Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts Resigns After Gender Comments

Stepping Down on Sept. 1

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Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi's chairman, has resigned.
Kevin Roberts, Saatchi & Saatchi's chairman, has resigned. Credit: Duncan Cole/Saatchi & Saatchi

Saatchi & Saatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts has resigned in the wake of controversial comments about gender diversity, Publicis Groupe announced today.

"The Supervisory Board and the Chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe took note of Kevin Robert's decision to step down with effect from September 1st 2016, prior to his retirement date due in May 2017," the holding company said in a statement.

The announcement comes just days after Publicis placed him on leave in the wake of controversial remarks he made suggesting that the ad industry's gender diversity debate is over.

Mr. Roberts issued a statement this morning offering an apology. "'Fail fast, fix fast, learn fast' is a leadership maxim I advocate," he said. "When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast. My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offence, and for this I am sorry. I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years. I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients."

In an interview with Business Insider published Friday morning, Mr. Roberts said that the "fucking debate is all over" when asked about the gender diversity in the ad industry. Mr. Roberts -- who also carries the title of "head coach" for Publicis Groupe -- also told the publication that he doesn't spend "any time" on gender issues at his agencies. He said the gender issue is "way worse" in industries such as financial services, where there are "problems left, right, and center."

He also told Business Insider that vocal activist Cindy Gallop, the former chair of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and founder of the IfWeRanTheWorld and MakeLoveNotPorn, was "making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile, and to take applause."

Ms. Gallop's reaction was to take it to Twitter and ask the industry if the debate was over.

There, Mr. Roberts' comments sparked strong rebuttals from marketing and competing ad agency executives. High-ranking leaders from PepsiCo, JPMorgan Chase, DDB and other companies ripped Mr. Roberts on Twitter. PepsiCo Global Beverage Group President Brad Jakeman, for instance, tweeted that he was proud not to be a Saatchi client. JPMorgan Chase CMO Kristin Lemkau said his remarks sounded "positively Trumpian."

Over the weekend, Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Maurice Lévy issued a statement announcing Mr. Roberts would be put on leave and saying that "Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion."

Arthur Sadoun, Publicis Communications' CEO, and Robert Senior, worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi also issued statements rebuking Mr. Roberts' comments.

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