Ghassan Harfouche adds APAC president title as McCann makes global management changes

The network adds APAC oversight to Ghassan Harfouche's MENA/Turkey remit, moves Alex Lubar to North America and names Ji Watson CEO in Japan.

Giving three existing executives new roles, McCann Worldgroup has made changes that put new leaders in place in North America, APAC and Japan.

Alex Lubar, president of McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific since 2019, has been named president of the McCann advertising agency network in North America. Ghassan Harfouche, group CEO of the Middle East Communications Network (McCann Worldgroup and Interpublic Group’s partner network in the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey), will now oversee APAC as well, as he adds Lubar’s Asia Pacific president title to his business card. And in Japan, Ji Watson, CFO of McCann Worldgroup APAC and representative director of McCann Worldgroup Japan, will take on the additional role of CEO of McCann Worldgroup Japan.

Chris Macdonald, chairman and CEO of McCann, has been looking after North America since Devika Bulchandani left the North America president role to join Ogilvy in November. In Japan, Watson replaces Antony Cundy, who took up the CEO role in 2019, but departed the company in Q1.

The moves do not impact Prasoon Joshi’s role as APAC chairman, which he holds in addition to his roles as CEO and chief creative officer of McCann Worldgroup India; Joshi will partner with Harfouche on leadership tasks while continuing to provide vision and direction, the company said.

“Alex, Ghassan and Ji have each demonstrated an impressive ability to drive client growth and creatively effective marketing solutions before and even during the difficult period of the pandemic,” said Bill Kolb, chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup. “What they’ve accomplished with their teams in their respective regions, including expanding our integrated communications offering to clients, has been a key element of how we’ve continued to build our business as we prepare for the era of increased client activity when the pandemic ends.”

Lubar returns to New York

Lubar’s move to the Singapore-based APAC president position in 2019 followed stints as North America CMO starting in 2012, global CMO starting in 2014 and CEO of McCann London starting in 2016. Before McCann he spent time with agencies including Grey and BBH.

“Alex will bring great perspectives from his experience in the UK and Asia,” Macdonald told Campaign. “Working in different markets accelerates cultural learning, understanding of the role and the impact of marketing, and how to be a leader within very different markets.” Lubar’s exposure to the more digitally advanced APAC markets, as well as the cultural diversity in the APAC region, will prove helpful, Macdonald added. “Alex will be bringing a lot of valuable knowledge and initiatives with him, which we are excited to adapt for North America,” he said.

In North America, Lubar will have a very clear brief to sustain momentum McCann has built over recent years; drive creativity, growth and further integration across all McCann-brand agencies; and attract and retain talent, Macdonald said. “The region is very well-positioned for further growth, and Alex has a great track record in driving organic and new business growth,” he added.

While Lubar’s tenure in APAC was relatively brief, he completely restructured the region and made significant leadership changes across many markets, including Japan, SEA and China, Kolb told Campaign. “We are seeing the returns on these investments already,” he said. “Alex achieved this in record time during an incredibly challenging period around the region with Covid.”

The network credits Lubar with overseeing the addition of several new business wins and the expansion of some of McCann Worldgroup’s largest global clients further into APAC, including GSK, Reckitt and Pernod Ricard. He also spearheaded the APAC region’s ‘Year of Belonging’, a DE&I and wellbeing initiative. This has moved the dial in terms of talent metrics, according to a spokesperson, and elements of it will be rolled out across other regions.

Harfouche’s remit for APAC transformation

Harfouche, who joined MCN in 2011, already had oversight of 14 different Interpublic Group advertising, media and PR agency brands in 15 cities across 13 countries in MENA and Turkey. APAC adds another 26 offices in 13 markets.

The MCN Network has enjoyed “tremendous success” under Harfouche’s leadership, and he is well placed to handle the challenge of adding another vast territory to his purview, agency leaders believe.

“One of the many lessons the pandemic has taught us is that we need to look at the world in a different way,” Kolb told Campaign. Business transformation is one of McCann’s five strategic goals globally (the others being DE&I, creativity, operational and financial rigour, and growth.). “We saw an exceptional opportunity with Ghassan, given his success across one of the most complex regions of Middle East and North Africa, to leverage that knowledge to drive transformation in Asia.”

The pandemic also underscored the need to “enhance decision-making velocity” by empowering and investing in markets. “This strategy is very similar to what Ghassan has executed across MENA,” Kolb said. “Ghassan is the perfect leader to reimagine one of the most important regions going into the future. Given the unique cultures and market conditions of both APAC and MENA, Ghassan will continue to be supported in both regions by management teams comprised of region-specific specialists, who are best placed to partner with clients and our people in local markets.”

Joshi, as APAC chairman, will also play a key role. “The role sits in partnership alongside the role of APAC president, with responsibility for key decision-making in the region shared across both positions,” Lubar told Campaign. “Practically speaking, this means joint leadership of regional meetings and dual representation for the region internationally. Where Prasoon comes into his own is creative vision. As one of the industry’s most celebrated creative leaders, Prasoon drives the network’s creative agenda, both in terms of work and engagement, with our people and with our clients.”

In addition, the work Lubar did “binding our network together to create a strong community across the [APAC] region” means Ghassan is stepping into a strong team, Kolb added.

Harfouche’s experience includes working with many of McCann Worldgroup agency brands, including FP7 McCann, Commonwealth McCann, MRM, McCann Health, Momentum, and Weber Shandwick in addition to other IPG media, promotional and ad agency units.

Watson’s Japan expertise

Watson has nearly 30 years of experience including more than 20 years on the client side with Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola and Samsung. She spent seven years with Ogilvy before joining McCann APAC in 2016.

“Ji is central to the growth and expansion of our operations across APAC,” Kolb said. “Over the past two years, McCann Worldgroup Asia Pacific has placed increased focus on bolstering individual markets under strong local market leadership, as we leverage scale and expertise across the region to deliver the best possible solutions for our clients. Ji’s expertise in the Japanese market and her experience in leading our agencies in the region are critical to our success in APAC.”

Cundy came into the Japan CEO role with hopes of making McCann “a viable competitor to Dentsu and Hakuhodo” in the market. Kolb expresses the network’s Japan ambition in more nuanced terms. “Our objective in Japan is to give clients a choice,” he told Campaign. “In a market dominated by local networks, we believe that Japanese clients need a global standard, a fully transparent, networked agency in order to ensure their competitiveness both at home and around the world. We are also uniquely positioned to help domestic Japanese clients that are looking for global scale. That’s where we find ourselves positioned differently from the local big players.”

To compete with the home-grown giants, McCann has invested heavily to build specialist disciplines and has seen “fantastic results” from MRM, McCann Health and Craft over recent years, he added.

Asked about Watson’s multiple responsibilities, Kolb noted that she’ll be supported because “each agency brand in Japan has a CEO who is performing exceptionally well”.

“Ji’s job will be to continue to drive integration across agency brands and continue to invent the best model for our global clients as well as our local Japanese clients,” he said.