Lee Daley, chairman and chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi London, takes up his new position as global commercial director of Manchester United in mid-April. The timing of his departure is interesting in itself, because chief executives normally have to work out an extended period of notice – even if, as in this case, they are not moving to a competitor.
This suggests one of two probabilities. One, that Saatchi couldn?t wait to get rid of him. Or two that, as we suggested in the magazine last June, he – and quite likely the organisation he heads – had long mulled his departure. Though Daley vehemently denied the second suggestion at the time, we?re pretty sure which of these two interpretations he would prefer.
And, indeed, there’s no shame in wanting to move on – certainly not to this job. It’s the sort of thing that many in the business fantasise about filling themselves. Jim Hytner nearly did fill it himself. Adam Crozier, another Saatchi alumnus, got to head the FA and pick Sven; but frankly Daley has landed the better job.
A skill-set of two halves
The question is, what will he do with it? Let’s reel back a little. If passion, eloquence and intellectual self-confidence are what leadership is all about, then Lee’s your man. These qualities and his unquenchable ebullience have propelled Daley from humble planner to chief executive of first Red Cell (aka United) and then Saatchi. In breadth of agency experience few can match him, having worked on both sides of the Atlantic and for three of the big four – in turn IPG, WPP and Publicis Groupe.
And yet, he’s a controversial character with a chequered career record. Set against his qualities are often-recited defects. Self-confidence melds into arrogance; self-belief into an unwillingness to listen to anyone else’s opinions. His executive determination to see through his vision leaves behind bruised egos and a widespread conviction that man-management is not at the top of his leadership skills. Worse, some say he ?talks the talk but can’t walk the walk?
He will be particularly upset by this last suggestion. All the other criticisms he might combat by claiming to be an agent of change; pointing out perhaps that, to use the Leninist phrase, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
What about his recent record then? Brutally, the Red Cell episode didn’t amount to much. In fairness, it could be argued that the Lansdown/HCCL/Red Cell/United continuum is an insoluble management problem and that no one before or since Daley has fared that much better. It is on his performance at Saatchi that he must be judged.
A late result
Here, the latest Nielsen billings figures make grim reading. Saatchi, which he headed for 2 years, has just been squeezed out of the symbolically important top-ten bulge bracket of UK agencies. Yet this bleak fact barely does justice to Daley’s achievement. Even his critics would concede that he has digitally refocused the group. The establishment of trendy boutique offerings like Gum and industry@Saatchi are now more widely appreciated. At the time, they took his eye off the main agency. Toyota, the signature Saatchi account, was eroded by CHI and, just as much to the point, Daley failed to win a single big account for two years. Yet win one he finally did, with the £80m Sony Ericsson business. And his stewardship of Toyota has been triumphantly vindicated with the £60m pan-European launch of the Auris (though what part Richard Hytner played in this would be interesting to know).
So it’s a mixed record, but one that appears to end on an upbeat note. Best to quit while you’re ahead. What’s more, the job he’s going to ought to play to his strengths while minimising his weaknesses. Daley will have a clear idea of what needs to be done to reboot Manchester to premier football brand in the world. The day-to-day implementation details can, mercifully, be left to someone else. Moreover his cosmopolitan culture should go down well with the mighty tribe of six Glazers who sit on the Man U board (though a thick skin will be no disadvantage either).
In fact the only real mystery about this appointment is how the otherwise voluble Daley managed to keep stumm all this time about his boundless passion for Manchester United.
P.S. Has anyone at Saatchi thought of Mark Cranmer, currently languishing at Kantor, as a successor to Daley?