NEWSMAKER/PAUL SIMONS: An unreasonable executive who altered his world - The Paul Simons success story is the result of hard work, Emma Hall finds out

Yes, Paul Simons has made millions from the sale of Simons Palmer Clemmow Johnson to TBWA - but he’s earned it.

Yes, Paul Simons has made millions from the sale of Simons Palmer

Clemmow Johnson to TBWA - but he’s earned it.

Campaign readers are an ambitious breed, but how many have built an

agency with envied clients and stunning creative credentials, then lost

the star account, sacked the creative partners, and still gone on to

sell the agency for pounds 15 million?

Simons did all this and, just to prove he really deserved it, he even

came out with the top job at the newly merged agency (Campaign, last


Of course, Simon Clemmow and Carl Johnson have played their part, but it

is Paul Simons’ determination and strategic focus that have driven the

agency forward to achieve his goals.

’Reasonable men attempt to adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable

men attempt to adapt the world to themselves. Progress is in the hands

of unreasonable men.’ Simons confesses his staff now roll their eyes

when they hear him quote George Bernard Shaw yet again, but this kind of

distaste for mediocrity is the only way he can account for his

exceptional drive, and Simons has a store of anecdotes to illustrate the


Paul Simons the teenager was a budding rock star, gigging steadily for

four years and taking his turn as the support act for legendary names

such as Eric Clapton and the Who.

At 19, things were going well. A single, recorded in Abbey Road studios,

had done OK and his band was supporting Ike and Tina Turner on tour.

After a Birmingham gig, adrenaline buzzing, he went to an all-night

concert at the town hall starring Eric Clapton. As he walked in, Simons

says: ’There was this beautiful, sweet, eloquent guitar music coming

from a diminutive bloke in the middle of the stage. I watched him for

half an hour and, that night, I made my mind up to quit because I had

had a brilliant few years, but I knew I did not have the talent to match

what I had seen that night.’

So he dumped his band and set about catching up his more academically

focused peers. Simons felt he ’had to beat them’ and, needless to say,

he did. At 22, he left Lancaster Management School with a post-graduate

degree, at the same time as his contemporaries were collecting their

Bachelor of Arts certificates.

Simons has never made it easy for himself but somehow he always seems to

come out on top. After spells as a client at Cadbury Schweppes and

United Biscuits, he launched his advertising career at 29 with a move to

the unfashionable Midlands-based agency, Cogent Elliot, but before long

he emerged into the industry limelight with a top job at GGT.

Simons remembers: ’I got a lot of bitchy remarks when I went to GGT.

It was one of the best jobs in London and a lot of people could not

believe I had got it.’ He answered them all back with a successful run

at the agency although, in February 1988, he left under what he calls ’a

great big cloud,’ following a management reshuffle.

As usual, though, Simons came out smiling. He had complete contractual

freedom to start a rival agency at any time - and he walked away from

GGT with an awful lot of money.

Simons doesn’t spell it out, but money is obviously important to him,

although more as a yardstick of success than because he wants to flash

it about. As he talks through his career, there is frequent mention of

shares and share options, but he doesn’t ooze wealth in any obvious


Chris Palmer, one of the founding creative partners of Simons Palmer who

was ousted in 1994, says: ’Paul is a charming man and a cool customer on

the surface but he has two Achilles’ heels - he’ll do anything to look

good in print and he is obsessed by a desperate need to make money.’

Simons says that his money is ’a right and proper consequence’ of his

hard work, and describes his style as ’particular but not


Simons’ clothes are understated and comfortable-looking, and he smokes

his way through a packet of Rothmans at the speed of a teenage rock


What will he do with the money he’s pocketed from the TBWA deal? He has

no plans for a celebratory spending spree and says: ’Having money is not

a fresh concept for me, I made a lot from GGT so I’m not going to go

berserk as if I’d won the lottery.’

Of course, he lives in a fantastic house tucked away on Hampstead Heath,

and has a holiday home in Devon which he visits regularly. At the start

of each year, he books six separate weeks of holiday, all coinciding

with school holidays, because, he says, ’That way I always know I’ve got

a break coming up.’

Most of these holidays are spent in Devon with his family, getting stuck

in to some heavy-duty DIY. Simons’ skills with a trowel came in handy

soon after Simons Palmer opened for business. The day before their first

client meeting, Simons went to the toilet and, noticing the tatty state

of the bathroom, went out to get some tiles and set things straight


Simons is still prepared to muck in when necessary. Mike Parsons, the

managing director of Goldfish and a client of Simons Palmer, says: ’When

there’s trouble and things get tough he is always in there with his

sleeves rolled up, ready to get involved.’

Staff at TBWA are likely to find this out over the next few weeks as

Simons, Clemmow and Johnson move their agency from Soho to King’s


Inevitably, there will be hiccups and a few disgruntled personnel but

Simons is ready for them.

He says: ’I am not intimidated by people. I always make myself clear,

I’m empathetic and I don’t take a blanket approach. I put myself in the

other person’s shoes and try to work out what his or her problems or

fears might be. If everyone feels looked-after then that’s half the


Dave Trott, now a creative partner at Walsh Trott Chick Smith, confirms

this: ’Paul cares about people’s feelings, and there are never any

politics going on that you don’t know about. Although you immediately

feel comfortable with him, he is not instantly charismatic, and needs to

be judged over time. At the end of six months working with him, you will

be surprised how happy you are.’

Simons adds: ’I have a strong private vision of what I want to do, but I

am reluctant to predict the future. Change is usually positive - it is

good to provoke freshness - and the deal with TBWA is a big adventure,

full of enlarged opportunities that are too good to miss.’

Simons’ chief strengths seem to be his ability to maintain his focus

over the long term, and to organise those around him so that everyone is

free to do what they are good at. At GGT, that meant creating a

super-efficient system to rid the creative department of its

feast-or-famine mentality.

He would call up all the account directors every Monday morning, and

then make sure that the creatives knew, 12 weeks in advance, exactly

what they would be working on. Trott, who was a fan of Simons’

management style, says: ’People think that creativity stems from the

theatre of hysteria, but the most important ingredient for a creative is

time, and that is what Paul gave us.’

However, Trott acknowledges: ’You can’t organise people that don’t want

to be organised, and Paul hires people who want to do it his way.’

At Simons Palmer, Simons diverted his organisational skills into press

relations and expanding the business, while his partners ran the agency

internally. After the merger with TBWA, he plans an equivalent split in

duties, with Jonathan Hoare, the chairman, doing all the corporate

socialising, while Simons, the chief executive, works his magic on the

agency’s financial and creative prosperity.

The resignation of Trevor Beattie, the creative director of TBWA, which

occurred after this interview, won’t make Simons’ immediate task any

easier, but he often does things the hard way, and he is certainly used

to working for his money.