Saatchi’s Top Tier Still a Group Affair

By sticking with a management partnership in New York, Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts is acknowledging the political difficulty of picking a single leader from among his troops. He is also coming to grips with failing to find an outsider to run the New York office, despite searching for more than a year.

Instead, Roberts has streamlined the team (from six executives to four) and injected new blood, bringing in Scott Gilbert, longtime CEO of Saatchi’s Torrance, Calif., office. In addition, Roberts has vowed to spend more time in New York and, as such, has taken on the title of chairman.

Management partnership or not, Saatchi is still very much Roberts’ agency. That may help explain why outsiders who considered the New York job all passed on it.

While unusual, Saatchi’s setup reflects its client-focused environment, with the leaders of global accounts running the agency (Mike Burns on General Mills, Tom Lom on Johnson & Johnson and so on). It seems to be working: The agency won some $600 million in new business last year from global clients Procter & Gamble and General Mills. Much of it came from dismantled sister shop D’Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles. Still, in the case of P&G, Saatchi benefited more than any other roster shop—a sign of a satisfied client.

“A management committee can absolutely work if they’re all equal and collaborative,” said Arthur Anderson, managing principal at Morgan Anderson Consulting in New York. “I don’t think it’s hurt them.”

Six managing partners proved unwieldy, however. (There had once been eight.) With the added business, Roberts wants Keith Bunnell and Tim Love to focus exclusively on client issues. Bunnell remains global equity director on P&G’s Olay, while Love assumes a new role as vice chairman, international—Roberts’ right-hand man on P&G across all Publicis Groupe agencies. (North American CFO Mike Popernik also sheds management partnership duties.)

Gilbert’s job in New York is to oversee day-to-day operations and win new clients, which historically has been a weak spot. In a recent agency memo, Roberts said a key challenge in 2003 is to add a “major new global, U.S.-based client.”

“[Gilbert is] going to have to get up to speed,” said Anderson. “It’s probably different in New York than it was in Los Angeles, [which] didn’t go after new business so much because of the dominance of Toyota.”

It’s a homecoming for Gilbert, 49, a Long Island native and former math teacher who was an account hand at Saatchi predecessor Dancer Fitzgerald Sample, New York, before heading west in the 1980s. He was named to lead Saatchi’s Torrance office in 1997. He is seen as a smart manager with strong organizational skills and a personal touch.

“He doesn’t just know everybody’s name here, he knows where they went to school,” said Steve Rabosky, chief creative officer in Torrance.

“There are agency presidents who run agencies and there are agency presidents who run the [key] account. He did both,” said Toyota’s Steve Sturm, a former vp of marketing.

Meanwhile, Saatchi has moved quickly to fill its top creative post in London and is seeking Gilbert’s successor in L.A. London’s new ecd, Tony Granger, is seen as a good fit, given his award-winning reel and success in small but creatively driven markets. He starts April 2.

The goal is to have someone aboard the $500 million L.A. office by May 1, when Gilbert leaves. Saatchi is said to be focusing on a handful of outsiders with auto credentials.