FUNDING LOOMS AS BIG HURDLE

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As another week opens in the Saatchi soap opera, speculation centered on how Maurice Saatchi will finance his new agency.

"That's the question," said one institutional investor. "No one in the financial community would loan him the money given his past track record."

Last week during a preliminary court hearing over Mr. Saatchi's plans to launch a new agency, the existence of a binding agreement signed Jan. 8 by the Saatchi brothers, Bill Muirhead, David Kershaw and Jeremy Sinclair to each take a 20% stake in a new agency-using the Saatchi name and naming Charles Saatchi as "backer"-was revealed. Yet, no one is disclosing what each 20% stake represents.

Interestingly, the affidavits revealed that Messrs. Muirhead, Kershaw and Sinclair were only willing to set up an agency with Maurice Saatchi if all the men were equal partners-a condition they feared he wouldn't agree to. And the subsequent shareholders agreement includes a stipulation that if Mr. Saatchi insists on a course of action his partners disagree with, he must pay for it himself-apparently a reflection of his wildly ruinous strategic ambitions of the past, such as expanding into the banking and consulting industries.

The Saatchi brothers are renowned for using other people's money to fund their projects, but not for lack of their own. The two own enormous art collections, magnificent mansions, automobile armadas and small, fast-growing companies such as U.K. contract publisher Forward Publishing. The Saatchis have already received part of a $40 million settlement with Adidas, but details of when and in what form they will receive the rest are locked in a confidential agreement.

Maurice Saatchi is reportedly shopping around for an international network, a prerequisite for the types of accounts-such as British Airways-he hopes to capture for his New Saatchi Agency. That, however, would require big bucks.

"If he doesn't link up with a global network, he'll be limited in what he can do," said Mark A. Friedman, securities analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co., New York. Another analyst said, however, that winning accounts-not financing-will be the key to Maurice Saatchi's future. "You don't need a lot of money to finance an agency," said PaineWebber's Alan J. Gottesman.

"I think he's going to take a shot at getting something done," Mr. Gottesman said, adding that as for winning big accounts, "he's done it before."

Other scenarios, however, are popping up. One has it that the marketing mind behind the Conservative Party powerhouses since 1979 will tire of his vengeful scorched-earth policy against his former agency and colleagues, and decide to throw his hat into the political arena.

Chuck Paustian and Laurel Wentz contributed to this story.

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