M&C Saatchi plans flotation to fund European expansion

LONDON - M&C Saatchi is preparing a stock market flotation of a significant minority of its shares to raise new money to fuel its European expansion, while allowing its founding partners to realise some of the agency's value.

Sources estimate the value of the agency at £75m. The stakes of the partners, Charles and Maurice Saatchi, Bill Muirhead, David Kershaw and Jeremy Sinclair, account for about three-quarters of that figure.

Now all have agreed to sell some of their holdings on AIM, the London Stock Exchange market which allows small companies to float without excessive expense and under more flexible rules than on the main market.

If the initiative goes according to plan, a proportion of M&C Saatchi shares could be in the hands of up to 20 institutions by the end of the year. However, the company's new status will not impact on the shared ownership of its Walker Media associate.

The main aim of the flotation is to bankroll the agency's plan to establish start-up operations in France, Germany, Spain and Italy.

At the same time, it will allow the founders to get a reward out of the agency they established in 1995, after their acrimonious exit from the then Saatchi & Saatchi group. However, it is understood that all the partners have committed themselves to the agency and are willing to abide by agreements that would lock them in.

The flotation will precipitate a major revamp in the M&C Saatchi management, which will end the double act of Nick Hurrell and Moray MacLennan, the joint chief executives of the London agency.

Hurrell will become the chairman of the European division with a brief to establish new offices and find the executives to manage them.

MacLennan takes over as the chairman of the UK group, which includes specialist integrated marketing and PR companies.

Tim Duffy, currently the managing director of the agency with responsibility for its flagship British Airways business, is being promoted to chief executive. Tom Dery continues to head the group's Asia-Pacific operations.

The four are among about 20 senior managers whose equity will be converted to company shares after flotation.

Until now, Europe has not been a priority for M&C Saatchi, which has opened offices in Australia, the Far East and North America.

Kershaw said the flotation would not only allow the company to sustain its policy of remaining debt-free, but to retain its independence.

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