“Richard Hytner is a bastard”. At last, a detraction from Hytner’s image as “the nicest man in advertising”: unfortunately there are no nefarious secrets to make good copy. He’s merely a bastard because “he’s so intelligent, so charming and because he supports Manchester United,” according to one former colleague.
Hytner, the new chief executive of the Henley Centre and, until January this year, chief executive of (the then) SP Lintas, seems universally liked. The superlatives come so thick and fast that the sainted Mother Theresa had better watch her step: “He’s genuinely nice,” “he’s so personable,” “he’s a fantastic motivator,” “he’s so bright”… ad infinitum.
Perhaps he’s too nice for his own good. Hytner concedes: “If people say I’m really nice perhaps that’s my weakness. Maybe in the past I’ve been too democratic and haven’t been as ruthless as I’ve needed to be. Maybe to succeed in advertising you have to be a complete bastard.”
Certainly, the general opinion in the advertising industry is that this extremely nice man fell victim to his more ruthless US bosses.
Having spent two years turning Lintas into the sort of agency that he wanted it to be and, as he says, “seducing some really good people into coming to work for what was at the time a really dull advertising brand and then injecting that brand with excitement and a profile,” Lintas’ Interpublic management decided to change everything and merge SP Lintas with Lintas.
In response, Hytner resigned. “It was a very personal decision to leave. I’m sure the agency will do well, but it is not the agency I designed. It was time to move on.” Characteristically, Hytner says the split “was all very amicable, and Phil Geier [chairman of
Interpublic] couldn’t have been more accommodating to help me further my personal ambitions.”
Andrew Cracknell, who joined Lintas in October last year as deputy chairman and executive creative director (in other words, above Hytner in the pecking order) emphasises: “I didn’t want Richard to go. He was one of the reasons I joined the agency.”
As an alternative to his UK role, Hytner was offered the chance to run the worldwide Unilever account for Lintas from New York. A poisoned chalice? “Not at all,” he says. “It was a great opportunity and if I had been convinced that I wanted to stay in advertising for the next five years it would have made my career.”
Hytner also had to consider the needs of his family. “I have a wife and two children who are very happy in London. They are very supportive and would have gone wherever I wanted if they really thought it was something I wanted to do. But it wasn’t.”
He adds: “I’ve never seen myself staying as an ad man for the rest of my life. My strengths are in managing a company rather than selling ads.”
Indeed, Hytner’s entry into advertising was a matter of accident rather than design. Having taken a law degree at Cambridge he then “trawled around TV companies and got myself an interview at the BBC. It was the most terrifying interview of my life – sixteen of them and me and needless to say I failed dismally,” he says. But by chance he met some people already in advertising “who were all very bright, so I decided it was the job for me”.
But colleagues and friends suggest that by last year advertising was already beginning to lose its allure for Hytner, and that even if his beloved Lintas hadn’t been restructured, Hytner would have started to consider his future options. “Richard had been with the company a long time and there was a sense that he was already thinking about his next step. I think the Henley Centre will be a very good challenge for him,” says one former colleague.
It’s a view supported by Ben Langdon, managing director of Collett Dickenson Pearce and a former Lintas colleague, who says: “If you opened up his heart you wouldn’t find ‘ad man’ written across it. He’s a business man and I’ve never worked with anyone who inspired greater loyalty, or worked with anyone who is prepared to delegate and motivate as much as he does.”
Hytner will take those skills to the Henley Centre where he is joined by Paul Edwards, his former planning director from Lintas. Cracknell says: “It’s significant that he is joining with Paul; they get on extremely well and are both very interested in experimentation.”
Hytner says that one of the reasons he chose to join the WPP-owned Henley Centre, rather than another agency, is because “it is a very eclectic mix of people.” He dismisses the view, which has some currency in the ad industry, that it is a boring move. “Industry tarts may believe that but the people I rate in the business have all said it is a great move. I hope Paul and I can bring energy and vision to the place and generate more appreciation of what the Henley Centre actually does.”
Hytner says that he and Edwards will be instigating change at the Henley Centre and states: “We have set ourselves some fairly tough targets.” But he adds that he is not out to ruffle the feathers of existing staff. “I believe that you get the best out of people in a stable happy environment and that is what we are aiming for. Both Paul and I have been struck by how welcoming and unedgy everybody at the Henley Centre has been.”
That Hytner is keen to stamp his mark on the Henley Centre is without question.
Underneath the “good bloke”, squeaky-clean exterior, he is fiercely ambitious. One source confides: “Richard is an incredibly odd mix. On the surface he is the nicest bloke you ever met in your life but underneath there is quite a hard edge, and he has used a number of people to further his career.”
Simon Rhind-Tutt, who now runs his own consultancy and used to work with Hytner in his first job at Benton & Bowles, says: “He was my graduate trainee and used to follow me around. It was obvious from the start that he was going be a high flyer and was very ambitious.”
His keenness and enthusiasm manifested itself at his next agency Young & Rubicam, as Justin Cernis, now a partner at Mellors Reay, recalls: “There were a group of us who regularly went into see our boss, David Miller, and said ‘come on, make us account directors.’ Miller would bark ‘get back in your box,’ and then we would try again the next week. Richard was among the most persistent and I think he felt very frustrated. That’s why he decided to go off and join Still Price Twivy Court d’Souza where he eventually became chief executive.”
His ambitious streak is, say those who know him well, the result of an intensely competitive family background. “His father is an eminent barrister, his brother Nicholas is a theatre producer and his younger brother Jim is doing really well at BSkyB. He’s got a lot to live up to,” says one source.
Of his family, Hytner will only say: “They are very successful. My younger brother Jim is on my tail. He will be an enormous star and will rise above me and I shall watch him do so very happily.”
But Hytner’s own star scarcely needs burnishing. As Cracknell says: “One thing that is absolutely certain is that from now on you won’t be able to ignore the Henley Centre.”