Media Headliner: De Nardis to bring cosmopolitan flair to Aegis

Mainardo de Nardis is keen to set about bolstering the media network's international credentials. Alasdair Reid investigates.

Mainardo de Nardis is one of the most colourful characters in the business, known for his extravagantly elegant dress sense and his taste in fast cars. And no-one can doubt his drive, ambition and sheer stamina.

Or indeed the charisma that he uses to great effect in fine-tuning an agency network to make it purr (or, indeed, roar) like the engine of a vintage automobile.

But de Nardis does not come across as a recklessly adventurous type - although it is true that he has a taste for words such as "entrepreneurship", which masters of business administration tend to use when they want you to believe they live on the edge.

Last week, de Nardis revealed that he has chosen to do something just a little bit risky - he is leaving his job as the worldwide chief executive of the WPP-owned Mediaedge:cia to take up the equivalent role at Aegis Media.

That's Aegis, the diversified communications group that is still effectively in play, with WPP one of its potential suitors.

You cannot help feeling that, potentially, Aegis gets a lot more out of this decision than de Nardis does. It has lost some of its key personnel over the past two years - the most obvious external sign of internal dissonance was the departure of Aegis Media Europe's joint chief executives, Eryck Rebbouh and Bruno Kemoun, in 2003 following disputes with the then group chief executive, Doug Flynn, over strategic direction.

And then Flynn also departed. His successor, Robert Lerwill, helped steady the ship but he has a finance background and has no operational experience of running a media network.

So Aegis has been in need of a big hitter, a heavyweight manager with a track record in the stewardship of a top-notch media agency network. Not only that, it needed someone whose appointment would show the world that Aegis was thinking outside its London bubble once more.

And de Nardis, a suave and sophisticated Italian, who did an excellent job in putting CIA's Anglo-Saxon proposition on to the world stage in the 90s, fits the bill perfectly.

But why, after 18 years with basically the same company, has he jumped ship now? That's easy to explain, de Nardis responds. When WPP bought CIA Medianetwork in 2001, he was charged with merging it with WPP's second-string Media Edge brand. That job is now done, de Nardis says. Mediaedge:cia now looks solid, so he needs a fresh challenge.

De Nardis says the move will also be something of a return to familiar territory - the role at Aegis is similar to the one he had at CIA Medianetwork and its plc owner, Tempus, in the 90s.

"As an organisation it's quick, agile, entrepreneurial, very similar," he explains. "I believe in accountability, in setting targets and achieving them. Without that there is little joy."

The move cannot come quickly enough. De Nardis is talking to Campaign on the first day of gardening leave - a new experience and one he already finds frustrating. So he is fidgeting. This is despite being slightly jet-lagged, having arrived in London on the overnight flight from New York. The night before that he stayed up until the small hours, watching the last two games of the World Series at Rob Norman's Manhattan flat.

Norman, now the head of Group M's digital operations, is a long-standing colleague and close friend. He agrees that de Nardis needs the cut and thrust that comes as a part of the territory when you sit on the board of a plc.

"The job is right for him personally because he likes to be close to the shareholders - closer than he was here," Norman says. "Mainardo trades in absolute right and wrong and he likes there to be absolute connectivity between action and outcome."

Chris Ingram, the founder of Ingram, agrees. And he should know. CIA Medianetwork was a product of a 1993 merger between Ingram's previous baby, CIA, and de Nardis's Milan-based Medianetwork. De Nardis moved to London after the merger and worked hand in glove with Ingram in building the company during its golden years of the late 90s.

Ingram comments: "He knows the plc game inside out. He is very adept at balancing the short-term demands with the need to invest in services and talent. Also, he has done a lot of deals in acquiring companies and he's very capable in that area. Aegis will give more scope for those skills."

Once de Nardis gets his feet under his desk, that is. If WPP holds him to his contract, that will not happen for a year. A lot may have happened by then, although he says he is not going to fret about all the possible permutations.

The bottom line, though, is that Aegis has already reacquired some of its cosmopolitan credentials. And, after all, this is (or was) an important facet of its brand.

As Ingram puts it: "Mainardo is a true internationalist - he is very comfortable in a whole range of cultures and he's able to adapt very cleverly.

To build and maintain a network, you have to appreciate the fact that the world isn't all Anglo-Saxon. Given that (the French investor Vincent) Bollore is an Aegis shareholder too, it will be interesting to see what happens now Mainardo has joined."

THE LOWDOWN Age: 44 Lives: Chelsea, London, for the past 12 years Family: Two sons, aged 13 and 11 Most treasured possession: Vintage cars Describe yourself in three words: Passionate, curious, impatient What's the best thing about working in media? Working with so many eclectic people and clients Interests outside work: Sailing, skiing, hunting and vintage cars. Also travelling, even though I spend most of my time travelling for business Motto: Nothing is impossible

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