Luca Lindner's closest associates didn't know the secret that Red
Cell's chief executive was carrying with him as he jetted between Europe
and the US last week. Lindner's punishing schedule included finalising
an acquisition in New York, meeting executives of his Alfa Romeo client
in Milan and joining an agency budget meeting in Dusseldorf. It was
rigorous even by his standards but the Italian seemed to be following it
through with all his usual energy and enthusiasm.
Nothing in his behaviour had led his senior managers to believe that
this was to be Lindner's swansong. And nothing prepared them for the
shock they got from last week's Campaign front page which revealed that
their boss, widely tipped as a future chief of a major network within
Red Cell's WPP parent, had resigned.
After just nine months in charge of the fledgling Red Cell (and to the
considerable chagrin of WPP's chief executive, Sir Martin Sorrell),
Lindner's ambition and impatience have tempted him to take a quicker
route to the top.
His choice is D'Arcy, where he is to become the London-based president
and chief executive of its Europe, Middle East and Africa operations.
With the job comes a seat on D'Arcy's worldwide board, an obvious
door-opener to even wider opportunities within the network's Bcom3
His decision not only has deep personal significance but may have
profound implications for both the organisation he has left and the one
he's about to join.
For Red Cell, Lindner's departure is particularly problematic. The
fledgling operation, which links the former Conquest European network
with Singapore's Batey Advertising and Seattle's Cole & Weber, has been
busy defining its offer in the hope of attracting so-called challenger
brands and helping to fill the void between the giant multinationals and
Lindner, 41, has been its leading evangelist. Now, the network is
leaderless with no obvious successor and at a time when it is poised to
make a major acquisition in New York. The deal with the as yet
undisclosed agency is said to owe much to the rapport Lindner has built
with its principals.
John Wringe, Red Cell's chief operating officer and Lindner's deputy, is
well regarded for the account handling skills he honed at Cogent and
Publicis, but isn't regarded as a successor. The upshot may be that
Sorrell will look outside or, perhaps, offer the job to the head of the
US shop about to enter the Red Cell fold.
"It's a real blow and people feel let down," a Red Cell source
"And you can bet Sorrell is taking this deeply personally."
Others, though, profess surprise only at the timing of Lindner's
departure rather than the resignation itself. The Milan-born executive,
who rose to power on the back of Red Cell's Alfa Romeo core client,
combines a sharp intellect with restless ambition.
He has a reputation as being notoriously difficult to work for - his PAs
rarely remain more than a few months - and for possessing a volcanic
Latin temper. Associates speak of his need to be constantly in charge
and of rows that see tables pounded by his fists but never end with
Those who know him believe his demeanour stems from being one of the few
admen to move beyond Italy's insular business world and stake his claim
on the global communications stage dominated by Anglo-US interests.
"It's made him even more ambitious," a colleague says. "He does not
believe he gets the respect his intellect deserves and always feels
people are talking down to him."
At D'Arcy, Lindner arrives with the advantage of long-standing and
high-level contacts at Fiat, Alfa Romeo's parent and a major D'Arcy
client. But he also knows that he must bring some synergy to a European
network which insiders agree has become far too disparate, has a pitiful
new-business record and seems to have lost the plot with Mars.
His appointment is seen as an acknowledgement by John Farrell, D'Arcy's
president and chief executive, and Susan Gianinno, the chief branding
officer, that Europe can't be run by remote control from across the
Farrell is also keen to introduce more of the entrepreneurial culture
epitomised by Lindner. What's more, some industry sources believe the
D'Arcy chief can see parallels between Lindner's struggle to establish
himself and his own efforts to reach the top of the network from a
below-the-line background at IMP.
"Lindner's task will be to stop the offices operating autonomously and
improve a pathetic new-business performance," a former senior D'Arcy
"He also has to decide what D'Arcy Europe stands for. It's no longer a
Premier League player but that's no reason why it can't be top of the
First Division by offering smaller clients the personalised service they
won't get from Interpublic and WPP."