Steamed Saatchi slaps Mike Burns with lawsuit

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Mike Burns, angry over being passed over for the CEO job, bad-mouthed Saatchi & Saatchi to employees and client General Mills and plotted to steal the business, according to a lawsuit the agency filed last week against its former vice chairman, a 25-year veteran who resigned Feb. 11.

The lawsuit, filed in New York State Supreme Court, charges Mr. Burns, worldwide account director on General Mills, with violating his fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty, and violating his employment contract with Saatchi & Saatchi. Saatchi also seeks to bar him from working on any General Mills marketing, soliciting any Saatchi employee to work for him or launching any company that does marketing for General Mills.

The suit alleges that, after being passed over for the job of CEO of the agency's New York office, Mr. Burns disparaged Saatchi to agency employees and to General Mills, an 80-year Saatchi client, and that he told his subordinates they should consider leaving Saatchi. Specifically, the suit claims Mr. Burns told employees he supervised "it would be better for all if the GMI staff moved to a different agency or set up an agency of their own to serve the GMI account." He is also alleged to have approached General Mills executives and suggested the company move its business from Saatchi after his departure.

Three days after Mr. Burns announced his departure, 17 of his former subordinates on the General Mills account resigned en masse. Publicis Groupe rival Interpublic Group of Cos. last week hired the entire group, with the exception of Mr. Burns. Most of the 17 will work in a new unit devoted to health and wellness messages targeting families and kids, led by former Saatchi senior group account director Ann Adriance.

Mr. Burns did not return calls at press time. A Saatchi spokeswoman confirmed the lawsuit was filed but would not comment further. Since Mr. Burns and 17 employees left Saatchi, General Mills has said it is "looking forward to continuing our 80-year relationship." It did not return calls seeking comment on the suit.

In the complaint, Saatchi said it paid Mr. Burns in excess of $4 million in compensation from Jan. 2001 to the present, and is now asking for damages of at least $1 million. The suit accuses Mr. Burns of improperly using confidential information, time and facilities, including company computers and e-mail and disclosing trade secrets.

Read the complaint: AdAge.com QwikFIND aaq39w

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