When Chris Ingram sold his Tempus group of companies to WPP in 2001 and pocketed £64 million, anyone who didn't know the man might assume he'd be heading off for a rather enjoyable (and luxurious) retirement.
After working in the media industry for more than 40 years, perhaps Ingram would be ready for a rest. And after spending 25 years growing his eponymous Chris Ingram Associates into a global media network allied with a raft of marketing services companies, you might think he'd done the marketing thing every which way.
But Ingram's work ethic, his distaste for the high life and his sheer bloody-minded determination to prove himself in the marketing services arena took on a new shape this week in the form of a new type of strategic consultancy.
Ingram has been eyeing the client boardroom for some time now, and is confident that there is a growing demand for top-level advice that marries business wisdom with advertising and marketing nous. It's about harnessing the expertise of the management consultants with the insight of branding and advertising agencies, Ingram says. As for the name of this new venture: "It wasn't my plan to have my name over the door again," Ingram confesses. "But I got out voted." So The Ingram Partnership it is then.
But already this is much more than a one-man show. Ingram has bought Unity, the strategic media consultancy owned by Ivan Pollard and Andy Tilley, and a brand-building agency called The Gathering. Pollard and Tilley and The Gathering's Duncan Bruce and Marc Cox become founding partners of the new outfit, alongside Ditlev Schwanenflugel, a former McKinsey management consultant. With Alastair Rhymer, ex-WPP, as the finance director, Ingram now has his core team. And it's all supported by an advisory board that embraces a formidable breadth of experience: Richard Eyre, a former chief executive of ITV, Terry Neill, a former chairman of the worldwide board of Accenture, and Andrew Seth, a former chairman of Lever Brothers.
As well as the people, it already has an impressive client list that includes Bosch, B&Q, Cadbury Schweppes, Carphone Warehouse, The Guardian Media Group, Kraft and Lucasfilm. And more than 35 per cent of the client base is international. Altogether, it is unlikely to represent a sizeable ready-made income stream for the new company (Ingram won't disclose how much, but it's "enough to get us going"), but they are existing relationships ripe for growth.
Ingram has already put £10 million of his own money into the venture, though he refuses to say how much he paid for Unity or The Gathering.
Both companies were given 50 per cent of their value in cash, and 50 in shares in the new company. He's coy, too, about his own stake. "Enough," is all he will say, stressing that The Ingram Partnership will be just that: a partnership, all working together under one roof in London's Wigmore Street to offer a seamless service.
But about that offering. In the manner of consultancies, there's always a danger that the proposition sounds like an all-things-to-all-businesses candy floss of puff. Ingram says his proposition has grown out of detailed research among senior clients.
He says: "It's all about building brands in a business context. Marketing directors get our proposition straight away. We're training up a team of analysts and strategists, we're not going to be called fluffy bunnies. We'll spend a lot of time on the measurement and benchmarking of results, making sure that our strategic advice is properly delivered."
In essence TIP will hope to offer integrated strategic advice, underpinned by the rigours and disciplines of the best management consultancies. Ingram says his company's independence and the fact that it won't be doing any implementation means its claim to offer integrated, unbiased advice will have a credibility that the marketing services holding companies can't match. "This is the only model for integration I can think of."
But with TIP sitting at the client's right hand, doling out business and strategic communications advice, won't it be treading on the territory of the traditional marketing services community? "There will be a degree of competition," he acknowledges. "But the advertising industry spends all its time telling you what it's going to do and no time doing it. I'm not going to make that mistake."
Even so, Ingram is aware that there is work to do to strengthen TIP's credibility. "This is a rolling launch. Our comms offer needs to be rounded out further."
Ingram says that putting in his own wad of money to kick-start TIP will make it easier to get further investment as the company expands, and claims there's plenty left in the coffers to fuel growth. The company is already looking at further acquisitions to enhance and broaden its offering, "but I'm not going to go on an acquisition spree for the sake of it. We have to make sure we get our culture right. I'm determined not to work with people I don't respect."
Ingram says he's "working like a lunatic" but feels like "a dog with two tails". TIP has "some pretty scary qualitative targets to meet within six or seven years" and there's no sense that this is a nice little pre-retirement distraction for the man. "This is seriously long term. I'm determined not to be anything more than medium sized, and not to spend all my time on some mad international expansion plan. So we will never impress people with our scale. But we will impress them with our experience."
Even so, Ingram stresses that he and his team will be learning as they go, too. "This sort of thing hasn't been done before, so of course we have things to learn." It may be a new model for the marketing services industry, but Ingram is confident. The bloody-minded determination to prove himself - the characteristic that drove him well beyond the achievements of his peers from the early days of the media independents - remains. "I take pleasure in being right," he warns.