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Saatchi's boss Roberts steps down

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 3/08/2016 By Michel Rose and Paul Sandle

New Zealander Kevin Roberts, the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, has quit after sparking uproar by saying a lack of women in high-powered jobs in advertising was not a problem and that some women lacked the "vertical ambition" to make it to the top.

"'Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast' is a leadership maxim I advocate," Roberts said in a statement after he stepped down from the Publicis-owned agency.

"I failed exceptionally fast," said Roberts, a British-born advertising boss who spent more than four decades telling some of the world's biggest companies how to pitch their products.

But Roberts, 66, veered dramatically off message when he was quoted in an interview with Business Insider as saying that he doesn't spend any time on gender issues as the gender diversity debate was over in the advertising world.

Publicis, one of the big four global ad groups, suspended Roberts on Monday, saying it did not tolerate "anyone speaking for our organisation who does not value the importance of inclusion".

Roberts said he was sorry for the upset and offence his comments had caused.

"I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years," he said on Wednesday.

In an interview with the Business Insider website, Roberts said some women at key junctures in their careers did not want to lead businesses and people, and that managers should reflect on how to deal with the ambitions of female and male employees who "simply want to be happy and do great work".

In the interview, Roberts appeared to argue that "idiotic dinosaur-like men" were trying to make women conform to Darwinian urges to acquire wealth, power, and fame.

"Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it's this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy," Roberts was quoted as saying.

The interview caused consternation in Saatchi & Saatchi and the wider group, its chief creative officer Kate Stanners said, while provoking a storm of criticism on social media.

The agency's worldwide CEO also said Roberts' views did not reflect the position of the agency.

Publicis Groupe has a roughly 50-50 gender split amongst all its staff, while around 65 per cent of Saatchi & Saatchi's staff are female, as the agency wants to reflect the buyers of the types of products it is advertising, Roberts told Business Insider.

Roberts said he would bring forward his retirement to September 1 from May next year.

He said there was a "lot of learning to reflect on" in the debate sparked by his comments.

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