Maurice stages a talent raid Ousted chairman meets agency's staff as Saatchi & Saatchi tries to stop flight of British Airways business. John Shepherd reports

`He is free to see whom he wants' The team is still missing vital cogs
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Maurice Saatchi is attempting to recruit 40 staff, most of whom work on the British Airways advertising account, from the London office of Saatchi & Saatchi, it emerged last night.

A meeting was held at Mr Saatchi's London home on Thursday night, only hours after a writ was issued against him for allegedly poaching staff and masterminding a conspiracy to injure Saatchi & Saatchi, the company he founded and from which he was recently ousted as chairman.

The meeting came 24 hours after British Airways served the advertising agency with four months' notice of termination of its account contract.

Executives from Saatchi & Saatchi met British Airways yesterday in an effort to persuade the airline to change its mind. Wendy Smyth, finance director of Saatchi & Saatchi, said she believed it had been "a good meeting.

However, hopes of salvaging the account have faded with the departure of the man responsible for managing all BA business. Adam Crozier, chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in London, confirmed that Tim Duffy resigned to become part of Maurice Saatchi's future business.

The two others who left were David De Maestri and Carrie Hindmarsh. Mr Crozier said neither worked on the BA account and held "fairly junior" positions. It was unclear last night whether they will work for Mr Saatchi.

A spokesman for Saatchi & Saatchi said yesterday that he was aware of the meeting held at Mr Saatchi's house, but refused to comment further. Mr Crozier added: "I am led to believe that Maurice saw some people last night [Thursday]. So far, however, it has made no difference. No one has resigned."

He also dismissed speculation that the other members of Mr Duffy's team spent yesterday afternoon locked in a meeting to consider their future. "They sit close to each other, and have been obviously unsettled and have obviously discussed things."

Sir Tim Bell, the public relations man famed for his work for Lady Thatcher and who is acting for Mr Saatchi, said: "Maurice saw all 40 of them last night [Thursday]. He is perfectly free to see whom he wants because he has no contract with Saatchi & Saatchi."

Mr Saatchi will almost certainly need to seek external financial backers for his new venture to put it on a viable footing, industry observers say. However, Sir Tim discounted speculation that the Barclay twins had been approached to help to finance the business.

Saatchi & Saatchi said yesterday that it had started negotiations on compensation for Mr Saatchi for loss of office. "Negotiations have begun on a severance package. He was fired with two-and-a-half years of a contract left to run, so severance is due insome shape," a spokesman said.

Mr Saatchi earned more than £300,000 a year. A pay-off will almost certainly bring a lump to the throat of David Herro, the US fund manager who was instrumental in bringing about his downfall. Mr Herro, who was unavailable for comment, has seen the paperworth of his holding in the group plunge by almost a third, equal to £15m, since Mr Saatchi was ousted.

Elsewhere, Mr Herro has reportedly seen the value of the Oakmark International Fund he runs for Harris Associates in Chicago hit hard by the currency crisis arising out of Mexico's problems.

There is speculation on Wall Street that the value of the fund has dipped by at least £60m in the last month. One analyst who watches the performance of mutual funds said that Mr Herro featured in the top 10 per cent of portfolio managers in his field in1994, but was down in the bottom 15 per cent so far for 1995.

Mr Saatchi seems rapidly to be enlisting the creative talent he needs to handle the advertising needs of big corporate clients in the UK. The talent includes Jeremy Sinclair, the chief creative director who resigned on Monday and who has pledged his allegiance to Mr Saatchi when he clears the long line of legal hurdles placed in his path by Saatchi & Saatchi. The same is true for the two who quit with him - Bill Muirhead and David Kershaw.

But Mr Saatchi will need other vital cogs before he can claim to have a fully functional and effective piece of advertising machinery.

Mirror Group's decision to cancel its advertising account with the agency exposes one of those problems facing Mr Saatchi. The Mirror has in effect only decided not to draw on the creative talent at Saatchi & Saatchi; it still intends to have its media buying needs satisfied by Zenith, which is owned by Saatchi & Saatchi.

The UK-based people Mr Saatchi is trying to recruit will not provide the strength he will need to compete on the global advertising scene. The amounts of work he would have to subcontract could put an intolerable strain on already tight profit margins facing the industry worldwide.

Taking on the organised might of the American groups such as Dentsu and McCann-Erickson Worldwide, and WPP and Saatchi itself in the UK is out of the question. Big companies tend to knock on their doors, and not the other way round.

Saatchi & Saatchi yesterday demonstrated its attractiveness for big corporate clients. Its Bates Worldwide network has won the account for Lucky Strike cigarettes, one of the biggest brands owned by BAT Industries, the UK company that also has other important interests, including insurance group Eagle Star.

Media analysts in the City, who believe there has been an excessive overreaction to the loss of the British Airways and Mirror Group accounts, were encouraged by this news. They believe Lucky Struck will generate $100m (£64m) of billings, which itself should yield $10m of gross revenue. Bates is Saatchi & Saatchi's most profitable network, accounting for around 40 per cent of group revenues.

Investors also reacted favourably, which helped to lift Saatchi's depressed share price by 5p to 102p. Sentiment was further aided by Hewlett-Packard's announcement that it will proceed with the launch next week of its first worldwide campaign, created by Saatchi & Saatchi. It will begin with heavy advertising in business and high-technology publications.