SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Chris Weil

CHRIS WEIL, MOMENTUM WORLDWIDE

BY BILL KING
SENIOR WRITER

When Chris Weil took over as CEO of event marketing agency Momentum Worldwide two years ago, he set off on a whirlwind blitz, covering most of the company’s 72 offices in 49 countries.

Chris Weil
• Titles: Chairman and CEO
• Company: Momentum Worldwide
• Age: 39
• Education: B.A., Westminster College, 1987
• Career: Arlen Marketing, 1991-1997; joined Momentum in 1997 to head the New York office; regional director of Momentum's Europe/Middle East/Africa operations, based in London, 2000-2003; named chairman and CEO of Momentum in 2003
• Family: Wife, Katherine; daughters Annabelle, 3, and Merilee, 1
• Last vacation: St. Bart's in February
• Last books read: "A Salty Piece of Land" by Jimmy Buffett and "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini
• Last movie seen: "Garden State"
• Greatest disappointment: Leaving Europe to take this job. It's a great job, but I loved living in Europe.
• Fantasy job: I'm in it. I love this job. But if I weren't doing this, I'd run a charter service on an 82-foot ketch with a beach bar as a base.
• Executive most admired: Lou Gerstner, because of his ability to change an organization like IBM
• Business advice: Culture wins the game, especially in the agency business. That's all you have is culture. Get the best people, set the culture right, and it's game over. You win.
Momentum grew to its size and scope through the acquisition of 33 agencies around the world. Now, Weil wants to tie those agencies together more tightly beneath an umbrella that allows them to function similarly while allowing for cultural differences.

His goal: to make Momentum one of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Places to Work within five years.

“Culture wins the game,” Weil said, borrowing from the philosophy that celebrity CEO Lou Gerstner applied when remaking IBM. “Especially in the agency business, that’s all you have is culture.

“Get the best people, set the culture right, and it’s game over. You win.”

To set that culture, Weil has installed a training curriculum. Some courses — such as the two-day “Momentum Essentials” series that Weil teaches at offices around the world — are geared toward building a company vernacular that can be shared across borders and tailoring presentations so that they speak in similar tones, if different languages. Others are aimed at individual development.

Employees who don’t keep up with training aren’t eligible for bonuses or raises.

Weil believes it’s an essential process for an überagency that was built through the acquisition of 33 other agencies.

“When you take their nameplates off the door and put yours up, you take away a culture that made them great, the reason you bought them,” Weil said. “If you don’t replace that with something even greater, it’s going to be a vacuum.”

Weil believes a consistent culture will help attract and retain the most talented employees. He also thinks it will help Momentum continue to deliver platforms that work in multiple markets for top clients such as American Express, General Motors, Microsoft and Anheuser-Busch.

It was that commitment to apply a single idea across varied markets and cultures that brought Momentum success on behalf of American Express at the tennis majors last year.

It all began with the idea of taking the U.S. Open beyond the grounds of the National Tennis Center to capture broader attention in the nation’s largest market. To do it, Momentum brought a slice of the Open atmosphere to Rockefeller Center. There, it set up a full court for eight days of clinics, skills challenges and celebrity matches that featured Chris Evert and Monica Seles, among others. It also showed matches live on a 25-foot screen.

“We brought the U.S. Open to more people, and it was a success,” Weil said. “It’s a strategy: tying ourselves to the broader community by drafting on the excitement of tennis in the marketplace.”

Momentum applied the same strategy at Wimbledon and at the Australian Open, tweaking it in both cases to drive exposure and contact with far more people than it otherwise would have reached at either event. During Wimbledon, Momentum floated a grass court down the Thames on which it staged an exhibition match between Monica Seles and John McEnroe. It also set up grass courts at the base of London’s Tower Bridge. In Australia, it staged similar events in Sydney, a far larger city than Melbourne, where the Open is played.

“The objectives are set broadbased and the concept is broadbased, but the execution is local market interpretation,” Weil said. “We’re local market citizens. That allows us to already be a citizen of Sao Paolo, so it’s not New York coming in to do it, it’s Sao Paolo. That’s an important differentiator. Entertainment and sports events are local first.”

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