Heart of Stone: Yeah, Right: Andrew Stone Reaps the Benefits of Working with Hungry, Enthusiastic, Insecure and Opportunistic People. He's Got a Bunch of Them at Saatchi & Saatchi

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They have one of those Tui "Yeah, right" billboards in reception, but this one's a blackboard so you can write your own line on it and I'm tempted. I'm a copywriter of sorts and, besides, I have 40 minutes to think about it.

It's a busy place, the reception at Saatchi & Saatchi, more people coming and going than Britomart. There's much purposeful walking and air-kissing. Multiple TV screens are playing soundless images. Big banners carry references to advertisements we know and love: The Telecom boy who even blinks fast, the TV One toddler with thousands of hairs, the even more hairy Brucetta from the Tui factory, the horny bulls who steal the Toyota ute and, of course, that blackboard.

Despite all this and a flick through the newspaper, the low-backed seating wasn't meant to make time fly and I start thinking: "11 o'clock. Yeah, right."

Then he comes. Winner of the Fairfax AdMedia CEO of the Year Award, the man who righted the floundering Saatchi ship since becoming CEO two years ago. And, let's face it, we love Saatchi's. For most New Zealanders, it's probably the only advertising agency they know by name. Andrew Stone could be a national hero. He's built like a torch battery, charged with energy.

On the way to his office, as we skirt the seething open-plan creative office, he starts talking. In passing there's a quick word to his assistant and then we're in his modest office and the door closes. He still talks a mile a minute and does something that completely disarms me; he gives me his complete attention. The waiting, the expired parking meter, the hubbub we hear through the walls, it all becomes incidental. It's just the two of us now.

Not only was Stone named CEO of the Year, but Saatchi & Saatchi was agency of the year in the AdMedia awards and won the Agency Effectiveness Award at the EFFIEs. The Australian-based industry magazines Campaign Brief and B&T also named Saatchi's as their New Zealand agency of the year.

The question, as with businesses in any industry, is why some are better than others.

"You have to really want to be good," says Stone. He talks with an air of complicity, as if revealing things not everyone gets to know about.

"There are some businesses that are happy to exist and then there are some where there's a deep need, whether it is insecurity or opportunism, but there's something that drives their people to be hungrier, make sacrifices and be more enthusiastic."

The key to this, he believes, lies with the management group. "That was one of the big things here. We realised that what we needed more than anything was a group of about 15 people to go: Right, how great can we be?"

That was his first objective when he became CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand in February 2004. Stone found some of his core group already employed in the agency. Others he had to invite along for what he describes as a journey. A number of them left very senior positions in other agencies to do so.

"You do need to get the right sort of people and enough of them to make a difference. People who just go life's an adventure and let's be as great as we can be. If you can find those people who are team players as well, willing to explore new territories together and learn, then it's not difficult. Once they're on board, everything else falls into place. You're sharing the workload and all those people are part of a greater team that is achieving more and more. I don't think that it's much more complicated than that."

Obviously a manager can hardly create a number of new roles equal to the number of team members they want to bring in. Stone had to look at who was already in the company.

"There were certainly people here who were like the ones we're talking about, but over time had it knocked back. We've got about 190 people in Auckland and Wellington and probably 50 of those have been at Saatchi's for five years plus. …