By Alasdair Reid, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 19 November 2010 12:00AM
Andy Roberts, those who know him say, is back where he belongs. But for an unfortunate sequence of events in late 2006, Roberts, you suspect, would still be known as the ultimate example of that rarest of advertising phenomena - the loyal company man.
He spent 20 years, man and boy, in the Bartle Bogle Hegarty media department, then at Motive when the department was spun off as a latter-day media independent, then at Starcom when Motive was subsumed into what eventually became the Publicis empire.
He would still be there now, it is possible to surmise, had he not been invited to pursue new career directions by Starcom's then chief executive, Linda Smith, who was pushing through a structural reorganisation designed to "future proof" the agency for the digital age.
Roberts took six months out of the business before resurfacing as a launch partner in Village Green Media, touted as a groundbreaking consultancy specialising in non-traditional television activity such as ad-funded programming.
Last week, he announced that he was leaving Village Green to become the global head of trading at Mindshare Worldwide, starting in January. He can pick up his career again within a big multinational agency hierarchy. Far more his sort of thing.
He takes strenuous issue with the inference here, as indeed you'd probably expect him to, arguing that he's more than comfortable in an entrepreneurial role - but it's telling, arguably, that the people we talk to about Roberts (including those who consider themselves friends and well-wishers) don't really believe this for one moment.
As one puts it: "He has many fine qualities - and no-one works harder - but he doesn't often give the impression of being a high-energy person. He doesn't create a buzz. When you're in a start-up situation, you really do have to put yourself about an incredible amount and be utterly shameless. What I'm saying is: if Village Green Media has been a success, it's a success that's way ahead of its profile."
And yes, absolutely, it has been a success, Roberts insists - he can't emphasis that enough. "I'd never have walked away if it was struggling," he reiterates. But even so, it can hardly have been a breeze trying to establish an agency in a recession.
Not that his new billet, though much less financially risky than launching your own business, will be entirely straightforward. As the global head of trading at Mindshare, he will be based in London, reporting to the worldwide chief strategy officer, Nick Emery, and the worldwide chief executive, Dominic Proctor, while working closely with Juergen Blomenkamp, Group M's head of global trading.
So his first and perhaps most challenging task, arguably, will be to define just exactly what his role is to be. After all, trading is very much Blomenkamp's fiefdom.
Roberts agrees it's too early to be definitive here. Inevitably, he argues, his job will involve a "mixture of things". He expands: "Media owner relationships are broadly the remit of Group M and buyers are there to do the buying. But it's also true to say that in the past, I've liked a bit of negotiation and I hope I can provide a bit of value and insight on that side too."
The most important aspect, he continues, will be looking after multinational clients. He states: "At the end of the day, that's what we're all here to do. We all work with clients. Group M is there to ensure we leverage best value from the marketplace. My role will be to ensure that all parties are working towards common goals."
Mark Cranmer, formerly Roberts' boss and now the chief executive of Isobar, reckons that he's an unsung hero of the buying community. "The thing is, you can utterly depend on him delivering," he reveals. "In the sort of role he'll be fulfilling for big global clients, you really don't want a domineering type who needs the limelight. He's a consummate team player. You need someone who's a good listener to pull everything together."
Meanwhile, Roberts is also quick to rebut any suggestion that he lacks credentials on the digital side. There were rumours around the time of his departure from Starcom that he'd fallen out with Smith over matters digital.
Smith had determined to do away with the silo structures that had built up since the dotcom era. As a matter of urgency, digital had to be fully integrated into the living, breathing heart of the agency - not something managed at one remove.
So it was assumed, when Roberts became one of the casualties of Smith's new broom, that he'd been resisting this philosophy. "Absolutely not," he retorts. "I'm keen on digital integration."
He points in particular to the consultancy work he did alongside Douglas McArthur in drawing up the COI media pitch parameters last year. That, he said, was all about digital integration. His credentials on that front, he insists, are impeccable.
All water under the bridge now, of course. And indeed Smith herself says she is a fan of Roberts' more obvious qualities. She concludes: "He is a genuinely nice guy, the ultimate honest broker - and I have worked with him both at Starcom and as a supplier on the media owner side (at Capital Radio). He's tough and he's after the best deal possible, of course, but he's also very straight. That's a good attribute for a trader to have."
Lives: Merton Park, London
Family: Married 26 years - wife Sharon, kids Joseph 22, Emily 19
Most treasured possession: Vintage Tag watch. A present from my wife
when she definitely couldn't afford it
Must-have gadget: iPod Touch
Favourite TV programme: Mad Men
Last book read: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Interests outside work: Developing my Spanish property, playing golf
badly, rugby, cricket, family, music
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk