What’s behind the energetic Stef Calcraft’s sudden exit from Dentsu Aegis Network?

He made a shock arrival, and now he’s made a shock departure. After less than a year, Stef Calcraft’s reign as executive chairman of Dentsu Aegis Nework UK and Ireland has come to an end.

The deed seems to have been done by Giulio Malegori, the CEO of Dentsu Aegis Network EMEA. Calcraft is replaced by Nick Waters, a Brit who – just like Malegori – joined Dentsu in 2010 from Mindshare Europe.

Dentsu recently announced that it was changing to a new, less Japan-centric and “more open organisational structure” in January 2020, so it’s odd that two high-profile execs from outside the Asia region have departed unexpectedly. Calcraft leaves only a month after global CEO Jerry Buhlmann; both were smoothly replaced by internal appointments.

Calcraft only recently gave an in-depth interview to Campaign, something that is very out-of-character for a Dentsu executive, and also for Calcraft himself. He said he felt at home at Dentsu Aegis but claimed: “Deep down, I’m a progressive client,” and talked fondly of his Unilever days, which must have been a long time ago now, given that he founded Mother in 1996 and before that he was an account exec at Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

This time last year, Malegori described Calcraft’s appointment as “transformational,” and he wasn’t wrong. The new exec chairman seemed to be tackling the task with energy, inspiring the phrase “you’ve been Steffed” to describe the impact of his enthusiastic interactions on people around the network.

Calcraft has done a decent job, winning Co-Operative Group, Heineken, Pandora, and WWF, as well as having a hand in the global Intel win, and the important retention of the Mondelez and Microsoft accounts. There have been low points too, like losing the £150m UK government buying account and the AA was a big blow.

Malegori said: “We thank Stef for his contribution – he leaves the UK business on a strong footing, with a dynamic new leadership team in place.” While Calcraft has made a lot of appointments, he told Campaign that he needs more leaders who work well with clients, and said he was planning to step up training.

Key appointments over the last year include Anne Sewell (Chief People Officer) from Sky; Dennis Romijn (CFO) from Liberty Global; Pippa Glucklich (Amplifi UK CEO); Jo Sutherland (Carat UK CEO); and new leadership at Dentsu Aegis North, with Rachel McDonald as MD. Matthew Platts was promoted to chief commercial officer; Fetch founder and CEO James Connelly expanded his role; and gyro CEO Kate Howe gyro CEO became chief growth officer.

That’s a busy year for Calcraft, and suggests he was getting to grips with the UK and Ireland group, as well as giving it a point of difference from its peers: his appointment seemed to make creative sense of the data and media at Dentsu Aegis’ heart, bringing together networks including Carat, Merkle, iProspect, Isobar, Fetch and Vizeum.

It will be interesting to see what Waters will now bring to the table. Malegori said: “Nick has a strong track record of successfully leading a complex, diverse region for Dentsu Aegis Network and will help to set up the UK business for the future providing continuity for our clients, our people and the business, by assuming the Executive Chairman role.”

Waters is replaced in Asia by Takaki Hibino, a 35 year veteran of the network, which is the fifth biggest in the world.

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