CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - MARTIN COTTER. The hunt for Saatchis' new group chief executive

Martin Cotter would prefer to stay out of the spotlight, Camilla Palmer discovers.

"I am not having my photo taken!" Saatchi & Saatchi's new group chief executive is most adamant that he remains out of the spotlight.

"Put a picture of that bloke from TBWA in the space instead," he suggests.

Martin Cotter's brusque manner screams "keep me away from clients", but in the current economic climate his financial charms more than make up for that. A former chief accountant at Saatchis' finance office, he worked under Sir Martin Sorrell, but Cotter is characteristically embarrassed about this. "You can't put that in," he cringes. "I only met him once."

Cotter, a Saatchis veteran of 17 years (most recently as the chief executive of its production arm, The Facilities Group), is determined to stay as low profile as possible. He's more than happy for the newly appointed group chairman and chief executive of the agency, James Hall, to take the luvvie limelight for Saatchis and proves very reluctant to discuss his new job. "I've done nothing yet," he barks in his no-nonsense Yorkshire tones. "Come back and talk to me in six months."

He's seemingly befuddled at why anyone would be interested in him, but Cotter's financial background and track record with Saatchis speak volumes about his brief. Officially, his appointment comes as Hall seeks to tap into the range of products and services available at TFG, cross-selling them to existing clients and bringing in new business through a different channel.

However, Saatchis' reluctance to tell Campaign about its new group chief executive last week strongly suggests that senior management are as keen as Cotter to keep him out of the picture.

Last year, TFG made £20 million in revenue for Saatchis, and what is thought to be a £4 million profit. It employs 250 people. Spearheaded by the former chief executive, Bill Muirhead, in the late 80s, Cotter was chosen to build the production facility. Clearly, in an environment when most rival houses are feeling the pinch, TFG has cruised through, supported by a wide range of activity from TV and commercial production to design and post-production. In Cotter's terms: "It pays not to put all your eggs in the one basket."

It's arguable that it's not just the potential of the company that Saatchis is keen to tap into, but also Cotter's knack for running a business. As the group chief executive, Cotter reports to Hall and is moving from TFG to join his boss in an office in Charlotte Street in a clear statement that he, and whoever has put him there, means business.

Hall stresses that the triumvirate management team of himself, Kevin Dundas, the managing director, and Dave Droga, the executive creative director, will be unaffected by the appointment. "We want to build the synergies within the group," he stresses. Dundas says he will continue to manage the day-to-day running of the agency. But reports suggest the close relationship enjoyed by Hall, Dundas and Droga may have to adjust to cope with a fourth player.

Despite the recent activity of parent Publicis Groupe and its cost-cutting chairman, Maurice Levy, Hall denies the move to promote a "numbers" man is the result of pressure from above. But this doesn't explain why Hall couldn't do the group role alone, avoiding giving Cotter jurisdiction over the ad agency. "Martin is there to work on group issues at an umbrella level - he has a great track record," Hall says.

One former executive says the appointment "has all the hallmarks of Levy.

No doubt Martin has a very clear brief. He will need to cut costs, and quickly." Some believe those pounds can be found in the resource-heavy creative department, a factor which means Droga could have to do battle to protect his department's current fame.

Cotter denies he is acting on instructions from Publicis, and will not be drawn on specifics, other than the desire to make money and find other revenue streams through TFG. He is adamant that "no-one should feel threatened by this move. There will be minimal intrusion, and there are positive things we can do to improve the situation. Agency revenues are falling, and we will find ways to add to the groups' existing offering."

Cotter joined the agency in 1985 after a stint in the Bahamas with the accountancy firm Coopers & Lybrand. Finding life in the tropics "repetitive", he returned to colder climes and started work in Saatchis' finance office.

Earmarked by Muirhead, he became the deputy finance director after two years and then spent four years as the financial director. His track record included getting the agency through the recession in the early 90s. Realising that, in agency terms, becoming financial director was as far as he could go, Cotter cast around for other opportunities and was handed the task of running TFG.

Those who know him admire his direct manner, and you can't help but appreciate his honesty. "Martin is the acceptable face of finance," Muirhead laughs.

"He's a lovely bloke who understands the business and has fantastic experience."

Testament to his unglitzy lifestyle, rugby-mad Cotter commutes and works from his Gloucestershire home, where he lives with his wife and two teenage children, vowing never to live in London again. "I hate things which sound grand and pompous," he insists. "But I'm proud of what I've done. Hopefully, there'll be more to say in six months."


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