Structural damage needs fixing at 36 Golden Square
A view from Jeremy Lee

Structural damage needs fixing at 36 Golden Square

Joints, as someone once said, are for butchers. It seems an appropriate metaphor given that, with a few notable exceptions (such as the clubbable friends Tom Knox and Richard Warren at DLKW Lowe), the creation of joint leadership roles usually end up unhappily and with blood on the carpet.

This seems to be the case in Golden Square, where, after 22 years’ faithful service to the enrichment of the Saatchi brothers, the joint chief executive Carrie Hindmarsh has quit M&C Saatchi to spend more time with her family (as well as manage a portfolio of non-executive directorships).

In this instance, the appeal of additional quality family time with her young twins is true and not that of the famed euphemism. But Hindmarsh’s departure leaves a chasm at the top of the agency’s leadership team that will be harder to fill than I expect the other joint chief executive, Lisa Thomas, realises.

Hindmarsh has been key to many of the agency’s most crucial accounts and her elevation to chief executive in 2011 seemed an acknowledgment of the contribution she, alongside the equally charismatic managing director, Richard Alford, had made over the years. However, in what looked a confusing muddle, the role was shared with Thomas.

On a management notepad, it probably made sense and seemed complementary – Hindmarsh was the effortlessly supreme and charming account handler, while Thomas brought her considerable business skills to the agency (although, as the group chief executive, she is spread wafer-thin across all M&C Saatchi companies). In practice, however, it was unclear who was actually in control of the train set (and, in reality, it was Thomas).

Carrie Hindmarsh's departure leaves a chasm at the top that will be harder to fill than I expect Lisa Thomas realises

If it looked confusing from the outside, it must have been frustrating on the inside – particularly as M&C Saatchi tried to boost its new-business efforts and its creative game in the post-Graham Fink era.

While the agency has made some strides in this area, it is likely to be despite, rather than because of, the structure. The idea that Hindmarsh and Thomas’ on-paper skills were complementary was somewhat negated by the fact they are both powerful, ambitious and talented, but also very different personalities – clashes seemed inevitable.

With M&C Saatchi Group continuing to develop an interesting proposition that includes all the consumer touchpoints (such as the recent acquisition of the talent business Merlin Elite), Thomas’ already overstretched skills need to focus on developing the business as a whole, rather than micromanaging whoever is running the advertising agency. This would allow whoever is running it – hopefully Alford – the breathing space to make M&C Saatchi the first-class agency it deserves to be instead of hamstrung by butchers’ "joints".