Simons deposed in Ogilvy putsch

Loss of UK accounts and breakdown in relationship with Walsh blamed for departure

Ogilvy Group UK chairman and chief executive Paul Simons has been ousted from the company and several high-profile employees close to Simons made redundant, following a dramatic purge by Mike Walsh, chairman of Ogilvy in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

The move comes less than a week after Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) lost the &£7m Royal & SunAlliance More Than account and follows a barren year in terms of major UK domestic business wins.

Simons was axed on Monday (4 March 2002) morning, following a breakdown in his relationship with Walsh. He had arrived at work to find members of Walsh’s European management team taking out boxes of files. Simons is in discussions with the company about a severance package. His contract expires shortly.

In a statement, Walsh says it is “clear that Paul and I have very different views about business performance and… future strategy for the Ogilvy Group in the UK.”

Furthermore, in an e-mail to staff, Walsh claimed that Simons did not share his own strong commitment “to the cultural values of Ogilvy” nor to the “360-degree branding strategy” of Ogilvy’s services, which include below-the-line and PR work.

Walsh, who will take on Simons’ role, added that both he and Ogilvy senior management had failed “to influence Paul Simons’ view of Ogilvy” in his role as brand leader in the UK. “As a result, the Ogilvy brand in the UK is not as strong as it should be. Poor financial and new business performance has been compounded by the loss of major local business.”

Simons’ departure probably marks the end of what was once a deep friendship with Walsh, which even extended to joint holidays.

Simons, who has been UK chairman of the group since May 1999, refuses to comment.

Sources say Simons’ “maverick” style and failure to toe the corporate line put him at loggerheads with Walsh and the WPP group, which owns Ogilvy.

O&M vice-chairman Larissa Joy, managing partner Glen Fraser and business director Vicky Carrel have also left the company in what sources suggest is an attempt by the company to purge itself of the culture created by Simons.

One agency source says: “There are three key measures of how to build a successful agency – new business wins, decent work, and people development. Simons was found wanting on all three.”

Links with Unilever appear to have weakened as the &£4m Impulse account was moved to Bartle Bogle Hegarty. The agency also lost a pitch for the &£30m global Bertolli account.

In the UK, O&M was shortlisted for the Halifax and Abbey National pitches, but failed to win either. Internationally it has had more success, benefiting from the might of the Ogilvy network. It took a place on the Coca-Cola roster for Fanta and Sprite and won the global pitch for Castrol. Billings have risen from &£219.66m in 2000 to &£246.55m last year (AC Nielsen-MMS).

The imbalance between large international and smaller domestic pieces of business, says one industry insider, may have caused problems. Simons has been quoted as saying that the agency’s growth comes from international corporate business, effectively ruling out local business.

But one agency veteran claims that Walsh, as well as Simons, should be judged on the success of O&M London. He says: “Why does Mike Walsh keep hiring people and firing them? There has not been a stable management at O&M since he’s been there.”

Speculation over who will replace Simons is mounting, with at least one industry insider suggesting that Cilla Snowball, chief executive at Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, could take the reins. Walsh, however, has said he will “bring people together from within the Ogilvy international network who have strong track records on local and international business.”

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