Roger Haupt laughs nervously and implores 'please, if I ask you for
anything out of this, I am just this guy from the Midwest and I don't
want to be seen as a Big Swinging Dick. That's not me.'
Perhaps, but as Haupt is learning fast, there is little chance of a
quiet life for the man behind BDM, the latest advertising superpower;
the man who made the three-way Leo Burnett/Dentsu/MacManus deal happen;
the man who, in January, will become president and chief executive
officer of the Leo Group.
To have any chance of understanding Roger Haupt, you have to understand
Leo Burnett. And there is little chance of doing that from London where
the local agency has slipped quietly down to 19th place in the
Instead, you have to go to Chicago, where the landmark Leo Burnett
building occupies an imposing position on the south bank of the Chicago
There, the 64-year-old, dollars 2.7 billion agency employs some 2,400
staff and has twice been voted one of America's 100 best companies to
Sitting comfortably, wearing an open-necked shirt, Haupt is flanked by
two of the Burnett organisation's 25 public relations security
On a glorious late autumn day, the view north across the river is
There's the Wrigley building, there's the Sears Tower, to the right are
the Chicago Tribune offices. The city's world-renowned architecture
gleams in the freakish sunshine and all seems well in the capital of
Built on the business of Midwest giants such as Kellogg,Oldsmobile,
Maytag, Keebler, Kraft, McDonald's, Hallmark, Pillsbury and Procter &
Gamble, the foundations of the business are solid. Clients from beyond
the Midwest, such as Coca-Cola, Philip Morris and Disney, are not to be
sniffed at. Ten of the agency's clients have been with it at least 25
years, and another eight for 35. Who needed the outside world?
Chicago has had something of a rude awakening. The convergence of global
business and the internationalisation of competition has caught some of
the Midwest corporations looking sluggish. As companies such as Kellogg
struggle to make sense of the new world order, the concurrent global ad
agency group shakedown has begun, belatedly, to shake up Chicago.
And Leo Burnett caught a cold in the mid-90s. It was - again - not that
it was doing anything particularly wrong, more that it had begun to
appear off the pace in relation to its rivals. After five decades of
continual growth, suddenly clients were leaving and growth was stagnant
between 1995 and 1998.
Something had to be done, but Burnett's options were limited. As a
private company, it could not afford to make the necessary investments
in new technology-related services. It also lagged behind several of its
key rivals in both strength of network and its capabilities in
Global account consolidations of the kind that transform agencies are
few and far between. There is little hope of funding major acquisitions
organically. As is the case with several of its Madison Avenue
counterparts, in the new dotcom era some of the very attributes that
stood Burnett in good stead could now very easily make it appear a
Into this cheery picture (and remember, many agencies would have killed
to have Leo Burnett's problems) entered the relatively unknown name of
Haupt, when he was announced as Rick Fizdale's successor this
Haupt was born in Hornchurch, Essex, and had no intention of being an
adman. A flying buff, he joined the Fleet Air Arm until a car accident
left him with a fractured skull. A friend suggested accountancy and he
joined Unilever, soon finding himself in West Africa.
He moved across to marketing and, almost inevitably, ended up at Lever
International Advertising Services (Lintas) as a brand manager on Omo in
Brazil, not long before the Interpublic Group bought Lintas.
At this point in the story Haupt allows himself one of many bursts of
laughter. The irony of being snapped up by Phil Geier is not lost on the
man who has just stolen the MacManus Group from under the nose of the
But was the formation of BDM really just a piece of opportunism - as has
been suggested? And is it a neat solution to an increasingly pressing
problem, or was it just a huddling together of two desperate
'We had to really look long and hard at ourselves and ask how do we stop
ourselves from being marginalised,' Haupt begins in an accent that is
from everywhere and nowhere. He sounds more Australian than anything
else, with the occasional lapse into folksy Illinois patois rather than
an Essex twang.
When I then ask whether the alternative of being part of - say - IPG was
just a horrifying prospect, Haupt switches to statesman, deflecting the
innuendo, by referring to how Burnett was beginning to spread its own
Blarney aside, did Burnett have any choice? 'I am a realist,' Haupt
In my view it was only a matter of time before we would have signed
another deal.' And did MacManus have even less choice? 'I can't speak
for Roy (Bostock, MacManus group chief executive) but I believe he would
answer you as cordially as I did. I can assure you he had other
options,' Haupt replies with a grin.
As interesting as the creation of BDM itself is the decision to go
public, one which had appeared to go against the original spirit of Mr
Burnett himself. But, as the chief security guard points out benignly,
contrary to folklore, there was no Leo edict that the company must never
go public. So, what was more significant, going public or the formation
of the new holding company? Why not launch an IPO (Initial Public
Offering) like Young & Rubicam?
'Going public of itself is more of a financing mechanism, it's not a
strategy,' Haupt insists. 'There's got to be more to it than that.
Burnett floating could have funded some acquisitions and kept senior
talent happy, but it's not the paradigm shift we needed.'
It is the involvement of the Japanese giant, Dentsu, that makes this
deal so pregnant with possibilities, but just how meaningful is Dentsu's
involvement beyond the fact of its investment?
