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Saatchi likely to cut links with company

The clock has run out and Maurice Saatchi looks likely to leave the company he co-founded in 1970.

The advertising guru faces an agonising choice. He could accept the fig-leaf job offered by the board last month as honorary president of the Saatchi holding company and chairman of the Saatchi advertising group. Or he could sever all links with the advertising giant.

Sources at the company said they did not expect him to make an announcement in time for today's deadline, but the signs are that his attempts to coerce the board into an improved offer have been rebuffed and, rather than serve under former employees, he will seek new challenges elsewhere.

"It remains difficult to imagine that Maurice would accept a job that would require him becoming a non-board employee, reporting to a former colleague like Jeremy Sinclair," a friend of the 49-year old Mr Saatchi said.

Sources at Saatchi agree. "Realistically, there is no chance of him going back to Saatchi's as an employee," one said.

Approaches have been made to Mr Saatchi by the company. However, one insider said the board was unlikely to make a concession on the all-important question of Mr Saatchi retaining his position on the board.

"Such a decision would still have to go to the annual general meeting later this year and I think we would have a tough time getting it through," a company source said.

Saatchi insiders remain sceptical about threats to organise a client rebellion if Mr Saatchi leaves. Top-name account-holders voicing support for Mr Saatchi have included Mars and British Airways, and analysts fear that falling revenue at the recently streamlined company would hit profits.

Mr Saatchi was instrumental in designing those companies' successful advertising campaigns and over the years had developed highly valued personal relationships with Sir Colin Marshall, chief executive of British Airways, and Forrest Mars, head of the confectionery and pet foods group.

Despite their fear of a revolt by key clients, Saatchi board members say they do not believe that public companies would threaten shareholder earnings to fulfil an emotional commitment to a single executive.

"They have expressed their solidarity with Maurice with the utmost solidarity but their interests will mean their bark is greater than their bite," said one Saatchi representative. "These companies have invested a fortune building up very sophisticated

and successful partnerships with Saatchi companies and they would be reprehensible if they blew away that money in a fit of pique."

Mars, a private company worth £30m in revenue to Saatchi, is most likely to rebel.

The future for Mr Saatchi offers many opportunities. He has threatened to open a new advertising company and would represent a powerful rival to his former company.

It is not certain whether he would take ownership of successful advertising slogans - such as British Airways' "The World's Favourite Airline" - with him.

Other opportunites suggested have included a position in the Downing Street policy unit. The Conservative Party has enjoyed a very successful relationship with the Saatchi brothers over three elections.