Profile: Charles Watson, Financial Dynamics International

CEO Charles Watson looks forward to post-MBO life at Financial Dynamics

Trawl through the last six months worth of cuttings on Financial Dynamics's endeavours to secure an MBO from parent Cordiant Communications, and you'll struggle to locate a single sentence on CEO Charles Watson.

This, it turns out, is deliberate. While everyone knows the Alan Parkers and Roland Rudds of the industry, Watson is anxious that the spotlight meant for FD and its global staff of 250 never lingers on him.

'I don't want to talk about myself,' he states. 'Of course an agency needs a leader, but this is not just my business. We don't have a hierarchical structure at FD. I would describe my management style as consensual; I'm like the conductor of an orchestra of virtuoso performers, or part of a football team, but never the star player.'

Watson hopes the MBO - formalised on 4 July ('Independence Day, the Americans liked that') for £26m - will cement this 'decentralised partnership' culture, because all 50 or so 'senior fee earners' will become shareholders in the agency.

'We're going to create something unique,' he enthuses. 'I can't think of another agency in our industry that has ever had this breadth and depth of employee participation. When the deal is completed in August, and our people walk through the door knowing they own part of the company, it will have a massive motivational effect, and the main beneficiaries will be the clients.'

Watson insists staff response to the buy-out has been 'fantastic,' dismissing as 'bitchy' comments made by rivals that offering equity to employees might prove disruptive. 'Staff have united in the face of adversity in the last few months,' he explains. 'At one stage, I read in the Financial Times that a US hedge fund, which had taken control of 25 per cent of Cordiant's debts, said they would allow the WPP deal to go through if they could have FD. The company was called Cerberus, which is the three-headed dog that guards the gates of hell - it wasn't a good omen.'

Now that the deal is as good as done, Watson is keen to return to the everyday job of running FD, his workplace for 13 years.

But the question on everyone's lips is, now that Watson has won his bloody battle for independence, what happens next? He mentions chasing new business, but mostly talks of his plans to expand business units within the agency, such as public affairs and investor relations.

'Financial Dynamics is an ambitious company. I don't want to knock Cordiant, but being part of an ad agency in a difficult financial position meant they were unable to invest in us,' says Watson. 'Now we have a structure behind us created solely to propel this business.'

Watson has allocated 65 per cent of company shares to staff, but is retaining 35 per cent, which he plans to wield as both an incentive to lure outside talent and to reward people coming up through the ranks.

'I know from conversations I've had in the last 24 hours that this is a very attractive proposition for people who want to run their own sector within the agency and have a real financial interest in the company they are helping create,' Watson says.

While he insists he isn't about to go on a 'wild spending spree', there is also talk of expansion overseas, some in Europe, but especially the US. 'There are huge opportunities for us there,' says Watson, who plans to grow the West Coast and Boston offices.

Watson, who did stints at Good Relations and Valin Pollen before joining FD in 1990, also finds the time to manage his own client, the private equity group Cinven.

'I wouldn't call Charles a workaholic, but he's at his desk by 7.30 every morning and is extremely focused,' says Tony Knox, the former FD chief executive who hired Watson. 'He's got a very agile mind and has always got a few balls in the air. He's not a larger-than-life character, but is quietly confident and gives very sensible, intuitive advice to clients.

He was one of our best account handlers.'

Knox's comments on 'focus' are borne out by the fact that, while other bosses might have hit the City's wine bars when they got the phone call to confirm the buy-out at 6.30pm that Friday, Watson worked into the wee hours texting colleagues in the US.

'The buy-out took me out of the commercial running of the agency, and now I just want to get back to work,' he says. 'I'm a PR man and I can't wait until I stop talking to lawyers and investment bankers and get out there again.'

Out of hours, Watson grudgingly admits to being partial to night fishing for sea trout, but is already getting twitchy that he - and not FD - is the subject matter. 'That's it. There's no glamorous lifestyle I'm afraid.

I'm dull,' he concludes, before racing off to preach the gospel of the new, independent FD.


1983: Consultant, Good Relations Group

1986: IR specialist, Valin Pollen Group

1990: Account director, Financial Dynamics

1999: Managing director, Financial Dynamics

2002: Chief executive, Financial Dynamics International

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