4A's Conference

Miles Nadal on How His Holding Company Handles Recruitment

CEO Tells 4A's MDC Has Spent $25 Million on New Talent and That He's Involved in '95% of Those Hires'

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Miles Nadal wasted no time taking a jab at the larger holding companies' approach to talent recruitment when he took the stage at the 4A's Transformation Conference this morning.

In a short interview with the New York Times Dealbook editor Andrew Ross Sorkin, the head of Toronto-based MDC Partners called WPP Chief Executive Martin Sorrell's assertion during an earlier panel that holding companies don't have chief talent officers on their boards "bullshit."

Mr. Nadal said he fills the role of chief talent officer at MDC -- and as chairman, he sits on the board. "I am the CEO and talent is the single most important thing that I do. We spent $25 million on new talent last year and I was involved in 95% of those hires." In his typical say-anything style, Mr. Nadal gave an example of his involvement in talent recruitment: he had "four kosher dinners" as part of an effort to convince creative Ari Merkin to come back to CP&B to run that agency's Miami office.

He went on to tout MDC's investment in Boulder Digital Works and its commitment to create five schools around digital innovation. "How come we're the only ones who created that school idea? ... I mean we have the most modest means to be able to do it."

"I think recruiting on campus is a very clever idea, but going to the colleges is to recruit a certain type of people, and we need to develop more people who understand mobile application, who understand search optimization, how analytics is going to affect our business and I think sometimes you have to build that from scratch," Mr. Nadal said.

After the panel, Mr. Nadal, in between handshakes with University of Texas students, said that he thought his peers at the larger holding companies were not fulsome in their responses to a question about which agencies in the business they admire. All cited Wieden & Kennedy, but Mr. Nadal said: "If you asked me, I'd say there's Wieden, but there's also Venebles Bell and Butler Shine and Droga5 and Sid Lee ... there are so many."

MDC has been especially acquisitive in the past 12 months, racking up majority stakes in small PR, digital and events-marketing shops, and, most recently, investing in two high-profile creative firms, Anomaly and 72andSunny. And the company is still hungry. For the duration of 2011, Mr. Nadal expects MDC to spend another $60 million to $80 million on deals, and he said there are several potential ones in the works. Unlike its bigger peers, though, MDC will continue to focus on investing in the developed markets of U.S. and Europe, and doesn't have plans to invest in China, India and other international markets. If a specific agency under the umbrella needs a presence abroad, it will help the shop with capital.

Asked by Mr. Sorkin what MDC will look like 10 years from now, Mr. Nadal said: "Anybody who gives 10-year forecasts is delusional" and acknowledged that it might no longer be independent: "Control is in the marketplace, and as I've said before it will be up to the shareholders to make that decision."