Last Updated Jan 21, 2011 4:32 PM EST
DF: Why did you originally sell to IPG?
MK: At the time the PR industry was mature. We had just experienced rapid growth in the dot com boom and that gave PR a seat at the table. Valuations were in the stratosphere. I though it was the right time to be part of a larger global organization. With that larger global organization, there were many benefits that I thought would accrue. Investment, global expansion, and significant client flow, for example.
DF: Is that how it played out?
MK: None of that happened. We never became a core holding. They own 20 PR firms we were third largest. But they decided to put all their investment into two brands and to grow them with new business and investment capital. They over-invested in those companies and under-invested in companies like mine. The benefit was that they left us alone and we were able to run our business as we saw fit. I was not unhappy with that tradeoff. I never would have stayed for the decade if not for that.
DF: So what instigated the buy-back?
MK: Until 18 months ago, it wasn't anything that I considered. Two years ago, we really began to see rapid changed in the pr industry again. PR was at the forefront of the digital revolution. And we began to understand that as marketing changed from a monologue (which is owned by advertising) to a dialog (which is owned by PR), there was a need for companies to build trust with constituents because the brands that establish trust will be the winners. The industry became a place for nimble, creative, organizations, and for organizations that didn't need to focus on quarter-to-quarter earnings. I didn't love working for a public company. Their priorities and my priorities weren't the same. I'd spend a big part of my day fighting for my people so I could deliver to them the kind of company they deserved to be in, in terms of compensation, benefits, and other issues. And I had been there for a decade and they had not set up a succession plan. So we began to enter into a dialog. It was oddly a natural evolution. We came to the same conclusion at the same time.
DF: So how will things change, now that MWW is independent again?
MK: The ability to have had my senior management participate in the purchase was one of the most personally satisfying elements for me. I retain majority control but fifteen of my managers are now owners. So the types of conversations that I'm having with my fellow owners... if you sat in a room, you would feel a difference in the energy. There's a spring in people's steps. It's an intangible that you can't quantify.
Under IPG, we were cash rich but we weren't allowed to spend our own money. We were cash constrained. So now we'll invest in recruiting, developing, and retention of people. Your only asset is your people. If you hire the right people and give them the opportunity to be great, the client side is easy and the rest takes care of itself.
Do you dream of selling your company? How do you think your culture and your operations would change if you did?