Saatchi's Gets Back on Track with Laing

Article excerpt

Jennifer Laing finally agreed to sell her agency to Saatchi & Saatchi at midnight on Monday. It had taken four weeks, and an offer of [pounds]1.2m, to persuade her to give up being an entrepreneur and return to Charlotte Street.

We've been here before, when she was persuaded to leave Leo Burnett and become Tim Bell's management assistant, but then it took the lure of a big red Ferrari to cut the deal. This time, as chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, she'll be driving a Toyota and earning a surprisingly modest [pounds]175,000. No share options, no bonuses, no executive chauffeur.

The spartan nature of the package is no accident. It's a deliberate contrast with the complaints of excessive pay and perks which sparked David Herro's shareholder revolt and ultimately ousted Maurice Saatchi. "I'm very glad I was there in the good old, bad old, days, but that's over," says Laing. "The game has changed. Having run my own shop I've a much greater sense of business and what's appropriate - we don't have any company cars at Laing Henry."

Clients, who learned of the deal by telephone on Monday morning, are being reassured that the agency is in safe hands. At 46 and with 17 years of experience at the agency, four of them as deputy chairman, Laing's is a familiar presence. More than that, she's well-liked: the acceptable face of advertising, popular both with clients and with opinion-formers in the City.

The deal brings another benefit for Saatchi's, and that's the chance to replace, at least on paper, the [pounds]26m of billings it admits to having lost following Maurice's and Charles's exit. The agency claims Laing Henry brings with it "a potential" [pounds]40m in billings. While observers might raise eyebrows at that figure (Register-MEAL puts it at [pounds]11.04m), it's solid enough to allow Saatchi's to present itself as having moved beyond its recent troubles.

Jennifer Laing's career track

* 1969               Garland-Compton Graduate trainee, packaged
                     goods. Promoted to board on merger with Saatchi
                     & Saatchi

* 1979               Leo Burnett Group account director

* 1981               Saatchi & Saatchi Management assistant to Tim
                     Bell (managing director and chairman)

* 1983               Saatchi & Saatchi Deputy chairman

* 1987 (February)    Saatchi & Saatchi Joint chairman

* 1987 (October)     Aspect Hill Holliday Group CEO

* 1989 (September)   Name changed to Laing Henry Hill Holliday

* 1990 (May)         Management buyout of Laing Henry Ltd+

Presentation, as Saatchi & Saatchi is belatedly learning, is everything. …