Nigel Morris, one of the most senior and longest-serving executives at Dentsu Aegis Network, is to leave after 26 years.
Morris was one of the architects of Aegis’ growth during the 1990s and 2000s, culminating in its £3.2bn sale to Japan’s Dentsu in 2012.
He founded digital agency Isobar in 2003 after the first dotcom bubble burst, went on to run Aegis in the Americas in 2009 and added responsibility for EMEA in 2012, before becoming chief strategy and innovation officer in 2017.
Morris, who will leave in March, departs months after his long-time boss Jerry Buhlmann, the global chief executive, stepped down in November and handed control to Tim Andree.
"It feels the right time," Morris said, explaining he had been thinking about leaving before Buhlmann’s own exit. "Jerry and I have worked together for so long but we’re very different in our approach. It’s probably why we work well."
Morris said two highlights were launching Isobar and running the Americas.
He recalled "going to the Aegis board in the middle of the dotcom bust and trying to persuade them to invest in a global, digital business based on data around consumer behaviour".
Dotcom valuations were tumbling but Morris could see consumers’ internet usage was going up and "in three years, we had built a 3,000-person business".
He said taking over the troubled US-based arm of Aegis and turning it around was another highlight as "we won $6.5bn in business in two years", including the valuable General Motors account.
Morris, who is British and began his career in fashion, plans to stay involved in the media sector, although he does not expect to work in agencies or for a competitor to Dentsu.
He said he remained "very passionate about brands and the role of marketing" in helping to drive growth and to create "a society that works better".
Some analysts are bearish about the future for agencies but Morris said: "Agencies remain an incredibly important piece of the whole eco-system."
Agency groups have "responded to the fragmentation and atomisation of marketing services" by expanding to cater for "all the disciplines that have emerged out of digital" and the challenge is to "bring them together in an integrated way", he said.
"Clients and agencies need to work in a really open and trustful way to build the partnerships of the future."
Morris added that agency groups have to embrace technology while still ensuring a role for creativity.
"Agencies need to become more industrialised – more systems and platforms for a digital economy," he said. "We need to bring a lot of those [digital] disciplines and operational excellence in but we also need to preserve the creativity and empowerment of people."
Andree, the executive chairman and chief executive of Dentsu Aegis Network, said Morris "has been instrumental in our own growth and that of our clients, to ensure their brands continue to win in the digital economy".
Andree went on: "While we will all miss Nigel’s passion and inspiration, we respect his decision and wish him the best in the future."