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Kevin Roberts in controversial interview

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 31/07/2016

New Zealand advertising guru Kevin Roberts has been suspended as "head coach" of advertising giant Publicis Groupe.

The New York-based executive chairman at Saatchi & Saatchi, which is part of Publicis Groupe, was dismissive of a debate about gender diversity on Madison Avenue.

In an interview with Business Insider published on Friday, Mr Roberts said the debate about gender equality was over and he didn't spend any time on the issue at his company.

He said gender issues were way worse in industries such as financial services.

Mr Roberts is a business ambassador for the New Zealand United States Council and is a former director of the New Zealand Rugby Union.

Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Levy released a statement saying Mr Roberts had been asked to take a leave of absence, effective immediately.

The group had a no tolerance policy to behaviour or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe, he said.

"Diversity and inclusion are business imperatives on which Publicis Groupe will not negotiate. While fostering a work environment that is inclusive of all talent is a collective responsibility, it is leadership's job to nurture the career aspirations and goals of all our talent.

"Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organisation who does not value the importance of inclusion," he said.

British-born Mr Roberts moved to New Zealand in 1989 to become chief operating officer with Lion Nathan.

From 1997 until 2014 he was CEO worldwide at Saatchi & Saatchi based in New York.

He is a New Zealand citizen who was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and the community in 2013.

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