Haupt enthuses over the Dentsu connection, insisting he went to Dentsu
first with the idea. He relishes the 'unrealised potential' of the
world's least understood agency and claims he would not have done the
deal without them - but then, he may not have been able to afford to do
There are some nagging doubts, however. Firstly there has been the time
it has taken to confirm Dentsu's earlier announcement of a 20 per cent
stake in Burnett. There is Dentsu's continuing separate arrangement with
Young & Rubicam in Asia, and, not least, the small matter of no
cross-holdings. If it really is a partnership why does Burnett not have
a stake in Dentsu too?
In his meandering answer to this question, Haupt seems to be the least
convincing of all our time together.
'There's an awful lot to do,' he says, a tad lamely. 'I think right now
the differences between Japanese financial markets and here is night and
day. Dentsu is on a course it mapped out two years ago. It is clear
about staying on that course.'
Leaving aside the observation that WPP and Asatsu mapped out its share
deal in the same night and day financial context, why should this foray
beyond Japan be any more successful than previous attempts via HDM and
'Dentsu recognises that the old ways - building yourself, and multiple
partnerships - are not going to work for them today. They also recognise
the threat to their own business from outside, and the need to make a
bold statement. And, by the way, they bucked conventional wisdom by the
speed with which they moved.'
Haupt is rather more convincing when insisting that the deal is not
about what he calls 'bragging rights'. It's just as well, because even
the combined BDM is nowhere near as large as the Omnicom, IPG and WPP
big three. However, he does concede that where it makes sense the group
will centralise some resources.
Obviously, one of the key areas where it does make sense is media buying
- hence last week's news of a merger between Motive and Starcom in
So why is there no definitive plan to merge Starcom and
Televest/MediaVest, especially as last year there was an abortive plan
to do just such a thing in isolation of the agencies?
'I really believe we have two very strong brands. This happened really
fast. I have to sit down with Jack (Klues, CEO of Starcom) and assess
what we know, what the conflicts are. This is becoming a market where
quality, planning and research are starting to play a much greater role.
This industry just shoves things all together too often.'
Haupt enthuses about Nick Brien's 'innovating' management of the London
agency, before admitting that he would not rule out acquisition. 'I
don't think being big has ever been what Leo Burnett is about,' he
Haupt is clearly a fan of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, as befits the executive
charged with maintaining the relationship with the agency in which
Burnett has a 49 per cent stake. When I say I never really understood
what was in the deal for Burnett, he is certain.
'Put money aside. It's the partnering of some very smart people who have
some very different views on how to build networks and a business. They
are very strong in planning and creative and there are certain
businesses we couldn't handle that they could. What global agency would
not have liked to rewrite the rule book in hindsight and ask, why do we
have to have 100-plus offices?'
His answer to the question of whether the BBH stake makes life difficult
for Leo Burnett in London is a blunt one. 'Internal competition is
healthy. Having someone with BBH's standards about the place is no bad
thing. It doesn't have a black sheep symbol for nothing.'
Like so many other Burnetters, Haupt has been with the agency a long
time (15 years), and is steeped in its culture and heritage. The answers
to many of my questions about scale, ambition, becoming more New York
focused and being public, refer with pride to the Midwest culture of an
agency he says has been 'good to him'.
'I think what makes Burnett successful is the people. Genuine caring
about the product, the quality of the service, client success. Star
reaching (the Leo Burnett logo) is not just something you have on a door
Haupt concedes, under prompting, that going public will not be easy.
'I don't believe a company has to lose its culture when it goes public,
but it's not easy to marry the rigid financial disciplines of a public
company with the requirements of a service industry.'
Asked what he intends to do with the funding he will have available,
Haupt concedes that the major groups are pursuing roughly the same
BDM needs to buy up below-the-line resources in which the group is
relatively backward, and Fizdale is charged with expanding new-media
On the subject of the impact of new media, Haupt is suddenly less
earnest, the challenge brings him alive. As does the task of translating
agencies' knowledge of consumer behaviour to the new media - something,
he points out, that management consultancies cannot do.
'We should not be systems integrators and talk about technological
If everyone's got data, what's going to be the difference? It's how you
mine that data, how you interpret it.'
Haupt acknowledges that Burnett has not bought as aggressively as its
rivals, but also insists that the business is not only about collecting
companies and shareholder value. It will be interesting to see if he can
speak with such confidence once BDM has floated. Nevertheless, his
integrity is not at issue. He refers to culture, integrity and ethics
'The way we conduct our business is important. It reflects on the people
Haupt gives the impression of a genuinely interested and caring
employer, steeped in Burnett's corporate values. It is difficult to
comment on his skills as a network chief; technically he does not even
start the job until next month. But he displayed flair and daring in
creating BDM and putting one over on his rivals.
Will it be enough to stay out of their clutches? Probably for the
mid-term. But the business is evolving so fast. Haupt is too smart to
state categorically that it will. He has a massive job, with a lot of
practical hard work to get on with - work he clearly relishes, even if
he is not looking forward to spending more time in New York schmoozing
He appears balanced and realistic about the demands his new life will
make on his life and family. Can he ever escape his job? He claims he
can, because he handles pressure well and can switch off.
'When I can't, I get in a plane to fly and then self-preservation takes
over,' Haupt concludes. He is going to need it.
- This article appeared in December 1999. Since then BDM has been
renamed as Bcom3. Haupt recently announced that Bcom3 will not float in