PROFILE: Tim Sutton, Orpheus Group

Sutton motivated by the thrill of the chase - The hunter looks forward to challenges presented by the Orpheus Group.

It is unusual for a successful businessman to admit that he enjoys lying on the sofa watching old films, and laughing at air passengers who frantically check their mobile phones seconds after touchdown. Yet Tim Sutton says he can't help it: 'More sophisticated models may have more gears but I have just two: driven and lazy.'

The second may be disengaged for a while. Sutton has set up Orpheus Group, backed by megabucks from an unnamed US private equity firm, with an ambitious aim: to create, by acquisition, a top five full-service European agency network within two years. He adds: 'When I'm scared, I get motivated.' Given the scale of the task ahead, he is presumably very motivated now.

On the evidence of the latter half of his 20-year PR career, this has in fact been the case for a while. In 1992, an MBO put Charles Barker into the hands of Sutton and fellow directors; in 1997 they sold it to BSMG Worldwide, whereupon Sutton took charge of developing the business in Europe - through acquisition, of course - and was then chairman during the integration of BSMG with Weber Shandwick.

While doing this, he gave every impression of being slightly more laid back than anyone in his position has a right to. Not many PROs would say, for example: 'I don't think anything catastrophic would happen if every PR company in the world disappeared overnight.'

While this shows an admirable grasp of perspective, no-one should be fooled. Weber Shandwick joint UK chief executive of David Brain has known Sutton since 1986: 'He is not steely in the sense of nasty but you don't get where he has without fortitude, and his charm conceals a razor-like intellect. He's one of the most intelligent people I've met in this industry; he's also one of the scruffiest.'

Chaotic clothes sense aside, Sutton is assured of his worth: 'I've always had confidence in my ability - to the point of arrogance.' He pauses.

'That's not a good quality.'

His latest venture sees him reunited with former BSMG non-exec Ron Boscetto.

Sutton says: 'It is very healthy to have a partner who asks annoying questions.

He's a trained attorney and deal-maker and is well-connected in a way I'm not. I don't think alone I'd have been able to attract the quality of interest.'

It obviously suits him to underplay the strength of his hand. But he confesses to boredom after the Weber Shandwick/BSMG deal had gone through.

'I would have been able to get an interesting position there but it left me feeling a bit flat,' he recalls. 'I had been building up BSMG from this position where nobody had heard of it in Europe. I'm more a hunter than a farmer.'

This is a telling acknowledgement that consolidation is not his greatest strength. But although his record points to a history of eliciting the signature on the dotted line, he takes issue with his image as an inveterate deal-doer.

'My background was as a corporate PR professional,' he says, 'I didn't make an acquisition at all until 1998.' Brain is unconvinced: 'That may be true, but look how many he's done since then.' Square Mile, GJW and Adamson in Brussels were just three of the respected names charmed to the table during his tenure, which saw headcount and fee income double.

Sutton's latest gripe is with the way US holding companies run Europe from London: 'It has the comfort zone of the English language. I've learned a lot from Americans but there is a US world view that doesn't translate well into non-Anglo-Saxon Europe. We felt that if we found the right financial partner we could offer these companies a different way of doing business.

We felt what we'd been doing with BSMG we could do ourselves, and better.'

This ethos is to some extent reflected in the name of the company, which was chosen as a 'European icon', according to Sutton. His mother is Greek, though it would be unwise to take remaining parallels too far. Orpheus journeyed to the Underworld to find his dead wife, but lost her when he ignored the gods' command not to look back at her. Putting a positive spin on that one is a struggle.

'The important thing about Orpheus is that we haven't done any deals yet,' Sutton concludes. 'Until we do, we'll shut up and get our heads down. We'll make mistakes along the way.'

For a man who insists he has not had a clear idea of what his next move was on quitting his last two companies, this is not a pose but a statement of experience. 'My role at the moment is very much building. As to management and making it work, I'm not sure if I'm the right person for that,' he says. By their nature, hunters don't tend to stay in one place for all that long.


1985: Senior account exec, Paragon Comms

1991: Head of corp division, Charles Barker

1995: Chief executive, Charles Barker

2001: Chairman, BSMG Europe

2002: Director, Orpheus Group

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