CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - RICHARD HYTNER. Why Saatchis' European chief is no Publicis stooge

Richard Hytner is focused on boosting Saatchis' Euro credentials.

It's easy to see how Richard Hytner, soon to assume command of Saatchi & Saatchi's European network, stays ahead of the game. And how good he is at doing it.

He arrives for his interview with Campaign armed with two foolscap sheets of answers to questions he reckons might come up. They are uncannily accurate.

Is the former chief executive of the Publicis agency in London going in as a Publicis Groupe "stooge" to impose the will of his patron, the Publicis chairman, Maurice Levy?

Answer: an emphatic no. "I'm not some corporate patsy. I'm very much my own man."

What has he learned from the London Business School's Sloan Masters MSc programme he's about to complete? "A lot about myself. I chose to do it as a self-inflicted kick up the arse."

Just about the only question he isn't prepared for is when he's asked whether his reputed fear of flying is true and, if so, won't it be a bit of a handicap in his capacity as European chairman for Europe, the Middle East and Africa with responsibility for some 40 offices, including Charlotte Street.

Yes, he acknowledges, he did have a flying phobia. In fact it was so bad during his time as the managing director of the then Lintas London that he forked out £120 for a day-long British Airways "fear of flying" course.

"It pretty much cured me," he says. "I also meditate twice a day which helps. It's fantastic."

The story sums up Hytner and his attitude to his professional life. Problems are there to be overcome. Failure to do so thwarts ambition and leads to frustration and inertia. No chance of that with Hytner, although what might have seemed a ruthless and disagreeable side to his character is more than counterbalanced by an uncommon decency.

Highly driven, restless and ambitious he may be. Yet he's also a natural manager of people, a firm believer in open debate and able to get the best out of those around him. Saatchis, it is generally agreed, has pulled off a coup.

Hytner will take up his new job in September. Meanwhile there's a 22,000-word thesis to finish. The work will carry the apposite title, Parenting Creative Organisations. It distills his thinking on how most corporations destroy rather than add value to their operating companies and how the ad industry shapes up in the exploitation of its creative product compared with similar businesses such as publishing.

Not surprisingly, Hytner absolves both Levy and his new boss, the Saatchis chief executive, Kevin Roberts, from any criticism.

This is what he has to say about Levy: "He has immense class and style and there's no group chairman I'd rather work for. He's wise enough to remember why he bought Saatchis and why it continues to bring value to the owner."

And on Roberts: "I've studied cases of transformational leadership. Most fail spectacularly. Kevin's has been remarkably successful. I love Saatchis for its spirit, energy and core belief that nothing is impossible. He's a romancer of talent and I was seduced."

Indeed, Hytner, 43, likens joining Saatchis to a homecoming. He was offered the opportunity of joining 19 years ago but had qualms about hopping out of a traineeship at Benton & Bowles after only a year.

Nearly two decades on, he clearly believes the time is right. For one thing, his mind has been broadened by working with such an eclectic mix of people - from brain surgeons and diplomats to engineers - on the Sloan course.

For another, the prospect of returning to Publicis, where he had spent the previous five years, had lost its allure. The agency has risen steadily up the rankings to take the number three slot and what seems like a permanent place among the advertising powerhouses.

In short, it was sorted and Hytner's restlessness was reactivated. "I was feeling a bit too cosy," he explains. "I only got the adrenalin rush when I was leading a pitch or dealing with a crisis - and there weren't too many of those."

His arrival at Saatchis marks a renewed effort to beef up its European operation being run on a caretaker basis by Paolo Ettore in addition to his job as the head of the group's Italian operation. "Richard will help springboard Saatchis to the next level of excellence in Europe," Roberts says.

However, Roberts' predictions belie what will be a formidable task. The Saatchis European network is, at best, mid-sized. Successful operations in the UK, Italy and Germany are stark contrasts to most other key markets where top-three status has proved elusive.

Derek Bowden, a long-time occupant of the European chairmanship before becoming the chief executive of Ipswich Town Football Club, says: "Leveraging more European business into the network is not going to be easy. At the same time Hytner will have to move quickly to convince his people that he's not a Publicis implant."

Hytner certainly gives the impression he's made the mental leap already.

"Publicis will always bring a smile to my face if it continues to do well," he says. "But if we ever pitch against each other I'll be out to give it a good spanking."

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