M&C Saatchi names Richard Thompson as UK chair, Tim Duffy global strategy director

More focus on commercial and cross-selling.

M&C Saatchi: Richard Thompson (left) and Tim Duffy
M&C Saatchi: Richard Thompson (left) and Tim Duffy

M&C Saatchi has promoted Richard Thompson, the boss of its talent division, to be UK group chairman, replacing long-serving Tim Duffy, who becomes group strategy director worldwide.

They are the most significant appointments made by Moray MacLennan since he stepped up to become global chief executive in January, after the three founding partners, David Kershaw, Jeremy Sinclair and Bill Muirhead, stepped down following 26 years as executive directors.

MacLennan is promising “a change agenda”, in the wake of an accounting crisis that lasted nearly 18 months, and has recently appointed the group’s first chief people officer and a new general counsel to improve governance.

MacLennan and Duffy have worked together for 35 years – first at Saatchi & Saatchi and then at M&C Saatchi since its foundation in 1995. Duffy has led much of its government work, such as the Change4Life campaign.

Thompson is a serial entrepreneur, who joined in 2013 when he sold his talent agency, Merlin Elite, to the group. He has also chaired several media businesses for private equity owners and is chair of Surrey County Cricket Club.

MacLennan said: “Tim is a brilliant strategist and I want to use him single-mindedly, globally and in the UK. If you were to ask Tim what excites him most, it’s solving clients’ problems, and I thought let’s give him a bigger stage – that’s why he’s moving from the UK to worldwide.”

Duffy said: “I look forward to moving into a global role as our new strategy accelerates over the coming years.” 

MacLennan added Thompson is a “brilliant leader” with a “commercial” reputation and “his outside-of-advertising experience is useful in being a good chair” and ensuring business discipline.

More cross-selling in the UK

M&C Saatchi’s UK operation has upwards of 700 people and 14 subsidiaries, including the flagship ad agency M&C Saatchi London, performance shop M&C Saatchi Performance, PR outfit M&C Saatchi Talk and talent arm M&C Saatchi Merlin.

Thompson said there is an opportunity to get different agencies working more closely and to cross-sell services – a strategy that fits with MacLennan’s mantra of offering “Meaningful Change” to clients.

“The M&C Saatchi Group is a unique collection of world-class companies that span the entire communications landscape,” Thompson said. 

“They are exceptional apart, and when combined can be even more powerful in delivering ‘Meaningful Change’ for existing and new clients. I look forward to helping deliver our compelling proposition, with our outstanding talent.”

He went on: “We’ve got a lot of clients within the group that probably buy only one or two services from us, yet there are 14 agencies within the UK business. So why are we not cross-selling more? Why are we not creating more opportunities with the existing clients who are known to us and trust us?

“There’s an immediate opportunity for us to create one front door in Golden Square [in Soho where M&C Saatchi has multiple offices] to be easy to do business with and make the most of some of the world-class disciplines that we have, rather than operating in a more siloed way.”

Accounting crisis

Four unnamed UK subsidiaries were at the heart of the accounting crisis that resulted in a boardroom split and the resignation of Lord Saatchi, one of the co-founders, and all of the non-executive directors in December 2019.

M&C Saatchi had to revise its 2018 accounts and they were finally approved by auditors in autumn 2020. 

Thompson said of the accounting problems: “We’ve drawn a line under that now. With Mickey Kalifa coming in [as group finance director in 2019] and a whole new finance team, we’re in the third financial year since that happened.”

He added: “Over the last 12 months, compared to our peer group and lots of other businesses, we’ve shown incredible resilience. Our key clients have remained with us, key management have remained with us, our numbers have held up.”

M&C Saatchi’s share price crashed from 330p before the accounting scandal to about 30p during the worst of the pandemic in April 2020 but has begun to recover.

Vin Murria, a tech entrepreneur, became the biggest shareholder in May 2020 when she bought 13.25% in an unexpected move.

Murria paid an estimated £6m for her stake at about 39.5p a share and has more than trebled her money as the stock price has climbed to about 150p. 

She became deputy chair and a non-executive director earlier this month.

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