HONG KONG--Burson-Marsteller has unveiled a new Asia-Pacific leadership team, including a CEO role for Matt Stafford overseeing a restructured Greater China unit. 

The changes come after a lengthy search to identify the successor to regional CEO Bob Pickard, who departed the firm last year. Patrick Ford, the Burson veteran who took on interim CEO duties after Pickard's exit, becomes regional chairman at the WPP firm.

Ford will be supported by a newly-created senior leadership team that features Australia CEO Christine Jones, Korea market leader Margaret Key, Genesis Burson-Marsteller principal Prema Sagar, and new Greater China CEO Matt Stafford.

"While we saw some very impressive people and had some very useful dialogue, the more we looked, the more we felt we had a very deep leadership group here," Ford told the Holmes Report regarding Burson's search for an Asia-Pacific CEO.

Ford did not rule out hiring a regional CEO at a later date, but said that "the plan is to move ahead with me in this seat and the executive team working very actively on strategic leadership."

"Obviously the buck stops here with me," added Ford, noting that the diversity of the leadership team would make sense in an "an amazingly diverse region."

Stafford, formerly Hong Kong market leader, takes charge of a reshuffled Greater China offering that now covers Burson's Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu, Shenzhen and Hong Kong offices.

Burson-Marsteller China CEO Chris Deri departs after joining Burson in late 2010. Once China's pre-eminent international PR firm, Ford admitted that Burson's growth in the country had not met expectations in recent years.  

"We have a very good foundation to build on," said Ford. "We think there’s a lot more opportunity for growth. We’re tapping into it to some extent. We anticipate making some very important hires in this market."

Under Stafford, noted Ford, Hong Kong had recorded impressive growth, particularly assisting Chinese companies aiming to expand overseas. The most notable of these clients is Huawei, now one of Burson's largest global relationships, which Stafford will continue to lead. 

Daisy King, currently head of Burson's US-China practice, adds interim Beijing market leader duties, while Vincent Li has been promoted to market leader for Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenzhen.

The duo joins a Greater China leadership team that also includes Shanghai and regional brand marketing head Angelina Ong; regional public affairs chair Ian McCabe; and Jackie Price, who heads Burson-Marsteller teams on two key client relationships.

Stafford's successor as Hong Kong market leader for Hong Kong is yet to be named.

The Asia-Pacific restructuring follows Don Baer's promotion to global CEO last year, after the departure of Mark Penn. Baer said that Stafford is "the person best suited to lead our China strategy moving forward, particularly given his expertise working with China-based multinational companies, such as Huawei, as they position their brands and enhance their corporate communications around the world."

Stafford re-joined Burson-Marsteller in Hong Kong in 2008 following five years as the Australian Government’s senior policy adviser on communications reporting to several Cabinet Ministers.

Ford, a 24-year Burson-Marsteller veteran, will continue to serve as the global vice chairman for client service and as a member of the Burson-Marsteller global leadership team