Dentsu management exits not about Japan wanting to get rid of Aegis contingent, says network

Following two rounds of regional restructuring, several senior personnel who came into Dentsu Aegis Network (DAN) from the Aegis Media side of the business have left the agency network.

Those no longer with the network include DAN Singapore and South East Asia CEO Phil Teeman, DAN North Asia CEO Rob Hughes, Amplifi Asia-Pacific president Sunil Yadav, Dentsu APAC chief client officer Kristian Barnes and Dentsu Aegis Network media chairman, and Posterscope and MKTG CEO, Sean O’Brien.

These senior-level departures are playing out amid a larger round of cost rationalisation at the agency. The exits of Yadav, Barnes and O’Brien followed close on the heels of restructuring that affected the media side of the business, which was announced in January.

Sunil Yadav

Kristian Barnes

Sean O’Brien

Teeman, Hughes and Dentsu Aegis Network China CEO Susana Tsui also moved on after a consolidated management restructure was announced two weeks ago. It saw the number of regions within DAN shrink from five to three.

Phil Teeman

Rob Hughes

Susana Tsui

Aside from stepping up to quash the rumour of Carat Asia-Pacific CEO John Chadwick’s departure — he intends relocating to Australia — DAN has been reticent when it comes to addressing the other exits.

The official response Mumbrella got from a DAN spokesperson stated: “We don’t comment on specifics and on our people.”

The void of information was filled by speculation that a long-predicted clash of cultures between Dentsu and Aegis might finally be playing out. Especially since many of those who left were originally with the Aegis side of the business.

For instance, Teeman was CEO of Aegis in China and Rob Hughes was initially CEO of Aegis for North Asia. Yadav joined Aegis in 2008 as regional head of investment management for APAC, Kristian Barnes joined Vizeum as CEO and Sean O’Brien joined Carat in 2011.

Speaking to Mumbrella, an industry source close to the network offered an assessment – stating: “Globally, there has definitely been an Aegis reduction in the DAN relationship. Dentsu has reasserted its grip on the business.”

According to the source, these changes were part of a long-term strategy playing out, with the first phase beginning last year, when the regional team at Isobar left, including CEO Jane Lin-Baden who subsequently joined Publicis after resigning from Dentsu.

Speaking about the second phase, the source said Kristian Barnes, Sean O’Brien and Sunil Yadav went on the same day – adding: “That was pretty drastic in terms of deep cuts.”

Besides the Aegis connection, many of those who have left DAN also had a couple of things in common – according to the source. Namely their proximity to Nick Waters, the former CEO of DAN APAC, and their hefty pay packages.

Waters left this February to take on the role of executive chairman of DAN UK and Ireland. Mumbrella understands that there might have been some jockeying for power in the vacuum that was left behind, machinations that apprently did not go down well at headquarters in Japan.

Nick Waters

An old Aegis hand who was given a wider mandate was Ashish Bhasin, who is now CEO of ‘Greater South’ – a configuration that includes South and South East Asia.

Ashish Bhasin

Speaking about the atmosphere at DAN, the source said: “Everyone is very worried about their role, who is taking over and what the structure will look like.”

A number of those who left were said to be people, who were performing and hitting targets in individual markets.

“These are probably the deepest cuts the industry has seen,” the source alleged.

However, Mumbrella understands from Dentsu that the redundancies – which include job cuts further down the hierarchy as well at the content firm The Story Lab, for instance – were part of a structural shift from a regional set-up to one based on global and local responsibilities.

It was said that DAN’s clients prefer to be either global or local, leaving little space for many of the regional roles and people. There are no plans to replace the senior level departures simply because many of the roles they were in do not exist any longer, Mumbrella has learnt.  

Asked if there was any truth to industry observers claiming this was an attempt to make the network more Dentsu than Aegis, a DAN spokesperson said: “This is inaccurate.

“This is part of the next phase of our development and growth beyond 2020, to continue to evolve with greater alignment as one company, one organisation and one Dentsu Group.”


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