Close-up: Newsmaker - Can Daley see the Saatchis reinvention through?

Will Lee Daley's brightness and passion be enough for Saatchis, Emma Barns asks. Just 18 months ago, Saatchi & Saatchi had a new so-called dream team and the agency lauded its chief executive, Kevin Dundas, and executive creative director, Tony Granger, as being the best thing since sliced bread.

Critics, however, say they have achieved little and, with Charlotte Street's revolving doors in action once more, the agency's claims that this time things really are going to change will be closely monitored.

Last week, Lee Daley, the former global chief of Red Cell, was drafted in to the Saatchi fold as the UK group's new chairman and chief executive.

Replacing Dundas who, like Granger, has been moved onwards in the Saatchis machine, Daley has been briefed to continue the reinvention of Saatchis as an "ideas company", as well as to improve the agency's financial and creative performance.

The suggestion is that Dundas laid the foundations and Daley has now arrived to do some much-needed building work. "Kevin brought a calm to Saatchis - there's a stable, happy atmosphere, the clients are happy and we've won at Cannes. Lee has been brought in as an additive to accelerate all this and to add pace and energy at the highest level," Richard Hytner, the chairman and chief executive of Saatchis EMEA, explains.

Hytner's assessment could be right - while Dundas may have covered some of the groundwork, this hasn't yet been translated into an awful lot of action. Saatchis' Cannes wins this year were predominantly for relatively small, local clients and its pieces of new business have been nominal - all five have a combined worth of just £16.4 million. Consequently, Saatchis has been dropping further down the agency rankings and has fallen out of the top ten entirely, to 12th place.

Pressure for a turnaround in the fortunes of the Saatchis London office has been the driving factor behind the senior management changes. The agency has averaged a new chief executive every two years and a new creative director almost as often.

But there comes a point when it is increasingly difficult to take an ever-changing senior management team seriously and there is a feeling that this could be the tipping point for the agency. The future of Saatchis could all ride on the success or failure of Daley and that of his (as yet unnamed) creative director, who is due to be installed in the next few months. So what chance has he got?

Based in London, Daley's new role is entirely different to the globetrotting Red Cell network job he left last year. Narrower in scope, his role at Saatchis will be more focused and Daley says he is relishing being at the heart of the advertising process again.

"Red Cell was all about systems and admin and I didn't find my bliss in a network role away from the soulfulness of advertising. At Saatchis, I can indulge myself again and go back to working with a core, dynamic group on the challenge of ad creation," Daley says. He's also happy to see the back of international travel, saying: "It's the first time in 12 years that I'll be a pure Englishman."

Daley's career has spanned a number of very different roles. A planner and strategist by background, he has worked at agencies from WCRS to BDH\TBWA Manchester. In 1991, he joined McCann Erickson and worked at board-director level at its offices in London, New York and Europe. He has also spent time at a creative start-up - between 1994 and 1998 he headed the New York-based Amster Yard.

Hytner is confident that Daley is ready for a change of direction. "It's a chance for him to really express himself on a big, high-profile stage and to channel his passion for creativity into 300 people," he says.

And although just days into the job, Daley already has plans to make his first mark. "The great challenge is to find new ways to do business.

We have to diversify into becoming a communications company - we need strategic alliances around the world, especially in music and entertainment, and this is something I am going to do very quickly," he asserts.

Daley has very strong ideas about what the next-generation creative business should be.

"He believes in an ideas-driven vision and if Saatchis wants to accelerate its theory of being an ideas business, then he's got what it takes," Deborah Hale, Red Cell's corporate communications director, says.

Some, however, are not convinced that Daley's visions are, in fact, very visionary or that he has got what it takes to carry them through.

"He's a great, inspirational speaker. He'll give some weird and wonderful presentation but underneath it's all bollocks," one former associate says.

Another comments: "He can blow people away with a strategic or creative thought but it will come down to the team around him to carry things through."

This latter charge is one that Daley himself would perhaps agree with, describing himself as having the "unrequited passion" of the footballer Roy Keane, rather than the "technical detail" of David Beckham.

Frustrated former colleagues at McCann dubbed him "Lee Delay" because of the trait. However, it is not the job of a chief executive to execute ideas - this is up to his team.

Daley's new-business skills - a talent much needed by Saatchis - are also highlighted by colleagues, although his enthusiasm, which has led him to shed tears in a brand presentation, is polarising, with clients either responding well or feeling unsettled by it.

"He's a brilliant new-business presenter and he'll win some but probably lose some too. It's a high- risk strategy for Saatchis to take but worth it given its new-business record," Ben Langdon, the chief executive of Euro RSCG London, who worked at McCann in London when Daley was in Europe, says.

During his watch at Red Cell, the network flourished and notable wins included HHCL picking up Sky, Berlin Cameron winning Classic Coke and Batey in Singapore winning DaimlerChrysler.

Nick Howarth, the managing director at HHCL/Red Cell, is another of Daley's former colleagues and says: "He's a very bright bloke. People do bandy that description about with a lot of the top guys in the industry, but it is true of very few. He thinks about the world in a different way and I think he's a very interesting choice to run the agency."

Daley is also described as being "brusque" and "demanding to work for".

However, behind all this Daley is essentially regarded as a decent, grounded bloke from Manchester who likes football.

Opinion is divided over whether this will translate into making Daley a great Saatchis chief executive. However, what is agreed is that this is Daley's big chance to show his worth. "He's spent a long time looking and thinking and this is not going to be some short-term fix," Hale says.

Daley himself concurs: "This could well be the last job I have. I've given it five years minimum and it could well be longer. I've waited for this job for a long time and I want to do something very significant," he says.

Given the challenges that Saatchis faces and if he is to prevent yet another management regime change, he'll need to.

QUESTIONNAIRE

Age: 42

Lives: London SW10

Family: Wife, Jas; children, India Rose (11) and Walter (9)

Favourite ads: The Guardian "points of view" and Apple "think different"

Describe yourself in three words: Idealistic, passionate, relentless

Greatest extravagance: My extravagance

Most admired agency: Historically, BMP, Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Chiat

Day LA. Now, Saatchi & Saatchi

Living person you most admire: Muhammad Ali for his courage, grace,

artistry and humanity

Motto: "When we're out of bullets, we'll fight with our fists ... we'll

never give in"

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