Gofton, Ken, Marketing
Michael Birkin looks back to the early 90s the way antiques collectors hark back to the 50s and 60s. The difference is, where others covet Hepplewhite chairs or Beatles memorabilia, he buys marketing services agencies. "Below-the-line's my bag," he says.
For Birkin is the global president of Omnicom's Diversified Agencies Services (DAS). Back in March, fast-growing DM and sales promotion specialist Claydon Heeley was added to an already extensive list. This month, Cheshire-based healthcare marketing consultancy Adelphi was the target.
Why the early 90s? It's simple. "Five years ago, it was relatively straightforward," he says, almost wistfully. "The economic situation in the UK was so appalling that anything with a decent track record had to be fairly sound. Now there's very little left, and any good players that haven't been sold have certainly been looked over several times."
Five years ago, it has to be said, he wasn't so much hunter as hunted. He was chief executive of brand consultancy Interbrand - originally famed for its naming skills and for advocating putting brands on the balance sheet.
DAS snapped it up at the end of 1993. Within 18 months, Birkin had been made managing director of DAS Europe and, about a year later, president of DAS for Europe and Asia. He was promoted to his global role in July this year.
Rapid progress for a 40-year-old - the natural question is, how has he done it? Talent and ability are inevitably part of the answer, but the unusual element is what he calls his eclectic background. Put another way, it took him time to find out what he wanted to do.
Birkin read law at university: "I enjoyed it very much and thought about becoming a barrister, but I was concerned about not earning any money for years and years," he says. So he joined Price Waterhouse as a trainee accountant, only to resign a week after qualifying. "I never had any desire to be an accountant, but I wanted some business training."
This could be considered Birkin's guilty secret. Bean counters are never popular with marketers, but long hair and a shot silk shirt are an effective disguise.
"I don't overplay the financial side; it's useful, but limiting," Birkin responds. Then he corrects himself: "It's seen by some people as limiting." His early background in law and accountancy landed him a job as PA to Sir Mark Weinberg, chairman of financial services giant Hambro Life. …