Media Perspective: De Nardis' exit was a surprise, but not totally unexpected

At the Venice Festival of Media, a month ago, six global media agency chief executives strode on to the stage to take part in a panel discussion.

Since then, two of them have left their jobs. An outcome hardly on a par with the plot of Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None (where victims on an island are knocked off one by one), but a sign, perhaps, that there was something in the water, if not poison, given the long tenure usually attached to these roles.

Following news that Alexander Schmidt-Vogel, the worldwide chief executive of MediaCom, will be replaced by Steve Allan when the German moves to a wider Group M trading role, came last week's sudden announcement from Aegis that Jerry Buhlmann would be taking over from Mainardo de Nardis as the worldwide chief executive of Aegis Media with immediate effect.

While there are some striking similarities in the two appointments (two aggressive, driven, entrepreneurial Brits who had served their networks for years on end replacing colleagues from mainland Europe), the Aegis announcement arguably came as more of a surprise.

De Nardis had been in the role for less than two years after being poached from WPP and then being forced to serve a staggering period of gardening leave. He has been well remunerated since (pocketing £802,000 in salary and bonuses last year) and, based on the figures alone, his reign could be seen as a success. Aegis Media looks in rude health. Aegis' 2007 results revealed Aegis Media achieved organic revenue of 10.3 per cent (greater than twice the industry average) on the back of strong growth in Europe and Asia. Profit margin was down slightly, but then Aegis Media's margin is 20 per cent, significantly better than many rivals.

This is why few saw de Nardis leaving Aegis anytime soon. It seems to me, though, that Aegis' bosses, led by the chief executive, Robert Lerwill, saw the need for a more obvious driving force at the top of its media division. The mantra there is said to revolve around three values ("ambition, entrepreneurialism and speed"), and Buhlmann is seen as the man who best encapsulates these values. But then supporters of de Nardis would argue he possessed plenty of vision and drive but was stifled by a company constantly thinking of being acquired and adopting a short-term strategy.

Aegis wants to build its media business at a greater pace than in recent times but other networks are also trying to move at a faster pace (look at MindShare's recent restructure), and there will clearly be winners and losers. Buhlmann has a strong digital product and Aegis' independence from ad networks to play as points of difference as he takes up the challenge. But will he implement a long-term vision?