CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - DFGW. And then there were three: what now for DFGW?

It's time for the remaining partners to increase their profiles.

After 14 years of building an agency through blood, sweat and tears, Gary Duckworth has decided to cash in, leaving the agency to face the world without him. The question on everyone's lips, however, is what is DFGW without the D?

Duckworth is undertaking what could be termed a "soft departure". Although he has sold his agency stake to the remaining partners and plans to set himself up as a management coach, he will remain at DFGW for two days a week. This is designed to keep key clients, including the BBC, COI Communications and Dolland & Aitchison, happy.

Although DFGW claims his departure will have only a limited effect on the agency, most observers believe that this effect will change the shape of the agency.

The agency's progress over recent years has been steady. Billings rose from £29 million to £36 million last year and wins included Nutricia from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and Dolland & Aitchison from Lowe. Crucially, it secured a place on General Motors' roster after the car company's acquisition of DFGW's Daewoo client.

Duckworth is widely admired as one of the finest planners in London as well as an excellent chairman.

He is responsible for the agency's reputation for the kind of strategic strength that led to work including its IPA Effectiveness Award-winning drugs awareness campaign for COI Communications. His departure casts a spotlight on to Hugh Cameron, who took the helm of the planning department in 2000.

Despite his many achievements, Lori Gould, a board account director at Lowe and former employee of DFGW, believes Duckworth's departure will have little effect on the agency. She explains: "Gary is a fantastic thinker and teacher. I think it is a great testament to his ability that he has built such a strong department that his stepping back won't have too much of a drastic effect. He has built something that is bigger than him and that is a great achievement."

This view is shared by Duckworth himself, who believes that the agency is bigger than the sum of its partners.

However, others in the industry see Duckworth as the jewel in the crown at DGFW, especially for prospective buyers. His mindful thinking and ability to draw the best out of colleagues and clients alike would have made him a valuable asset to any network interested in buying the agency.

Rachel Hushon, the business development director at DFGW, works closely with Duckworth on strategic projects and handling the senior clients. She says: "The agency is clearly based on the four founding partners and the departments they have created. If any of them left it could affect the value of the business, but he is staying on as an employee of the company so, internally, it is business as usual."

So having made his move official last week, there is a danger that the value of the agency may significantly decrease now that Duckworth is not necessarily a secured part of the package. Past offers have been rejected or the buyer has pulled out because of money, culture or timing.

However, both Michael Finn, the chief executive, and Dave Waters, a joint creative director, claim they are happy to remain independent for the time being and are enjoying building their current projects.

"As far as selling the agency is concerned, we have no plans to do so at present," Finn says. "The change in Gary's responsibilities is not a smoke screen for anything, but will be a smooth transition for all of us, so that Gary can do what he wants to do.

"The most obvious reason for selling out would be the financial component. Many offers made to us have been very lucrative, but the other two reasons are cultural and the future competitive benefits for the agency, which at the moment are reasons not to sell."

DFGW's growth has ebbed. Last year it was the 30th biggest agency in the country. But after 14 years in the business, this performance has been eclipsed by its independent rivals such as the five-year-old Mother or two-year-old Clemmow Hornby Inge.

DFGW has a certain humility about it. Since its heyday in the late 90s, fed by its work for drug awareness and Daewoo, it has assumed a much lower profile.

Although Duckworth has never shouted about his abilities or achievements, he has maintained a respected position among the client community and advertising industry.

His departure, albeit partial, requires his remaining partners to step into the limelight and demonstrate their strengths and the strengths of the agency.

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