Gideon Spanier
Jul 24, 2023

Moray MacLennan to leave M&C Saatchi as CEO

New chair Zillah Byng-Thorne takes temporary charge for up to 12 months.

Moray MacLennan: leaving M&C Saatchi after 28 years
Moray MacLennan: leaving M&C Saatchi after 28 years

Moray MacLennan is to step down and retire as chief executive of M&C Saatchi — after four decades of working for the Saatchi brand.

In a surprise move, Zillah Byng-Thorne, the newly appointed non-executive chair of M&C Saatchi and former chief executive of Future, will take temporary charge as executive chair on 1 September and MacLennan, the CEO since January 2021, will leave at the end of that month.

M&C Saatchi timeline: from takeover target to MacLennan exit

A stock market announcement said “MacLennan has informed the company of his intention to retire from his role of chief executive” and the company and MacLennan have jointly “agreed that this change will take effect as of 30 September”.

M&C Saatchi will lead a “formal executive search process to identify a new chief executive officer” and the statement hinted it is likely to turn to an outside candidate as Byng-Thorne will be exec chair “until such time as a new chief executive officer joins the company, which is expected to be within the next 12 months”.

MacLennan has worked at M&C Saatchi since its launch in 1995 and rose to become chief executive in January 2021 with a mandate to stabilise the company – which had been rocked by accounting irregularities in 2019 and the pandemic in 2020 – and return it to growth.

He has also had to contend with two failed takeover bids from Next 15 and Vin Murria’s Advanced Adv T during 2022.

MacLennan originally joined Saatchi & Saatchi as a graduate trainee in September 1983 and his decision to depart exactly 40 years later on the anniversary is seen as significant. He was one of a group of disaffected executives, including Maurice and Charles Saatchi, who quit Saatchi & Saatchi to set up M&C Saatchi in 1995.

His departure as CEO will be seen as relatively abrupt because he is leaving quickly without a long, public handover. M&C Saatchi offered no comment on that, but people close to the company maintained it was amicable and MacLennan does not believe in long good-byes.

Byng-Thorne has a reputation for being one of the most formidable media executives in the UK, after turning around Future, the online and magazine publisher, through a series of acquisitions including TI Media (formerly IPC Media), Dennis Publishing (owner of The Week) and Go Compare (the price comparison business).

She only formally took on the role of non-exec chair of M&C Saatchi on 14 June at the annual general meeting.

“Zillah has a wealth of experience across media and technology businesses,” M&C Saatchi said of her appointment as exec chair. “Her breadth of her experience across executive and non-executive roles, combined with transformation and digital expertise, mean she is well placed to work with the wider board and steward M&C Saatchi’s next phase.”

MacLennan, who turns 62 at the end of August, said: “As I approach 40 years of Saatchi in many ways it feels like precisely the wrong time to move on, but I have decided it is precisely the right time.

“M&C Saatchi has delivered an impressive turnaround, come through its existential moment, and is well set for the future – now is the right time to make way for new energy and new ideas. It has been a privilege to work for so many years doing something I enjoy, with people I like, at this extraordinary company. Thanks to all clients and colleagues, past and present.”

He added in a statement to investors that he wanted to thank “those in the future who I know will keep the M&C Saatchi flame burning bright”.

Byng-Thorne said: "On behalf of the board I would like to thank Moray for his contribution to M&C Saatchi, from the founding of the company in 1995 through to his current role as chief executive officer.

“His leadership has seen the company not just stabilise but deliver record profits and establish strong foundations for future growth."

M&C Saatchi pointed out it reported its “highest ever net revenue, headline operating profit, headline profit before tax, and headline earnings” in 2022 as the company bounced back from past difficulties.

But the company warned in June 2023 of a “more challenging trading environment as widely reported across the sector” and “we expect a small decline in like-for-like net revenue for the full year” while remaining “confident” in hitting its profit targets.

The company said at the time it was planning “targeted cost savings” as part of a “global cost efficiency programme”.

Peel Hunt, a stock broker, said: “Today’s news is not ideal given the backdrop for M&C [Saatchi], which is already challenged as highlighted at the recent trading update.”

The broker downgraded its recommendation on the stock from buy to hold “with the added uncertainty brought on by the changes at the top”.

M&C Saatchi shares were largely unmoved at 148p in early trading on the news. The stock stood at 330p before the accounting woes in 2019 when all of the non-executive directors and Maurice Saatchi quit.

Campaign UK

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