The news that Lee Daley is leaving Saatchi & Saatchi to take his "dream job" at Manchester United means the advertising industry is losing one of its most controversial figures.
The chairman and chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi London has divided opinion throughout his two-and-a-half year tenure at the Publicis-owned agency. Some point to a "sluggish" new business record – albeit one that claimed the £80m Sony Ericsson account last year – saying he has been too focused on opening new divisions rather than winning new accounts. Others suggest he has been an agent of change, building a "future proof" agency with strong digital roots that will pay dividends long after he has gone.
‘In great shape’
One agency executive claims Daley is more interested in the "self aggrandisement" of setting up new units than focusing on clients. But Jim O’Mahony, Saatchi chief executive for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia and Latin America, insists Daley leaves the agency "in great shape" with revenue and profitability improving ""significantly"".
Daley, a former global chief executive of WPP’s Red Cell network, joined Saatchi & Saatchi in October 2004, but his resignation last week coincided with the agency falling out of the billings table top ten for the first time in 30 years.
Such figures fail to include revenues derived from non-traditional business, counters O’Mahony, who points to the "high margins" of new divisions such as branded content arm Gum, and research and development lab Industry@Saatchi.
"As we have publicly stated, an increasing percentage of our business and our revenues is being derived from non-traditional and non-UK business," he says.
Daley’s first appointment, executive creative director Kate Stanners, does not believe he has been given enough credit for transforming what was an ailing agency brand. She says: "We are starting to deliver on a five-year plan. This was an iconic advertising agency that lost its status 15 years before and really hadn’t done anything since."
She admits he is a "polarising character" but adds: "Without his passion and intelligence this transformation wouldn’t have happened. This agency has been through a lot of different management guises. The truth is that since the brothers [Maurice and Charles] left it has been trying to find its feet again."
Indeed, since Adam Crozier left in 1999, the agency has had four chief executives. But Daley says: "There is no immediate crisis. I think what we [agencies] have to do is build a business more focused on clients than the people inside."
As Manchester United’s group commercial director, Daley will be responsible for developing a strategy for business growth for the club he sup ports on the pitch. "It is a special task for me to develop the business interests of Manchester United," he says. "To do that while respecting the values of what is a significant institution, which has very strong traditions to uphold, is a very elegant task."
Field of expertise
Daley will need the passion and planning skills admirers credit him with if he is to succeed at Manchester United. Chief executive David Gill has set an ambitious growth target of 50% by 2010 (merchandising and media topped £200m last year) in order to claw back some of the debt inherited when American businessman Malcolm Glazer bought the club in 2005.
As Daley himself admits: "The Glazers have enormous amounts of emotion – they want to be successful both on and off the field."