Elias Ashkar, the industry veteran brought in to oversee the restructuring of Saatchi & Saatchi in the Middle East, has resigned as the regional chief executive, the company says. The resignation announced yesterday follows a tumultuous couple months for the advertising agency, with the Beirut and Amman offices withdrawing from the network and the parent company announcing its own plans to open an office in Beirut under the name Saatchi & Saatchi Levant.
The moves were all part of Saatchi & Saatchi's strategy to shift from joint ventures to wholly owned agencies in the Middle East market, said Simon Francis, the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "Our clients demand that we operate in exactly the same way in all our markets across the world," Mr Francis said. "They feel much more confident if we have a controlling stake in those businesses."
Mr Ashkar said in a statement last month that initially this meant the company would open the Saatchi & Saatchi Levant office within the first quarter of this year, with plans for offices in Damascus, Amman, Baghdad, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Bahrain planned for the future. Mr Ashkar told Gulf Marketing Review last month that Saatchi & Saatchi's joint venture with the Al Sayer Group in Kuwait was "due to change".
A spokeswoman at the Kuwait office confirmed yesterday that the office was no longer associated with the Saatchi & Saatchi network. "Earlier in the year, we had a 50-50 joint venture with the local shareholder in Kuwait," Mr Francis said. "Again, we decided that we couldn't meet our interests. They wanted to do something with the business and we wanted to something else, so we dissolved that relationship."
In Beirut, the breakaway agency led by Eli Khoury, formerly the chief executive of the office, would revert to ownership by Saatchi's former partner in the country, Quantum Holding. Mr Khoury and Mr Ashkar agreed to dissolve the affliate relationship, Mr Francis said. Saatchi & Saatchi still holds a minority stake in the venture which "will be dealt with in due course", he said. He added that the list of possible venues for expansion for Saatchi & Saatchi in the region outlined by Mr Ashkar still held.
Mr Francis said Mr Ashkar's main reason for resigning was that, being based in Dubai he spent most of his life on a plane and wanted to spend more time with his family in Switzerland. Mr Ashkar could not be reached for comment, but offered a similar explanation in a statement. "Elias came in to instigate the restructuring of Saatchi & Saatchi in the MENA region," Mr Francis said. "Thanks to him this initial phase is now complete and our strategic objectives have been fulfilled."