Hamish McLennan on Stepping Down

When I became CEO five years ago, my wife and I felt it was an incredible opportunity—not just for me but for our family. The world was becoming more global, and we thought the move to New York would challenge the kids. When we left Sydney, we thought we wouldn't be back for a long time.

I'm ambitious: I've spent 25 years being a racehorse. You strive to get to the top of your game, and you enjoy it—but it can become all-consuming. The reality is that you can't have a global role and spend much time with your kids. We have 186 offices across 90 countries, and I have to spend up to three weeks a month on the road. It's hard for anyone in an executive role to strike a balance: You have a constant tension between wanting to excel at work and wanting to bring up a great family.

But you can't let your job define you. My wife and I started talking about me giving up my job last fall. We were so far from home, and we didn't want the children to lose their connection to family and friends back in Australia. There wasn't one single moment when it suddenly struck me that I had to give up this job, but my daughter is 13, and my son is 11. They'll start to be out the door soon. I don't want them to leave home and say, "Well, you had a great career, but we don't know you."

One of the hardest things was telling [parent company WPP's (WPPGY) CEO] Martin Sorrell. He gave me this chance, and he's been a mentor. He initially couldn't believe it. Deep down, I think, he felt disappointed that I was leaving New York, but he understood and supported my decision. We both know you can't do this job from Australia.

At 44, I'd rather be known as a good father than a good CEO. I haven't resigned from the company—we'll cook something up in Australia—and it's not inconceivable that I could move back to New York when the kids are through high school. I think I'll be a better executive and a better person if I do this now.

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