NEWSMAKER/STEPHEN WHYTE: Youngish turk finds his rightful place at Burnetts - Stephen Whyte has always been destined for the top. Report by Eleanor Trickett

’I’d rather not stay at the agency, if you don’t mind,’ says Stephen Whyte, as we arrange to meet.

’I’d rather not stay at the agency, if you don’t mind,’ says

Stephen Whyte, as we arrange to meet.

Well, we know that he would rather not; he announced last week that he

was leaving his job as deputy managing director of GGT to become the new

managing director of Leo Burnett (Campaign, 7 November). Of course, he

was just talking about where we would meet. But the manner in which he

swooped into reception and swept me out of the door was that of a man

who was a bit embarrassed at having dropped a bit of a bombshell -

especially as his picture was on the front page of that morning’s

Campaign, on proud display on the coffee table in reception.

It’s not, admittedly, a bombshell which will rock the industry. In

Whyte’s words: ’It will all get lost in the merger (between GGT and

BST-BDDP)’; but his move is a significant wrench for GGT’s

superstructure, and especially Grant Duncan, his soon-to-be-former boss.

The two make an awesome partnership - awesome, largely because they

managed to run a hot agency and be two of the most charming, polite and

nice men in the industry.

’Stephen is a very emotional chap - which may surprise some people - and

I’ll miss him hugely,’ Duncan says. And Whyte himself, only minutes into

our chat, gurgles: ’I love Grant to bits.’

Whyte was right, too, when he said that his departure would get lost in

the merger. It might even have been quite handy, for when two players

such as GGT and BST-BDDP combine forces, an attempt to cram all the top

brass into jobs commensurate with their industry standing can be akin to

trying get a single fitted sheet on to a double mattress.

And let’s not forget that Whyte is not just leaving what, on paper,

looks like a lovely job, but going to what, on paper, looks like a

fantastic job. Burnetts has been holding out for a managing director for

six months since Nick Brien moved up to become chief executive. And the

agency, according to all and sundry, is one of great potential which

hasn’t quite been drawn out yet. Martin Jones, managing director at the

Advertising Agency Register, says: ’What Burnetts needs is a campaign

that people outside the industry talk about: a John Smith’s, a Tango.

Whyte should be able to bring in that kind of client.’

Bruce Haines, chief executive of Leagas Delaney, agrees with Jones:

’Nobody has ever had much doubt that Whyte would end up in a very senior

position; even as a graduate trainee (at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO), he

was very mature.’

At AMV in the heady days of the 80s, he was jammy enough to work on the

British Caledonian, Seagram and Comet accounts. His then colleague,

Robert Campbell, creative partner of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe, says:

’There was a generation of young account men at AMV - thrusting young

turks - all of whom have gone on to do very well.’

Whyte stayed at AMV for four years - his longest tenure yet. His first

move of many was with a colleague, Mike Turnbull, to Aviator, a

below-the-line operation that withered through lack of funding.

So when Haines enticed him to Leagas Delaney, he was off like a


’Leagas Delaney - and particularly Tim Delaney himself - was the

ultimate obliterator of sloppy thinking,’ he winces, recalling how he’d

go straight home after failing to sell a campaign to a client rather

than facing the wrath of Delaney.

It became obvious that this was not the right climate and when the call

came from Richard Hytner at the-then Still Price Lintas, Whyte left to

become client services director. The chemistry seemed right but, a

victim of bad timing, Whyte had to resign moments before he was removed

during the infamous shake-up at the end of 1995.

At this point, Grant Duncan stepped in to offer him the new-business

director job at GGT. It turned out to be a canny move - Whyte became

deputy managing director of the agency just under a year ago.

’The last ten months have been great,’ he says. ’I’ve been doing this

pick ’n’ mix job at a very unpretentious agency which throws fantastic

parties.’ But during this time, Whyte had been developing his

relationship with Brien and around four months ago, serious discussions

began about the managing director’s job at Burnetts.

And then the psychometric tests were administered. ’I wanted to say to

Nick: ’You’ve been on too many courses, mate.’ Thank God I could smoke

during the ordeal.’ But now he would recommend this experience to


’After that, I just knew that the job was right for me.’ Stephen Maher,

a contemporary ’young turk’ at AMV, agrees: ’This job is probably the

best yet for him. Burnetts has an intelligent and laid-back environment,

which is the kind of guy he is.’

But it is not yet the perfect agency. Whyte admits that it has a

reputation for being ’run by suits’, and its new-business rate has been

less than stellar, with plenty of clients coming in for a chat, but few

actually handing over their accounts. Duncan adds: ’Burnetts is a bit

like a first date at the moment ... the agency needs its first real snog

to get things rocking.’

’It’s not simple, trying to work out why pitches don’t convert,’ Whyte

muses. ’I think it’s down to confidence, and how the agency looks and

feels about itself. The smell of success has to be there. Nick, who has

the ability to exude confidence about the agency, is very


Insiders at the agency seem pleased that Whyte is stepping in - notably

because the extra pair of hands will free up Nick Brien to get strategic

once again. ’They will make a great team,’ one says, ’not just because

they are so different. Being different is not enough; there has to be a


Everyone is happy to wax lyrical about the contrast between Brien and

Whyte - including Whyte himself. ’Too often in the business, like hires

like, because it’s comfortable and secure,’ he says. ’Nick has enormous

passion and energy, but has less direct experience of account


I’m sure he won’t mind me saying that although he has great ideas, he’s

not the strongest person for making them happen. On the other hand, one

of my strengths is turning ideas into reality.’

But his methods, according to some, aren’t always strictly orthodox.

’He may be very ’nice’,’ says one former colleague, ’but he is also

incredibly political and plays the game as well as he polishes his

shoes. He’s a very self-important performer, and will not relax - ever.’

Duncan elucidates more kindly: ’He has a mischievous ’naughty boy’ side.

If he’s got a target to achieve, he can do it in quite a disruptive way

to get there in a fashion which is not boring.’

Lots of people have things to say about Whyte: a born account man,

maybe, mature, maybe, but not boring. Hytner’s description is perhaps

the most original: ’He’s a very ’classic’ sort of person. If you went to

his house, he’d probably serve you Earl Grey tea and double-chocolatey


He wears Church’s shoes and collects antique clocks. Who else collects

antique clocks these days?’


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