Mr. Isherwood has been at Saatchi since 1986, when he joined the Publicis Groupe agency's Sydney office. He became a creative director in 1988, and has been worldwide creative director and a member of the network's executive board since 1996. His departure from the agency, which is led by Worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts, breaks up one of the longest-standing leadership teams in the agency business. Mr. Isherwood originally brought Mr. Roberts to the agency having worked with him as a client, and their friendship extended beyond business -- Mr. Roberts was best man at Mr. Isherwood's wedding.
Alongside Mr. Roberts, Mr. Isherwood tried to push the idea that Saatchi & Saatchi is an ideas agency, not an ad agency. (In 1992 they removed the word "advertising" from the agency's nameplates around the world.) Mr. Isherwood is respected for his ability to find and marshal talent, and he has overseen the creative output through a major expansion in the agency's revenue and thousands of awards victories.
But people close to Mr. Isherwood said that for some time now he has been antsy and niggled by a feeling that he needed to do something new. "For the past 12 years I've been focused on the reinvention of Saatchi & Saatchi," he told Ad Age from his home in Miami. "Now I've reached a point where I feel a need to reinvent myself."
Mr. Roberts said he had known that decision was coming. "This has been brewing for a year," he said. "Bob's a restless creative guy. We've been privileged to have him for the best part of 20 years. Over the last two months he took some time off to think about it, and we supported and understood that decision. But he has lots of juice left, he's not just going to wonder into the darkness, and he felt he needed to explore that. He's the only one I've ever worked with, and while I'm really excited for him, I'm devastated too."
Mr. Isherwood, who numbers the creation of the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors' Showcase and the Award for World Changing Ideas among his achievements, said he does not know exactly what the next chapter will be.
"I have an idea for something for President-elect Obama, plus there are lots of opportunities I can see on the client side of our business where creativity can play a key role, particularly in this current economic climate," he said.
'Open for business'
He added that he felt he had to make the break from Saatchi before pursuing a new role, noting that people didn't tend to think of him for other opportunities given his longtime association with the agency. "Now I'm putting a sign on my door, 'Open for business.'"
Mr. Roberts said he wouldn't replace Mr. Isherwood right away. "For me this is personal," he said. "When you've had a relationship like this one, you don't want to jump into something new on the rebound. I'm going to let a little time pass, see in the new year, and then focus on what we should do next."
You can read more about Mr. Isherwood's ideas and achievements at his website, or read Mr. Roberts' comments on his longtime partner on Mr. Roberts' blog.