Christine Walker’s Resignation: Walker ready for fresh challenge

When Zenith Media’s staff were gathered together by its chairman, John Perriss, on Monday morning, speculation about the departure of the chief executive, Christine Walker, had been rife for so long that it was perhaps the last thing they expected to hear confirmed.

When Zenith Media’s staff were gathered together by its chairman,

John Perriss, on Monday morning, speculation about the departure of the

chief executive, Christine Walker, had been rife for so long that it was

perhaps the last thing they expected to hear confirmed.



’I was shell-shocked,’ one senior manager admits. ’We’ve all heard the

rumours, but when it’s no longer idle speculation but hard fact, it is a

real body blow.’



In fact, the news that rocked the industry this week had been made last

autumn, when Walker decided that the time was right to move on from the

company she had helped found eight years ago and with which she has

become synonymous.



Walker, 43, handed in her notice to Zenith’s parent, Cordiant, in

October.



Apart from a few key Cordiant directors and Graham Duff, the joint

managing director of Zenith who emerged this week as Walker’s successor,

no-one knew. Even Andy Tilley, now the sole managing director, was not

informed until late last week.



Walker’s daughter, Jacqueline, was also kept in the dark. ’As I saw my

daughter rush out of the house to school this morning, I thought I

really must tell Jacqueline I’ve handed my notice in and that things are

going to get hectic,’ Walker said, the day after the official statement

appeared.



Walker has been so closely associated with her other baby - Zenith -

that the idea of her turning her back on the company would have been

unthinkable 18 months ago.



However, the departure of Maurice Saatchi from Saatchi and Saatchi at

the end of 1994 sparked one of the toughest years in Zenith’s

history.



’It was a particularly stressful year for me personally and

professionally,’ Walker, whose husband died in 1995 after a long

illness, says. ’There was a lot of hysteria and we managed not to get

involved in the emotions or politics of it all.’



1995 was a watershed year for Zenith, not least because Walker was now

dealing on a group level with the likes of Jennifer Laing, then chairman

of Saatchis, and Adam Crozier, Saatchis’ joint chief executive, who,

according to observers, were no substitute in Walker’s eyes for the buzz

of working closely with the Saatchi brothers.



It has also been suggested that Walker became increasingly exasperated

with her Cordiant paymasters, who were, in the words of one senior

executive, ’always scratching around for ways to make savings’.



Constantly inundated by offers, Walker nevertheless remained loyal to

her employer and demurred from actively pursuing invitations while on

the Zenith payroll. ’I needed to break my emotional attachment to Zenith

in order to view things from a fresh perspective,’ she says, adding that

the decision to go was borne out of a need to reappraise her life.



If that sounds like the dawn of a realisation that this self-confessed

workaholic needs a more balanced existence and wants to put the ad world

behind her, then think again.



In fact, Walker has never sounded more bullish: ’I’m incredibly excited

and I’ve got utter confidence in the success of my next venture.’



That will be good news for many Zenith clients who lined up this week to

endorse Walker’s drive and determination, even though some observers

took the opportunity to question her management style and her ability to

build a loyal and supportive team. There is no doubt that Walker is why

some clients use Zenith and some were indicating this week that they

would like to work with her in the future.



Walker herself is more circumspect about her close client relationships:

’Whatever I do I’m contractually bound and it doesn’t take a rocket

scientist to work out that I have to be very careful.’



Where Walker will next exert her single-minded determination is

unclear.



Favourite, for some time, has been the role of engineer for a WPP media

operation. Even before Walker tendered her notice she was singled out as

the best person to pull the Ogilvy and Mather and J. Walter Thompson

media operations under one banner. So has Walker been wooed by WPP’s

chief executive, Martin Sorrell? ’I’m aware of the speculation, but

you’re making an assumption that there’s a job there,’ is all she’s

prepared to say on the issue.



Other possibilities raised include a group role at Carat, a rescue job

at CIA, a media start-up for M&C Saatchi - or, who knows, maybe

Christine Walker Media.



Not surprisingly, Walker, who has yet to finalise a leaving date, knows

in her mind just what she wants. ’I know the sort of challenge I would

like and the sort of organisation I want to work for - an organisation

with a strong vision, highly focused. And it doesn’t bother me if it

involves pain and problems.



’At Zenith I’ve been well paid, I know what I’m doing and it’s a great

company. But it’s almost too comfortable.



’I’m in the mood to be pioneering. I want to prove I can do it

again.’



The story so far

1988     Zenith launches, with

         claimed billings of pounds 700

         million

1991     Chairman Ray Morgan

         retires,Walker becomes

         chief executive, Andy Tilley

         joins to boost planning

1993     Graham Duff joins as head

         of broadcast

1994     Managing director, Steve

         King, leaves for Zenith US

1995     Zenith loses pounds 65 million of

         UK business, as BA and

         Dixons follow Maurice

         Saatchi out of Cordiant

1995     Duff and Tilley share the

         managing director’s role

1995     Zenith successfully defends

         a full-scale review of its pounds 70

         million Kingfisher business

1996     Zenith branches out with

         Zenith Direct and launches

         its first joint venture, Zebra

         Media, with Leagas

         Shafron Davis

1997     Zenith announces Christine

         Walker’s departure



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