Jean de Yturbe has two main ambitions this year. He is determined
to beat Michael Bungey at golf and he wants Cordiant’s shares to
outprice Saatchi & Saatchi. The first, he says, will be a long-term
project, and he is practising on a private course near the family’s
chateau in Normandy.
The second, he claims, is a much easier nut to crack - perhaps by the
end of the year.
De Yturbe’s official title, which is group president of Bates Worldwide,
does little to convey his actual power. His patch stretches from
Scandinavia to South Africa via the main European markets, including the
UK. As such, he is a key architect of Bates’ drive to improve its
His plans in this direction are broadly in line with those of his
Non-mainstream advertising makes more money than above the line, so
there will be a faster move into diversified services.
Healthcare is also a money-maker, so there are plans afoot to build on
last year’s acquisition of Healthworld. Then, of course, there is the
In fact, Bates is, in many ways, turning in a good performance and its
last set of financial results were fairly robust. Pre-tax profits leapt
by almost a third last year to pounds 32.3 million, and revenues were up
10 per cent (Campaign, 10 March).
The stock exchange, though, is used to a rich diet of WPP and
So if de Yturbe and Bungey - the chairman of Bates’ parent, Cordiant -
really want to impress Wall Street, they will need to pull something
much bigger out of the hat.
Take profit margins, for example. At Bates these rose significantly last
year, but only to 10 per cent, compared with the much more alluring 13
or so per cent sported by WPP. When you question why this is the case,
de Yturbe looks startled. ’But it took other agencies years to get
there,’ he cries. ’We have had only three.’
There you have a thread which runs through any financial discussions
about the Bates group. Although Bates has been around for years, and de
Yturbe has been running a good slice of it for nine years, he considers
the clock to have started ticking three years ago when the network broke
free from Saatchis.
So what has changed since Bates was launched as a separate entity on the
stock exchange in 1997? This is an invitation for one of those famous
French expansive gestures. The hands fly out and up as if hugging a bear
and out comes a very Gallic expostulation to which the English language
cannot do justice. ’Poeuffgghh,’ de Yturbe snorts, ’where do I start? At
Eurocom I could buy something in 15 minutes. In the early days at Bates
it was like ... like ... how long does it take to give birth to a baby
elephant? Two years? Everything was like a baby elephant. We were not
our own bosses.’
Now, of course, they are. The new, free Bates, while working well to
improve profits and revenues, has had its dark spots too - such as its
troubled London office. De Yturbe, as you might expect, is confident
that the London problem has been solved by the installation of a new
group chief executive, Toby Hoare, and the return of its former creative
director Andrew Cracknell.
’London needed to be re-motivated, they needed to have a clear view of
what to do and Toby and Andrew are doing that. We are going to become
very sexy very soon,’ he promises. That will not involve breaking up the
new integrated teams in London, however. ’Of course I will keep the
Some of our major clients, especially retail, are delighted by it,’ he
An hour with de Yturbe and you wonder what drives him so hard. The son
of a wealthy French lawyer and married to an Argentinian heiress, he
clearly has no need to work and yet his career has spanned more than 30
years - at DDB, Eurocom and now Bates. Why does he push himself so hard?
He says: ’You have a lovely expression over here, do you not? You cannot
be half pregnant.’
I take it from this that he means that it’s impossible to do things by