There I am, in my pyjamas at 7am, when Jay (Chiat) calls me from
Vancouver to say he has sold the company.
My shock at receiving the call was more to do with the speed of events
than the nature of them. David Abraham and I had been anticipating this
call, but we were sure that negotiations with a prospective partner
would take a long time and that we would be given some warning. I was
faced with a fait accompli and was under strict instructions not to
mention a thing to anyone. At 7.10am, I phoned David.
’It’s Plan B, then,’ he said, referring to the doomsday scenario
conversation we’d had on the plane back from New York only three months
’Looks like it,’ I said. ’Let’s meet at ten in the Edge with the others
and work out what to do next.’
I rang Naresh (Ramchandani, joint creative director) at 7.15am, who in
turn rang Bono (Dave Buonaguidi, joint creative creative director).
The four of us met at ten. It was one of those meetings that everyone in
the company knew was important. With faces set for the task, we strode
into the all-glass meeting room and talked about what Jay had asked me
I explained that he saw me very much as a senior officer of the company
and that it was expected of me to comply with all instructions. I was to
meet the senior managers from TBWA in London and talk about how we would
merge. The key to this being a successful merger was to make sure
Midland Bank was happy.
It was a sad meeting. All four of us felt that the company that had been
so vibrant and full of potential was now fading fast.
We asked John Grant (a planner) to join us at 11am along with Charlotte
Zamboni, an experienced manager who had joined us in the week before
Christmas to relieve David of his day-to-day handling of Midland Bank.
We were nervous about our next actions and even more nervous of
implicating others who might not want to debate the instructions we had
The six of us were about as small a group as we could trust ourselves
with, at that stage. We agreed that I would meet the TBWA executives,
since they might have an interesting view on the announcement. I called
them to arrange when and where.
Jay called again at lunchtime. Again he reminded me of the secrecy of
the news. The deal had not yet been ratified by the Securities and
Exchange Commission (SEC) in the USA.
If the news got out, there would be a breach of the code which set out
the rules for a stock market company (Omnicom) to buy the shares of a
private company (Chiat/Day).
The news was to be issued by Reuters the next day, 31 January 1995, at
5pm our time - which was lunchtime in New York and breakfast in LA. Jay
would address all the offices simultaneously by satellite video
I was to make sure everyone important in the office got there to hear
At seven that evening, I made my way to the Four Seasons Hotel in
Marylebone - the biggest, most corporate, most American hotel you could
possibly imagine. I walked through a sea of large ferns and aspidistras
and found the TBWA guys sipping Kir Royales in the cute hotel lounge.
They wore double-breasted suits, club ties and shiny black brogues. I
was in T-shirt and jeans.
’Hello, old thing,’ the senior one beamed, as I joined them. ’Great
news, eh? We’re going to get along famously.’
In an instant I flashed back to a world of advertising that I had long
forgotten. Here in front of me was advertising as pure business;
advertising as corporate wheeling and dealing. I hadn’t realised that
all of us at Chiat/Day had moved so far away from this, so fast. They
were nice enough guys, it was just that we viewed business from two
totally different perspectives.
I felt as if I was from another planet.
There was nothing inherently wrong about what they said. The meeting was
about finance and staffing. They had some well thought out plans for how
the merger could go smoothly. The words all made sense but the whole
thing just didn’t work for me.
You see, this was a ’big wigs’ meeting. We had all the cards, so that
meant the others in the office were insignificant.
The deal was talked of in terms of a ’merger’ but that wasn’t actually
what was going on. These people were buying us. And what a shiny, new
jewel we’d be in their crown.
They had to offer me a job that would secure my services. Jay had hinted
that something would be in the pipeline. As these early negotiations
were played out, it transpired that I was the only one in the company
whose contract was actually secure. I was offered the post of the deputy
managing director of the combined operation.
I returned to meet the rest of the ’six’, who were holed up in the
splendour of the mahogany and brass comforts of the Mountbatten, where
I’d first met Dave and Naresh almost 18 months earlier. We chatted late
into the night.
No-one wanted to go with the deal, that was obvious. It meant loss of
jobs, integrity and trust. We had all made an agreement as a company -
to work with each other in as innovative a way as possible - and this
was a deal in the polar opposite direction.
But then again, we didn’t have a leg to stand on. My contract was with
Chiat/Day in Los Angeles - just having this discussion was putting me on
shaky ground. And none of us had any money. So we would be borrowing if
we wanted to set up a new company and then we would just have the hassle
of being owned by banks. We didn’t want to be owned by anyone.
