Close-Up: A hard-nosed negotiator at Engine for long haul

Peter Scott, Engine's chief executive, tells John Tylee why a return to front-line management is like embracing an old flame.

If raised eyebrows greeted the news that Stephen Woodford was quitting as the Engine Group's chief executive to take the reins at DDB London, the choice of Peter Scott to replace him will have provoked little more than a few knowing smiles.

Ever since he first linked with Robin Wight more than a quarter-of-a-century ago to help found WCRS, Scott has been the disciplined counterbalance to his mercurial and flamboyant partner.

"Robin was the agency's rocket, but Peter was its guidance system," Andrew Cracknell, a former WCRS executive creative director, says. "Peter was absolutely key to the success of the place."

No surprise, therefore, that Wight should have called upon his fifty-something friend to handle the delicate negotiations culminating in WCRS's buy-out from Havas. Nor that he should have persuaded him to stay on to oversee its transformation into Engine and an all-round communications group.

It may seem odd that Scott, a man who has enjoyed wealth and its trappings, would want to return to front-line agency management. Some who know him say it has to do with a love of power, a trait that has not always endeared him to people.

"He's clever and shrewd, but he's someone you work for, not with," a former colleague says. "If he wants your opinion, he'll give it to you."

Indeed, there is speculation that the increasing amount of time Scott was spending at the agency, as well as his power base, finally proved too suffocating for Woodford.

Scott himself is something of an enigma. His cut-glass accent and reputation as a deal-maker belie his upbringing as the son of a North London retailer, who left secondary modern school at 16.

After a number of jobs, he joined the Everetts agency as a trainee before rising through the ranks at Ogilvy & Mather. By 23, he was running O&M's Glasgow operation before a two-year stint in its Brussels office.

It was as the managing director of the Marsteller agency in London that he came to the attention of Wight, who needed a business anchor for the start-up he was putting together in 1979. "Peter is a pusher who loves complex challenges," Wight says. "We work well together. Now it's up to him to help make us bigger, better and more profitable."

Scott insists he will remain as the chief executive, pointing to his own substantial investment as evidence of his commitment. "When we bought ourselves out of Havas we were moribund," he says. "We had a few pockets of creativity, but WCRS was an agency without many of the skills and talent it needed."

And now? "We've a forward-looking and ambitious three-year plan. We're no longer advertising-centric and we're developing into an integrated communications group. We've been re-energised."

Scott is clearly glad to be back on familiar ground. He compares it to "hugging your old girlfriend. You know where all the curves are."