"I feel a little bit like Luke Skywalker to your Obi-Wan Kenobi," said Buz Sawyer, president of Cheil Americas, to MDC Partners head Miles Nadal at the beginning of their panel at the 4A's Transformation conference -- also their first meeting.
Mr. Sawyer was referring to Mr. Nadal's years of experience with deals at MDC, vs. Mr. Sawyer's comparatively new role at the Korean shop, where he is charged with transforming it into a global independent agency network that grows at least partly through acquisition.
MDC has been aggressive, purchasing nearly 20 shops in the past few years. During the panel, which focused on "insurgent" holding company CEOs and was moderated by Ad Age Agency Editor Rupal Parekh, Mr. Nadal said MDC is "an organization of entrepreneurs" and that the goal is to change how brands communicate with consumers, with creativity being top-of -mind.
Cheil's original model, basically a hub servicing worldwide needs from one location, is no longer needed, Mr. Sawyer said. His focus is now on the agency side, including acquisitions, and building infrastructure so that Cheil can become relevant in more markets.Mr. Sawyer said he has also been given about $100 million to make deals but hasn't done any yet. It's difficult to find the right partners, but "the desire for change is huge," he said.
When asked what holes were left for MDC to fill, Mr. Nadal answered, "I don't think we have any." But, he added, the firm has a "fundamental desire" to enhance its portfolio and can always add "brilliant" firms to the mix.
Though both companies are at different points on the acquisition arc, both Mr. Nadal and Mr. Sawyer said the U.S. is a primary focus.
Mr. Sawyer asked Mr. Nadal if the rumor that he'd heard about Dentsu's considering buying MDC was true. Mr. Nadal's response: "Nobody's called me." He added that he plans to keep building the company but that on any given day a sale is a possibility.
The term "insurgents" stems from Alex Bogusky, the former creative head of MDC's CP&B, and Mr. Nadal's nickname for him: chief insurgent officer. Asked whether there's room in the MDC lineup for an agency other than CP&B to be the star, Mr. Nadal said that CP&B is "the best it's ever been" and that a key point in MDC's culture is that everyone can shine.
But, Mr. Sawyer said, it "ticks me off" that 72andSunny picked up the Samsung business, as Samsung is an investor in Cheil.
Mr. Nadal was vague about what he'd do if he wasn't running MDC and joked that he's "fundamentally unemployable" because of his lack of education. He added that as long as he enjoys the job, he's got no other plans.
Mr. Sawyer quipped: "Miles, there's always a job for you" at Cheil.