We had a blank sheet of paper and a question: ’Do we want to form a
company together?’ We went around the table and tried to work out what
we were personally able to commit.
Yes, we wanted to stick together but, no, we didn’t want someone else in
control of our destinies. Naresh’s wife was about to have a baby and
they were moving into a new house, David was in the process of adopting
a child from India and I had just moved into a near-derelict house in
the country and all my finances were tied up in making it habitable.
I left that evening feeling exhilarated but worried and didn’t sleep a
wink that night. I knew, I had known all day, that we weren’t going to
go into the TBWA deal but at the same time, I knew we didn’t have the
right cards in our hands to set up a new venture.We seemed to be
On the station platform at Waterloo, waiting for my train home, I did
something rash. I phoned Stefano Hatfield, the editor of Campaign.
’I’ve been told to merge Chiat/Day with TBWA. I don’t know what we’re
going to do, but it’s not going to be that. I’m going to keep you on the
inside track and tell you blow by blow what’s going on. This isn’t
right. It’s just not right.’
Why did I make that call? It was to goad me, and to set myself a task
that had to be completed. In three days the world would know we were not
After a perfunctory birthday party at breakfast for Olivia, my
two-year-old, for which the family had to be up an hour earlier, I
arrived in the office just before nine. It took me a minute to work out
that something strange was going on. Then it clicked.
Almost the entire office were in and had been since at least 8.30 that
Everyone just knew that something was up. All around me people were
searching for clues in my manner and tone. It was unbearable. I really
wanted to say something, but Jay had been so heavy about the SEC that I
felt I really could not say a word.
Smudger (Andy Smith, who worked in print production and later ran St
Luke’s print production department) pestered me hourly right up to the
live satellite broadcast. He was a touchstone in the agency. When he
asked a question, he was asking it for everyone.
’What’s up? Something’s up? You can tell us all, you know that. We don’t
let our secrets out.’
’Something’s up, you’re right,’ I kept telling him. ’But I just can’t
say. Just be at the Intercontinental Hotel at five, with the rest of us,
and you’ll find out.’
I had invited the whole office to the live broadcast. One by one we all
filed into a tiny room in the Intercontinental Hotel and sat poised to
watch Jay’s speech from New York.
For at least ten minutes there were the usual hiccups in putting
together this kind of show. First, the screen flickered and we saw
friends from the New York office sitting cross-legged on the wild
Then the camera lurched and we stared blankly at just the floor itself.
We heard someone say, ’Are we hooked up yet? Where’s Jay. Are LA
The normally boisterous London crowd sat quietly.
Then the screen burst into life and Jay Chiat’s head appeared. It was
monstrously distorted by a weird camera angle and a bad satellite feed
and there was a small time delay when he spoke, so that he looked like
Max Headroom, the futuristic android.
’Hi everyone. I am here to announce that as of this afternoon, Chiat/Day
is merging with TBWA around the world. This is a great new future for
all of us.
It will give us the global presence we always wanted.’
Someone in London murmured: ’Sounds like he’s made himself very rich and
us very redundant.’
Jay went round all the offices in his speech to explain what would be
happening to them and their clients. Everything seemed very logical.
Then he paused and stood back from the camera.
’What?’ he asked. He had been irritated by a heckle from the New York
crowd. ’What about London? You haven’t mentioned London.’
By this stage, all of us in London were dumbfounded. We didn’t even
feature in Jay’s speech.
’Oh yeah, London,’ Jay spluttered back onto the screen. ’They’re merging
with Holmes Knight Ritchie.’
Jay had mentioned the name of an agency that TBWA had bought two years
earlier. It didn’t exist now.
’Andy Law has met the guys there and they got along fine. It’ll be
I felt 30 eyes beaming into the back of my neck.
There were a couple more questions. Someone in LA popped open a bottle
of champagne and the screen died.
I turned round to everyone.
’Don’t say anything now. Just go back to the agency. We’re all going to
meet up back at the agency.’
’So something was up, then?’ smiled Smudger.
’Just a bit,’ I said.
’He didn’t have a clue what he was saying, or what was going on,’ said
David Abraham, summing up everyone’s mood. ’His script had been written
for him by Wall Street. We’ve spent a year talking about how to turn
Chiat/Day into a different sort of company, then this.’
In the cab to the agency, I reflected on the day. Last week it was going
to be the day I embarrassed my family by dressing up as ’The Great
Waldo’ - magician extraordinaire - for my daughter’s second birthday. I
had inflicted this on my son for the previous seven years and persisted
against a rising tide of ridicule from adults and children alike. As it
was, I was to miss all her birthday celebrations.
