Ten years ago, Christine Walker stunned the media industry by quitting her beloved agency, Zenith Media. She did the same again this week by announcing her departure from the agency that has been her life for a decade. And after the shock, came the tributes.
Lord Saatchi, the founder of M&C Saatchi, the agency which backed Walker Media's launch, said: "I need a violin accompaniment to summarise what I feel about Christine Walker, because she is a true pioneer. She led Britain and Britain led the world in changing the face of media forever.
"Her creation of Zenith moved media from a lowly department in an ad agency to the centralised media giants that dominate modern communications. With Phil (Georgiadis), she's created more history with Walker Media, which has succeeded so brilliantly in spite of the consolidated world she helped create."
Sly Bailey, the chief executive of Trinity Mirror, said: "Christine's played a unique role in the shaping of our industry as we know it today, often by the sheer power and dynamism of her own personality. There are many who could learn from the Christine way of doing things: great relationships driving great results for clients. She's an inspiration and leaves behind a fantastic legacy in Walker Media."
John Clare, the chief executive of Dixons Stores Group, said: "You always get the feeling that she's dedicated to your business, and she's been a very good and well-respected business person to work with. On top of that, she's developed an outstanding business."
Ray Morgan, Walker's former boss, added: "She's a super girl. Very, very talented and a real professional, who will work herself out for a client. She's as tough as old boots, but will get on with most people, even if they are a bit scared of her. I'm not surprised at all that she made a success of Walker Media, as she had so many clients who would say 'if Christine's going, we're going too'. She's very hard working and very bright, and people like that don't need much training. With a decent brain and a strong stomach, you'll be alright."
On leaving Walker Media at the end of June, Walker plans to take a seven-week break in the South of France while considering her options. However, she ruled out a return to traditional media. She added: "Do I think I could do something that would compete with Phil? Why would I leave Walker Media to do that?"
Phil Georgiadis, Walker Media's other founding partner, will take over the leadership of the business. He said its name will not be changed and that he didn't expect to recruit senior people from outside the agency to replace Walker.
"The mould was broken when they made Christine, and I can't find the mould. A strategy of identifying a replacement to perform similar roles is not on the cards. I have a lot of faith in the existing management team, which has been strengthened in the past 12 months," he said.
Walker's remaining 14 per cent stake in Walker Media has been acquired by M&C Saatchi, which currently owns 75 per cent of the agency, and she will remain a shareholder of M&C Saatchi plc. Georgiadis will retain the remaining shares he has in the business.
- Perspective, page 23.
THE WALKER CV
1975: Walker gets her first break at Haymarket (the publisher of Campaign), working in telesales
1976: Joins Benton & Bowles as a media buyer
1985: When Ray Morgan breaks away from B&B to launch his eponymous media agency, Walker is a key figure in the line-up
1988: Ray Morgan & Partners merges with Saatchi & Saatchi's media department to create a new media agency brand, Zenith Media
1997: Walker quits Zenith, the media agency she has become synonymous with, and, following a period of gardening leave, launches Walker Media with Phil Georgiadis as her partner
1998: Just weeks after its launch, Walker Media scoops the massive £108 million Dixons account
2004: Walker sells 75 per cent stake to M&C Saatchi, netting her £6 million
2006: Walker Media lands the £30 million Barclays Bank media account, a win that helps propel the agency into the top ten
2007: Walker announces that she will quit her agency at the end of June.