Africa and Russia.