You’d need a heart of stone not to have felt some sympathy for Mike
Greenlees this week, and I’ve encountered a few. He’s made many friends
and a few enemies during his rollercoaster ride with GGT but it seems
he’ll never join the global big swinging dick club.
As I write, he is locked in a London hotel room with one or other
representative of Omnicom’s John Wren - an important member of the
As Greenlees listens blankly to the banks of lawyers ratcheting up their
fees, he will no doubt reflect that his burning desire to be in that
elite group proved his undoing. As one illustrious contemporary put it,
how much more simple life would have been if he’d just stayed at Boase
Massimi Pollitt and run the agency that everyone loves to love.
We’ve wandered into that peculiarly British trait - feeling suspicious
of those who try to succeed. Gold Greenlees Trott was one of the second
wave of agencies that transformed British advertising. Born on the cusp
of the 80s, Abbott Mead Vickers, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Lowe
Howard-Spink, WCRS and GGT soon became the establishment. Like the
slightly older Saatchi & Saatchi, they excelled creatively and
financially, defining London’s unique advertising marketplace.
Unlike the others (with some licence for Frank Lowe and Robin Wight),
Greenlees parted with his key creative partner. Many, particularly in
Soho, feel Dave Trott’s departure in 1990 changed GGT forever.
They’d be wrong. GGT changed by floating in 1986. Like the Saatchis,
Wight and entrepreneurs such as Roddick and Branson before him,
Greenlees found that running a plc is another country.
To put it bluntly, GGT is no longer his. It belongs to its shareholders
and their inexorable demands for growth. It’s what fuelled his bid for
BDDP in the first place - a bid commentators like me lauded because he
had no realistic alternative. If he wanted to join the global big
swinging dick club, that is.
If you want to know what its members are really like, read about John
Wren in the first of our Kings of Madison Avenue series (p24). Wait till
you read the Ed Meyer and Phil Geier stories. Greenlees isn’t really
like them. Like Martin Sorrell, they have a genuinely global outlook and
treat the prospect of merging TBWA and GGT, for example, with
equanimity. If Compaq can buy Digital, they can buy GGT. They’re not
bothered by little local personnel difficulties, such as re-uniting
Trevor Beattie with his old creative department. But it was a little
local personnel difficulty that cost dollars 125 million worth of
Procter & Gamble business.
I hope that Omnicom looks after GGT’s anxious staff, and that Greenlees
makes a little money in the process and suffers a little less stress.