Mr Roberts, who will assume the role on 21 May, was chief operating officer of Lion Nathan, a New Zealand brewer, from 1989 until last November. Previously, he held management positions at PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Gillette.
He replaces Ed Wax, chairman and chief executive, who was expected to retire from the latter role this year. Mr Wax will remain chairman until the end of 1997 and then will stay with the agency as chairman emeritus.
Mr Roberts "has the blessings of Procter & Gamble, and whatever pleases them is good for Saatchi & Saatchi," said Lorna Tilbian, an analyst with Panmure Gordon. Procter & Gamble, the world's biggest spender on advertising, is one of Saatchi's top clients.
Cordiant is planning to split into two publicly traded companies, Saatchi & Saatchi and Bates Worldwide, in an attempt to boost sales and profit. Shares in the companies, which will jointly own media-buying unit Zenith Media, will begin trading separately in December.
As chief executive of the Saatchi agency, Mr Roberts will report to Cordiant's chief executive Bob Seelert.
Mr Seelert said that Mr Roberts' career "has exposed him to the key disciplines essential to our business: marketing and brand management for major multinationals, a hands-on experience of what good advertising can deliver and, above all, an entrepreneurial and energetic attitude to management".
Mr Roberts left Lion Nathan in November but remained a non-executive director at the company until February. While at Pepsi, he oversaw the company's Middle Eastern and Canadian operations. And at Procter & Gamble, he was responsible for the Pampers, Tide, Ariel and Crest brands in the Middle East and Africa. He also owns a restaurant in Auckland and is a director of New Zealand Rugby Football Union.
However, he was not first choice to replace Mr Wax. The former heir apparent was John Fitzgerald, who quit as president of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide in August after he and Mr Wax concluded they had "differing views" on the agency's management.
One analyst said yesterday that another possible candidate for the job had been Jennifer Laing, the former head of the agency's London office.Reuse content