Lace toughs out suspension by Lowe

Lowe London's chief is refusing to keep a low profile after being suspended pending the outcome of an IPG investigation.

News of his suspension from Lowe London amid allegations of improper conduct was only hours old and Garry Lace was showing every sign of toughing it out.

Indeed, he could scarcely have picked a more high-profile time and place to make his stand - Friday lunch at The Ivy with Neil Simpson, Vodafone's global marketing director and a one-time agency colleague.

"Everybody was going up to him and wishing him well," another diner says. "It was very brave of him."

The show of chutzpah was typically Lace. The flamboyant cheeky chappie with the eye for the main chance has never done humility very well. Two years ago, he departed as Grey London's boss having vehemently denied claims made in a widely circulated hoax e-mail that he was leaving to go into business with one of his clients.

Blimey, sounds like Groundhog Day. So what's it all about?

Lowe's Interpublic parent has ordered an investigation into allegations that Lace had dealings with Sir Frank Lowe.

These contacts are claimed to have taken place last year and before Sir Frank committed himself to The Red Brick Road start-up which subsequently poached Lowe London's £50 million Tesco account.

The investigation into whether or not Lace was in breach of his contractual and fiduciary responsibilities to Lowe is a direct result of the ongoing legal dispute between IPG and Sir Frank.

Really? How come?

IPG sources say testimony provided by Sir Frank in defence of IPG's action against him raised concerns and caused the group to look more closely at other matters, which arose during Lace's 13 months in charge of Lowe London. Nobody is saying what these other issues are and Lace was unavailable for comment as Campaign went to press.

One significant matter to be resolved is the extent of the contact between Lace and Sir Frank last September and what they talked about.

A pint of ale and a pie?

IPG and Sir Frank's camp agree that a meeting between the pair took place in a London pub. Also present was Paul Weinberger, then Lowe London's chairman and the key figure on the Tesco business. He resigned at the end of last year to join the start-up.

Who asked for the meeting is disputed. Sir Frank insisted last week that it was not him. Also in question is whether, as Sir Frank's camp claims, one meeting took place or, as IPG believes, there were others.

IPG insists Lace never told his bosses about his contacts with Sir Frank.

This has caused senior executives to ask whether the launch of a start-up built around Tesco was discussed by them.

Events reached a climax last Thursday afternoon when Steve Gatfield, Lowe Worldwide's new chief executive, told Lace he was being suspended indefinitely while investigations were completed. The hope is that this can be done by the end of the month.

Who's minding the shop, then?

With its managing director, Chris Hunton, in temporary charge, Lowe London is battening down the hatches. The agency awaits the result of its pitch for Thomas Cook holidays. But an insider said: "New business isn't our focus at present. Our emphasis has to be on clients who remain loyal but may worry that we're being distracted from working on their business."

- Opinion, page 21

THE LACE FILE

1967: Born in York.

1990: Joins Saatchi & Saatchi as graduate trainee after leaving Manchester University with English degree.

1995: After spells at Young & Rubicam and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, joins Euro RSCG as account director on the £35 million Peugeot business. Becomes agency's youngest board director.

1997: Joins the then Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow Johnson with responsibility for Sony PlayStation. Remains in place as agency merges to become part of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer.

2000: Becomes TBWA joint managing director alongside Johnny Hornby.

2001: Promoted to chief executive when Hornby and Simon Clemmow quit to launch a start-up.

2002: Joins Grey London as chief executive to relaunch the agency and build a new management team.

2003: Quits as chairman of Nabs, citing heavy commitments at Grey.

2004: Hoax e-mail claims Lace will quit Grey to set up Air Miles-type loyalty scheme. He denies plan but leaves Grey a month later.

2005: Hired by Lowe London as chief executive.

2006: Suspended indefinitely pending outcome of Interpublic Group-led investigation into his conduct.

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