There's a classic Mark Cranmer anecdote just about everyone has got a version of. It goes something like this: Cranmer arranges an important meeting with one of his staff for, say, 4pm. This executive, who's having a nightmare day and is running a bit behind schedule following a client meeting, dashes back to the office and gets there for 4.05pm and he's hugely relieved to find that Cranmer's not there yet either.
So he hangs around. At 4.30pm Cranmer tips up. "I hear you were late for our meeting," he growls. He's not joking either.
Cranmer's punctuality standards are chronic. But as for timing - that may turn out to be a very different matter indeed. Last week, he was able to tidy up one of the most important bits in the Starcom trainset he has been building and managing for three years now, when Bartle Bogle Hegarty agreed to sell its stake in Starcom Motive.
On the face of it, this may seem a paltry technical detail and in the immediate future there will be few outwardly obvious changes, apart from legal formalities and the merging of back-office functions such as finance and IT. But it does clear the way for more far-reaching structural alterations and, in fact, they're implicit in the legal groundwork laid last week.
Following the deal, Cranmer's part of the Publicis media empire now becomes Starcom MediaVest Group, a single legal entity that owns two operating units, Starcom Motive (which stays in its Great Pulteney Street offices) and Starcom MediaVest (which will move from the bucolic splendours of W14 to another Publicis property on Whitfield Street). These client-facing entities will remain in place for the foreseeable future; but there has already been speculation that, once pending business is tidied up (at least one major pitch), there are likely to be significant personnel moves, including some appointments at Starcom MediaVest Group level.
All that has been confirmed so far is Cranmer's place at the top of the media tree, not just in the UK but internationally. He's one of a handful of people destined to have a formative influence on the media landscape as it continues to consolidate. Strange to think that not so long ago, his career was in danger of drifting off into the wilderness.
His early high point was heading the peerless Lowe Howard-Spink media department in the late 80s, becoming the assistant managing director of the whole agency (so important was he to client business) before he left. The low point was when he tried his hand at general agency management at BBDO and CDP. He admits that John Bartle saved his career by handing him the role of strategic development director at BBH in 1993.
By then, BBH was one of the few places in town still in tune with Cranmer's media philosophy, which has always been about insight, creative thinking and big ideas. In simplistic terms, he's always pursued media value rather than price. A decade ago, that became deeply unfashionable and everybody was obsessed with purchasing leverage.
The world has now come round again to the Cranmer way - look no further for evidence of that than the "fuelling brand power" philosophy and positioning he continues to ensure is central to the thinking of all the group's operating units.
Now that more of the network pieces are in place, Cranmer, who is in his mid-forties, spends less time jetting round the continent but he's still piling on the air miles at an impressive rate. It's not doing much for his golf and the saddest thing about Cranmer, those who know him say, is his belief that one day he'll actually be good at it. In fact, last week will probably be remembered by Cranmer more for him managing to break 100 for a full 18 holes. The quality of his game is something that irks him considerably and he cheerfully admits to anyone who will listen that he is not a good loser, as those who accompany him to watch Chelsea at Stamford Bridge will testify.
Cranmer also admits he must be a nightmare to work with - or for. And it's not hard to find those who find him genuinely scary. All the more scary, they say, for the fact that he's one of these people who can tear strips off you without having to raise his voice.
"He's a very passionate and committed individual and that can spill over into constructive tension," Kevin Brown, a partner of Soul, who used to work with Cranmer at Motive, says. "But he is also immensely likeable.
He is one of the great geezers in this business and he's an inspiration.
He's very driven and if you can't keep up with him he doesn't tolerate it. People say he's unpredictable. In fact, he's so unpredictable it's actually predictable. And the truth about that punctuality thing is that he's late because he's trying to cram so much in."
THE CRANMER FILE
1982: Lowe Howard-Spink, various positions, rising to assistant managing
1990: BBDO, managing director
1991: CDP, deputy managing director
1993: Bartle Bogle Hegarty, strategic development director
1995: Motive, managing director
2000: Starcom MediaVest Group EMEA, chief executive