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Robert Louis-Dreyfus, Former Saatchi CEO, Dies at 63

Rescued Adidas After Helping Save Ad Agency From Financial Ruin

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Robert Louis-Dreyfus, best known in the ad industry as the man who brought Saatchi & Saatchi back from the brink of financial ruin during his run as London-based CEO of the holding company from 1990 to 1993, died of leukemia on July 4. He was 63.

Robert Louis-Dreyfus
Robert Louis-Dreyfus
Mr. Louis-Dreyfus had never worked in advertising when Maurice Saatchi approached him about taking the new CEO post at the Saatchi & Saatchi Co. holding company, which at the time comprised the Saatchi network, Bates Worldwide and a vast number of agencies and other businesses Maurice and Charles Saatchi had acquired. Mr. Louis-Dreyfus was the charismatic scion of a wealthy French family, whose American branch includes his first cousin, actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus. He made his own way in business by building up U.S. pharmaceutical market research company IMS International, and selling it to Dun & Bradstreet in 1988 for $1.7 billion.

He briefly retired to his beloved Swiss ski slopes before taking up the Saatchi challenge. At Saatchi, he negotiated with creditor banks to defuse a debt bomb that many feared would bankrupt the company, and restructured Saatchi's management and holdings to drastically cut costs. Before his departure, Mr. Louis-Dreyfus positioned Charles Scott, the IMS colleague he brought to Saatchi as his chief operating officer, to succeed him. Mr. Scott would preside over the departure of both Saatchi brothers and the spinoff of a big chunk of the group into a separate holding company called Cordiant that consisted of the Bates network and a few other agencies.

Turning Adidas around
Mr. Louis-Dreyfus, meanwhile, had become intrigued by ailing German sports shoe and apparel marketer Adidas, at the time a money-losing also-ran behind Nike and Reebok. After leaving Saatchi, he joined Adidas as CEO and major shareholder, and turned the company around by revamping its management, marketing and product line. He followed his preferred management style: giving the company a broad strategic vision and leaving the execution to trusted subordinates. He left a revitalized Adidas in 2001.

Despite a diagnosis of leukemia years ago, Mr. Louis-Dreyfus remained involved in a number of businesses, from owning French soccer team Marseille to his role as chairman of the board and major shareholder in Infront Sports & Media, a sports-rights business based in Zug, Switzerland.

"He had the will to give, share and transmit his experience," Philippe Blatter, Infront's president-CEO, said in a statement. "One of his unique gifts was being able to inspire and motivate people to achieve their best."

Mr. Louis-Dreyfus is survived by his wife, Margarita, and their three children.

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