Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts to Resign: ‘I Failed Exceptionally Fast’

By Erik Oster Comment

Publicis announced this morning that Saatchi & Saatchi executive chairman and Publicis Groupe head coach Kevin Roberts will resign as of September 1 — ahead of his previously scheduled May 1, 2017 retirement.

Roberts had been placed on a leave of absence following a Business Insider interview in which he made controversial comments regarding gender diversity issues. He told Lara O’Reilly saying “The fucking debate is all over” and he sees no need to spend “any time” worrying about gender diversity at his agencies. He also dismissed those who spend time campaigning over the issue, taking aim at Cindy Gallop specifically as having “problems that are of her own making.”

The press release from Publicis read simply:

“Publicis Groupe announced today the resignation of Kevin Roberts Head Coach de Publicis Groupe, Executive Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi/Fallon, Member of the Management Board. The Supervisory Board and the Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe took note of Kevin Robert’s decision to step down with effect from September 1st 2016, prior to his retirement date due in May 2017.”

Roberts’ PR firm released his own statement to media in which he apologized for the “upset and offence” caused by his “miscommunication on a number of points.” Here’s the statement in full: 

“Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast” is a leadership maxim I advocate.

When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast.

My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offence, and for this I am sorry.
I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years.

I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients.

So that we can all move forward, I am bringing forward my May 1, 2017, retirement from the company, and will leave the Groupe onSeptember 1, 2016.

There is a lot of learning to reflect on, and within the thousands of tweets, comments and articles there are many powerful and passionate contributions on the changing nature of the workplace, the work we do, what success really looks like, and what companies must do to provide women and men the optimal frameworks in which to flourish.

I believe that new thinking, frameworks and measures are needed to make more rapid progress on diversity in all its forms, in all professions and occupations. Hopefully, the focus on this serious and complex issue will gather momentum.

Cindy Gallop, who Roberts mentioned directly, released her own statement to Business Insider in response to the news of Roberts’ resignation. She claims Publicis could have made a greater statement to the women it employs if it had fired Roberts but says she anticipates greater change moving forward.

Gallop’s statement in full:

I’m pleased to see that Kevin Roberts has resigned, given that his comments made him non-credible as a chairman charged with inspiring, motivating and promoting into leadership the thousands of women who work for Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide; as a coach charged with training and developing the industry leaders of the future; and a leader whom huge clients selling brands. products and services to millions of women trust with their own brand reputation, communication and sales.

However, given he was forced to resign, PublicisGroupe would have made a far greater statement to every woman working within their network, at every client brand they represent, and to the industry as a whole, if they had fired him.

I look forward to Maurice Levy and Publicis Groupe now spearheading a very dramatic seachange in the way the white male leadership of our industry welcomes women and people of color up to the leadership ranks shoulder to shoulder with them, and to seeing tangible, visible action on their part in the coming weeks. Starting with Maurice Levy attending and speaking at the 3PercentConference in NYC this Nov 3/4 (where I will also be speaking) – the perfect platform to address the female talent and creativity in our industry and demonstrate how much he values it.

Some context for the interview that led to this imbroglio: O’Reilly declined to speak to us about it directly, but we hear that a PR firm that represents Roberts as a client (but has no relation to the Saatchi or Publicis organizations) set up the meeting when Roberts happened to be in London last month.

This interview was more about promoting Roberts as a thought leader than discussing any of his work or future plans for Saatchi & Saatchi/Publicis Groupe. During the same session, O’Reilly asked him to comment on the current U.S. presidential election; he noted that Donald Trump has a simple and effective slogan and said that Hillary Clinton is “bereft of a selling line … bereft of a dream.”

There do not appear to have been any PR professionals in attendance during the interview. Otherwise someone surely would have told Roberts to either avoid the issue of gender equality altogether or to stop while he was ahead.

It’s not clear at this time whether Saatchi & Saatchi plans to name a successor.

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