Saatchi Chair Resigns Admitting, "Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast"

RobertsSaatchi Chairman Kevin Roberts told Business Insider that the "debate is over" about gender diversity in the advertising industry:

"Edward de Bono [the physician, psychologist, and author] once told me there is no point in being brilliant at the wrong thing - the f---ing debate is all over. This is a diverse world, we are in a world where we need, like we've never needed before, integration, collaboration, connectivity, and creativity ... this will be reflected in the way the Groupe is."

Instead, Roberts pointed to financial services, where he says the issue is "way worse." 

On Twitter, senior lecturers from other ad agencies as well as major companies disagreed, including PepsiCo's beverage group president, who said he wasn't proud to be client, and the CMO from JPMorgan, who said his comments were "positively Trumpian." 

Parent company Publicis issued the following statement: 

Following the comments made by Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman and Publicis Groupe Head Coach, Kevin Roberts, in a recent interview with Business Insider, Publicis Groupe Chairman & CEO, Maurice Lévy addressed a statement internally to all Publicis Groupe employees to reiterate the Groupe's no-tolerance policy towards behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto Viva la Difference!

It is for the gravity of these statements that Kevin Roberts has been asked to take a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe effective immediately. As a member of The Directoire, it will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board's duty to further evaluate his standing.

Diversity & inclusion are business imperatives on which Publicis Groupe will not negotiate. While fostering a work environment that is inclusive of all talent is a collective responsibility, it is leadership's job to nurture the career aspirations and goals of all our talent.

Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion. Publicis Groupe works very hard to champion diversity and will continue to insist that each agency's leadership be champions of both diversity and inclusion.

For his part, Roberts apologized

"Fail fast, fix fast, learn fast" is a leadership maxim I advocate. When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast. My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offence, and for this I am sorry. I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years. I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients.

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Discussion Starters: 

  • Read more from Roberts' interview with Business Insider. Where did he go wrong? 
  • Assess his apology. What works well to instill trust in the brand? How authentic does it sound to you?