Changing faces at Fitch

Since Fitch was acquired by US company Lighthouse and de-listed from the Stock Exchange a number of senior staff have left. Is this more than just coincidence?

The ebb and flow of staff, particularly senior ones, is a continual concern for any consultancy, though it can often be explained by natural causes.

This may be so in the case of the former Fitch Plc, or “old Fitch” as some now distinguish it, since its acquisition by US group Lighthouse Holdings and de-listing from the Stock Exchange. The group maintains that the timing of a spate of recent departures from its London office are a coincidence, and not related to the restructure.

Within the past couple of weeks at least four senior staff have left Fitch’s UK office, and five associate directors have been promoted from within. Further departures are rumoured too. Internationally, a global operations board has been reshaped from Fitch’s UK and US directors, plus representation from its new parent Lighthouse, whose president is Fitch chairman Martin Beck.

The resignations in the UK should not be underestimated. Senior consultants Neil Whitehead and David Fraser, and senior associate directors Alan Thompson and Nick Butcher, have all left the UK office.

Whitehead and Thompson join their former boss Rodney Fitch to help mould new business at Rodney Fitch & Co. Fraser is joining Fitch’s client Heron International as design director, while Butcher is off to pastures unknown. The four have certainly provided a backbone to UK operations for a long time. Neil Whitehead was with the group for 14 years.

Incidentally, or perhaps as a consequence, five new associate director positions have been created in the UK, and awarded internally to an established but younger group of names. Caroline Dibble, Henri Villiers, Felicity Thomas, Zuilmah Wallis and Sean O’Mara have been made associate directors. They will be joined by a replacement for Whitehead, plus former BDG McColl business development manager Robin Kadrnka, who becomes Fitch’s European marketing manager.

The tweaking of the group’s top tier also sees the arrival in London of Marla Aberegg from the Fitch US management team. As senior consultant she will assist in the integration of the new-look US and UK operations.

In the UK, Lighthouse has already acquired merger and acquisitions consultancy Financial Dynamics, and direct marketing agency Communicator. In the US it has bought the San Francisco design group Primo Angeli.

Lighthouse’s plan was always to create a global group of marketing, branding, and design companies without straying above the line, according to Mark Scott of Lighthouse, who is based in Lighthouse’s three-strong Mayfair office in London. Some predict that in order to realise any profit, Lighthouse will be forced to re-list Fitch in the US when it has expanded.

Staff recruitment, particularly at middle and senior level, is also ongoing in the London offices of Fitch. “We are looking to recruit and extend the London team across a number of areas,” says Wallis. “Before the Lighthouse deal we had lots of plans but no finance. We couldn’t raise money on the London stock exchange either. Clearly now we are going to be looking to exploit opportunities with Lighthouse businesses, although the number one priority is to grow the business organically.”

The new line-up for the Fitch global operations board sees another reshuffling of positions. The line-up is now: chairman (and president of Lighthouse) Martin Beck, vice-chairman Jean-Francois Bentz, joint UK managing directors Giles Marking and John Harrison , US co-managing directors Spencer Murrell, Bill Faust, Mark Artus, Greg Vick (also worldwide chief financial officer) and UK senior consultant of branding and communications Marla Aberegg. Their first global marketing meeting since Fitch’s de-listing takes place next month.

The changes don’t stop there. Philip Ling and Desmond Gunewardena resigned as non-executive directors on 28 May (a formality imposed by the de-listing). Remaining non-executive director Bernard Roux is joined in the role by former Fitch finance director Gerry McCleod.

Fitch joint managing director John Harrison plays down the involvement of Lighthouse, saying it is literally 12 people around the globe. “The last thing they want to do is interfere with the businesses they acquire.” And, whether Lighthouse has prompted recent departures or not, its investment in Fitch’s expansion is still helping a new generation of management to progress.

Consultancy history

  • Founded: 1972
  • Number of international employees: 500
  • Offices: London, Paris, Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, Columbus, Singapore, Osaka
  • Associates: Europe, Central America, South America, Asia
  • Global turnover: £29.3m (4th)*
  • Global turnover interiors: £6.68m (3rd)*
  • Global turnover product design: £5.2m (2nd)*

    *Denotes Design Week Top 100 figures 26 March 1999

    Fitch management team in London

  • John Harrison – joint MD
  • Giles Marking – joint MD
  • Tim Greenhouse – creative director
  • Sangeeta Buchar – finance director
  • John Trillingham – planning strategy director
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