The manner in which the Mindshare global CEO Nick Emery was ousted from his job following a lavatorial stunt that apparently upset at least one colleague on the same video call is arguably an example of the brutal climate in which we are all now working.
Certainly it was a childish and inappropriate thing for the worldwide chief executive of a large organisation to do; more appropriate for an unfunny scene in a 70s TV comedy show (his namesake, Dick Emery, maybe?) rather than from an industry that should know better.
Behaving like a schoolboy is unedifying, so perhaps it’s not surprising that one of his staff took umbrage at the alleged behaviour (he took his device to the toilet during the video call).
Emery has always been a maverick - maybe he thought that this reputation would excuse his behaviour - and this industry has largely been built by mavericks, many of whom have been guilty of far worse things than the allegations that have are now forever linked to Emery’s name. “There but by the grace of God, go I,” will have been a likely refrain in some quarters.
Maybe it’s for the better that the word “lavatorial” came out, via Campaign’s reporting. The initial impression given by reading Group M CEO Christian Juhl’s all-staff email and statement was far, far worse.
Juhl, who heads Mindshare’s immediate parent company, said: “At Group M and our agencies, we believe everyone should experience an inclusive and respectful workplace culture. Inappropriate and offensive behaviour is not tolerated in our company, and when we see any employee breach of our code of conduct, we take swift action.” But, in short, while the alleged behaviour was inappropriate and unbefitting, his sacking was brutal.
Perhaps someone was out to get him, and got him? Emery is quite a divisive, mercurial figure. His face is (or was) frequently set to an unfortunate sneer and he’s never been one to doubt his own ability.
His penchant for band T-shirts and eagerness to tell anyone who’ll listen that he once played drums for the Jesus and Mary Chain can also be seen as a source of irritation: I certainly wouldn’t want to work for him.
But you can be forgiven for thinking that he was made an example of by WPP, an organisation that has been accused of acting too slowly to rectify previous - and far worse - inappropriate behaviour in the past (for example, Gustavo Martinez, then of JWT).
One caveat: We don’t know all the details of this case. WPP has not commented beyond Group M’s initial statement and Emery has declined to comment.
WPP probably had no choice with Emery - to cover up, as might have happened in similar organisations in the past, would have been totally wrong. To err is human, to forgive divine and business isn’t a very forgiving place at the moment, despite the pressures that staff are under due to remote working. His sacking will have sent chills down the spines of many executives across the industry when they consider some of their own actions.
In the final analysis is Mindshare (or indeed the industry) a richer place with Emery’s departure? Probably not. And he’s paid a hefty personal price.
Jeremy Lee is premium content editor at Campaign UK