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Tomocracy Part 1: Tom Dery

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M&C Saatchi is led by one of the most enduring and successful partnerships in Australian advertising – ‘Tom & Tom’. In part one of a two-part post which first appeared in Boss Magazine, Tom Dery reflects on how he first met his old mate, dreaded phone calls and coming through a perfect storm stronger than ever.

I have a day job and a night job. My day job is in a CEO capacity to run the Australian and New Zealand business for M&C Saatchi and my night job is Worldwide Chair of the network.

I first met Tom McFarlane in 1993, so we’ve known each other a long time. I was CEO of DDB Melbourne and he was a senior Creative Director looking after Telstra. An opportunity came up in 1995 to set up M&C Saatchi with colleagues in London and I had to move to Sydney to do it.

Tom stayed at DDB for 12 months and then I managed to convince him to move up to Sydney. It was always my hope he would join me. It was very clear to me Tom was the best partner I could have, really. I was very happy when he y agreed to take the plunge and move.

We’re very different people but we have a couple of things in common that really drove us. We are both enormously competitive for each other – if we set out to do something we both want to succeed. It makes things very easy because it’s a very tough business and you have to have faith and determination and not give up.

It’s been a tough period for us, We’ve grown up with a good number of very large blue chip accounts that we’ve had for a long time, which is good and bad. The good is the relationship, the bad is the longer you have these sorts of accounts the greater the chance of losing them.

On the client side, it can be a change in management and leadership, the economic environment and things we have no control over. The dread of every agency is getting the phone call and we got three of those in the space of a week.

Economic uncertainty drove these changes and we were suddenly in a situation where we could have curled our toes up and said, “that’s life”, but together we made a decision. We said we now had to get through this perfect storm and did that together and that conversation took 10 seconds.

It’s been a tough 18 months but we got through it better than when we went into it after winning Commonwealth Bank and Etihad Airlines and retaining Optus.

There was a great thing that stands out in my mind. Eight or nine years ago, Tom said to me, almost as if speaking to himself: “I’ve made a decision. I’m going to make this partnership work.” 

It was as though he was saying: “Even if I feel upset about something I will find a way to make this work.” That really stuck in my mind.


Tom Dery is M&C Saatchi Worldwide Chairman