The takeover saga that ended
in a trio of Pyrrhic victories
campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 15 November 2001 12:05PM
As the dust settles on the mess that is the WPP/Tempus affair, let's posit this question: can you have a contest in which all the protagonists experience a Pyrrhic victory? Ordinarily, I'd say such an idea was a contradiction in terms, but this is an exception, writes Dominic Mills.
Havas may have withdrawn from the bid (making some money in the process by selling out to WPP's higher offer), and therefore emerged financially unscathed. But its aim of building a credible media offering on the foundations of Media Planning Group has been stymied. Some soul searching and nifty footwork is required before it can move on again, if indeed it can.
WPP -- let's say Sir Martin Sorrell since this was an intensely personal affair -- may have won Tempus, but lost his battle with the Takeover Panel to withdraw and is therefore forced to pay a price -- £437 million -- he deems too high. Confucius' words, "Be careful what you wish for; it may come true", could be inscribed on the WPP boardroom table as a warning to all.
Last, we have Tempus' chairman, Chris Ingram, who in order to fulfil his fiduciary duty, was in the apparently contrary position of fighting to be taken over by someone he didn't want to be taken over by. Weird, eh?
That is not to say there are no winners. According to Tempus' annual report, at least 200 staff have share incentive schemes that account for 12 per cent of Tempus' equity. In crude terms, that means those 200 are cumulatively £52.5 million richer today than they were ten days ago. Some will go, of course, but those who stay may also find themselves
winners in the career stakes. That is because, in any
merger with Group Media Edge, they have every chance of taking the whip hand. That being so, they will find themselves playing with a significantly bigger train set than would otherwise have been the case.
As for Ingram, does it really make sense to describe someone who walks away with £62 million as a loser? If you believe, as I do with the utmost conviction, that for Ingram the money has only ever been a way of keeping the score, not an end in itself -- then it does.
I bumped into Ingram at a social function 36 hours after the Panel rejected WPP's appeal. The backslappers were all over him with congratulations. His somewhat rueful demeanour, however, said it all. He may have "won", but he's lost his life's work. That Tempus ever became a £430 million business is down to his passion, vision, obsession with the business, sheer pig-headed obstinacy and determination to steer the course he felt right. If that sounds familiar, well, they are the qualities he shares with his opponent in this saga, Sorrell.
And therein lies the supreme irony. Sorrell and
Ingram have much more in common than they do different. They just failed to see it.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk