Wheel management stages buyout from its Primedia parent

Philip Hunt and Ewen Sturgeon, the digital agency Wheel's chief executive and managing director respectively, have engineered a management buyout from its parent, the quoted South African media group Primedia.

The buyout, for an undisclosed sum with funding from an unnamed investment company, makes Wheel the UK's largest independent digital agency.

The acquisition ends a five-year involvement with Primedia, which has extensive media holdings in South Africa including cinema, outdoor and radio.

"Primedia has been a supportive shareholder in Wheel throughout my time with the agency but has ultimately wanted to divest itself of its UK investments," Hunt said. "This has made it difficult for the management team to achieve our ambitions to make Wheel a leading player in the consolidation that we believe is inevitable over the coming months. We now have the vision, focus and funding to achieve that and are excited by the prospects for 2004."

Wheel - which also runs the creative shop Abel & Baker - has clients including Marks & Spencer, Dixons, Starbucks and Ikea.

HBOS and United Biscuits, which owns brands including Penguin, McCoy's, McVitie's, KP Nuts and Hula Hoops.

In March, Wheel hired Marc Giusti, the creative director of Agency Republic, as its group creative director.

Giusti's brief was to develop a coherent creative strategy and consistent output for Wheel, which used to operate in four separate divisions.

His appointment formed part of Wheel's long-term strategy to develop into a serious digital creative services player.

The strategy shift began in June last year with the acquisition of Abel & Baker.