‘Best-connected Australian in London’ exits famed M&C Saatchi ad agency


The remaining two founders, chief executive David Kershaw and chairman Jeremy Sinclair, will also leave by the end of the year after a major accounting bungle took some shine off the prestigious agency and caused its share price to tumble.

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His departure marks the end of an era in British advertising, where Muirhead, Kershaw and Sinclair – known in London as the “three amigos” – once loomed large with the firm’s other two founders, brothers Maurice and Charles Saatchi.

Muirhead, 74, was preparing to leave over the next few years anyway but the company’s accounting errors accelerated his plans to better divide his time between Britain and Australia.

“We’re all getting rather ancient and had planned to leave at some point soon, but not particularly in the way it has happened,” Muirhead says of the old guard.

“I feel really confident and good about the future of the company because we set about putting the business back in the shape it needed to be.

“We didn’t run away, it happened on our watch and it was our responsibility to stay and sort it out and that’s what we’ve done.”

Muirhead, possibly the best-connected Australian in London through his association with senior business and cultural figures, also serves as South Australia’s agent general in the UK and Europe – a position he has held since 2007.

Muirhead squirms at the suggestion he might be one of Australia’s most influential expats.

“That’s not true and I don’t know why people say that,” he says. “Maybe it’s just a function of getting old. In the end, if you hang around long enough you end up knowing and meeting lots of interesting people.”

When Maurice and Charles Saatchi lost control of their gigantic firm Saatchi and Saatchi in the 1990s, Muirhead, Kershaw and Sinclair resigned and the five men started M&C Saatchi.

Saatchi and Saatchi – which Muirhead at one point ran – coined the famous slogan ‘Labour Isn’t Working’ which helped propel Margaret Thatcher to victory at the 1979 election.

Margaret and Denis Thatcher with Saatchi & Saatchi's iconic 'Labour isn't working' campaign billboard.

Margaret and Denis Thatcher with Saatchi & Saatchi’s iconic ‘Labour isn’t working’ campaign billboard. Credit:Daily Express

Muirhead and his partners would also help John Major and David Cameron surf to victory at general elections.

Charles Saatchi, who was photographed with his hands around the neck of his then-wife Nigella Lawson in 2013, sold out in 2006.

Maurice Saatchi quit M&C last December after an audit found the company had overstated its profits by at least £11.6 million ($21.1 million).

Three non-executive directors – Lord Michael Dobbs, the author of the House of Cards trilogy; Sir Michael Peat, a former principal private secretary to Prince Charles; and Lorna Tilbian, a prominent British media figure – also left at the same time.

Australian adman Bill Muirhead in 2015.

Australian adman Bill Muirhead in 2015.Credit:Julian Andrews

In a note to staff late last week, Muirhead, Kershaw and Sinclair said the time had come for them, too, to quit.

“The company has done work that changed the world – in politics, arts, society and of course, business,” the trio said.

M&C’s Australian arm has a raft of high-profile corporate clients including Tourism Australia, Commonwealth Bank, Woolworths, Optus and TAB. Muirhead insists the Australian branch will thrive in his absence.

“We’ve got very strong management there in Australia and I’m still a big shareholder and have no intention of selling my shares. I will continue to do all I can to help the company, even though I won’t be a direct part of it.”

Muirhead had planned to fly to Adelaide on Sunday but his flight was cancelled after a small number of coronavirus cases forced a statewide shutdown. He hopes to get there before December and will spend Christmas with his family before leaving M&C Saatchi’s Soho headquarters for the final time in March.

“To have seen the company go from nothing – just a little sheet of paper – to where it is now is amazing. So yes, leaving is a little bit sad but you need to move on and it was time for us to go.

“It’s right for the company and you need to have new people in and do new things.

“When you create a company, it does feel like your baby. It is a part of us and I’ve been with the company in its different forms for a very long time. We’ve all felt very proud of it.”

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