The days following would be full to the brim. Family was pushed to the
side. That’s what big business can do.
Back at the agency, everyone was present. We broke open two cases of
beer - Tuborg. We had just won the account.
And then the phones went berserk. The news had gone on to Reuters as we
made our way back from the hotel. As we started answering the phones, we
realised it was the headhunters, one after the other. It was incredibly
fast. They were commiserating and offering new jobs in the same
Ah! Advertising. It’s so wonderful.
After the headhunters came the press. It was too late for any of the UK
marketing trade journals to run a story on Wednesday, but I knew
Campaign would run a story on Thursday.
I turned to the assembled crowd.
’I’m not permitted to speak to you about the details of this deal. You
see, I have a contract, a copy of which is in Los Angeles, with the
company’s lawyers. I’m absolutely forbidden to suggest to you that you
might not want to go ahead with this deal. In fact, I’d be grateful if
some of you would step forward to be fired. Because that’s what’s got to
No-one moved, or spoke. I spoke very slowly and very carefully.
’But you know, I’m inclined to stand over here and just look at the view
from this window. It’s a great view. It offers all sorts of ideas for
the future. Some of you, and I understand why, might not be as
interested in this view as me. If you’re not, don’t be afraid and don’t
do anything that might compromise yourself. Just walk out now. We are
about to enter uncharted territory and I can make absolutely no promises
for a safe journey.’
Again no-one moved, or spoke. I waited for a couple of minutes and
looked at David, Tessa, Smudger, Johnners (Paul Johnson, then an account
clerk, later to be creative services director at St Luke’s), Sally Kelso
(then a secretary, later head of IT at St Luke’s), Bono, Naresh.
Brilliant, loyal and unfireable in anyone’s book. The whole company
stood silently still. Rock solid.
’Well, it looks like we’re all in it. Now it’s action stations!’
We were mutinying. En masse. And the strangest thing was that all we
cared about was each other and sticking together. Exactly how we were
going to succeed as a standalone company seemed a distant hurdle to
We started divvying up the tasks that needed to be done.
Johnners, like the gruff Regimental Sergeant-Major everyone loves,
bellowed ’Or-der!’ (and has done ever since to silence a throng prior to
’Right, this is what we’re going to do,’ and I outlined a plan to start
the ball rolling.
One by one we phoned all our clients. And one by one they all said what
we wanted to hear. As long as we could promise the same high level of
service, they would stick with us. Anita Roddick, the supreme
entrepreneur, asked if we needed financial help. Cable & Wireless said
it would support us however it could. As the evening went on the
adrenaline flowed and the list of clients who were to back us grew. It
was like election night.
And all the votes were going our way.
But there was still one big vote left to come in.
We had had difficulty contacting Midland Bank. Its strict security
measures made it hard to contact key people out of hours. Eventually
David Mills, our senior contact, called in, alerted by his security
’I hope this is important, Andy. I was just about to settle down for
some supper.’ Breathlessly, I told him what we were doing.
’Andy,’ he said calmly, ’don’t worry about a thing. Go home and have a
The cheer from the agency must have been heard halfway across
We were a going concern.
No-one could go home. By now it was 10.30pm.
A distant, lone phone rang. It was Bill Tragos, the worldwide chairman
of TBWA and as big a wig as you’re ever likely to come across in the
advertising world. He monopolised the conversation entirely, with an
unremitting heavy New York drawl.
’Andy, this is great. Particularly for you. You’re going to do
Did Jay talk to you about the stock options?
TBWA is one big happy family, you’re joining a great firm. The London
guys like you. I hear great things about what you’re doin’ in
Maybe we can incorporate some of your ideas. I just wanted to ring and
I was speechless. I had not fed this call into any plan. ’Oh, hi,’ I
replied. ’I think there’s a lot of sorting out to do.’
’Sure there is. Don’t worry, this is a perfect marriage. There’s always
a lot to sort out. But, hey, it must be late in London, get some
See you soon, in New York maybe.’
I phoned Jay: ’We have a problem.’
’Hi, everyone. I am here to announce that, as of this afternoon,
Chiat/Day is merging with TBWA around the world. This is a great new
future for all of us. It will give us the global presence we always
Jay Chiat, joint founder of Chiat/Day
’Andy, this is great. Particularly for you. You’re going to do great.
Did Jay talk to you about the stock options? TBWA is one big happy
family. You’re joining a great firm’
Bill Tragos, joint founder of TBWA
’His (Chiat’s) script had been written for him by Wall Street. We’ve
spent a year talking about how to turn Chiat/Day into a different sort
of company, then this’
David Abraham, chief operating officer of St Luke’s.