Dept, the Dutch-based “challenger” agency group, has poached Mickey Kalifa, the chief financial officer of M&C Saatchi, who sorted out its recent accounting woes.
Kalifa has resigned just as M&C Saatchi is dealing with a takeover approach led by its top shareholder, Vin Murria. The timing of his exit puts M&C Saatchi in a “difficult position”, according to analysts at stock broker Peel Hunt, although he will stay until May to manage the transition.
It is understood Dept has been in talks with Kalifa for some months, dating to before Murria’s investment vehicle, AdvancedAdvT, made its bid approach for M&C Saatchi at the start of January 2022.
In his new role as CFO of Dept, Kalifa will be based in London and responsible for the “continued growth and global expansion” of the group. It has been on an acquisition drive since winning investment from private equity firm Carlyle Group in 2019, and recently launched in Asia.
Dimi Albers, chief executive of Dept, told Campaign last year that Dept has “a big, hairy, audacious goal of becoming the best digital agency in the world” and said a stock market flotation was one of several potential options for the future.
Albers said of Kalifa’s appointment: “Mickey is one of the most experienced financial leaders in the field and has worked across media, tech and creative businesses. He is a team player that builds strong relationships within the companies he works for, as well as with investors.”
Kalifa said: “Dept is on its way to becoming one of the leading digital services companies in the world. I’m excited to join in a time of fast growth, but more importantly, to join an agency that is devoted to maintaining its strong culture and putting clients first.
“I look forward to helping further build out Dept’s global scale while continuing to produce first-of-its-kind, pioneering work to help solve clients’ challenges.”
Dept is one of a new breed of self-styled “challenger” agency groups, which also includes S4 Capital, The Brandtech Group (formerly You & Mr Jones) and Stagwell.
The company has grown to about 2,500 staff after making a string of acquisitions, including martech outfit Byte in 2020 and digital shop Feed in 2021, with a focus on personalised and fast-turnaround digital content.
Kalifa, who has worked at several listed and private companies, including Sportech, OpenTV, Liberty Global and Sky, joined M&C Saatchi in January 2019.
He played a major role in identifying accounting irregularities at the agency group, which led to the share price crashing 90% between August 2019 and the start of the pandemic.
Kalifa became the only director to survive a boardroom split and subsequent exodus as all of the founders and non-executive directors departed.
Moray MacLennan, who became chief executive of M&C Saatchi Group in January 2021, and Kalifa have overseen a recovery in revenues. Its share price doubled to about 168p last year, although it remains some way off the 330p level at which it was trading before the accounting scandal.
Kalifa said: “I am immensely proud of the transformational turnaround that we have achieved during my time at M&C Saatchi.”
MacLennan added: “I would like to thank Mickey for his commitment and resilience over the past three years, when he has overseen a period of significant restructuring and the return to growth at the company.”
AdvancedAdvT has proposed a reverse takeover of M&C Saatchi and wants the enlarged group to focus on “data, analytics and digital” and ramp up M&A, pointing to “the outperformance and valuation of data-led digital marketing agencies and consultancy peers”.
M&C Saatchi has responded that the bid approach “does not benefit” shareholders, adding its strategy of digitisation and simplification is working, and trading has been ahead of expectations.