Kevin Roberts was known as KR to his Saatchi & Saatchi mates, the same mates he has "inadvertently embarrassed" by making controversial claims gender bias in the advertising industry wasn't a problem.

Roberts has resigned following the comments made to the Business Insider that gave rise to a gender discrimination row.

Kevin Roberts with a 4-week old lion cub at a conference in 1989. Photo / NZH Archive
Kevin Roberts with a 4-week old lion cub at a conference in 1989. Photo / NZH Archive

Roberts, born and raised in England, moved to New Zealand in 1989 to take up the role of chief operating officer at brewer Lion Nathan. He had worked in marketing and chief executive roles with Procter & Gamble, Gillette and Pepsi in Europe, the Middle East and North America.

He held the role of director and chief operating officer at Lion Nathan to 1996 and helped steer the alcohol empire to a place of global prominence.


In 1997 he took up the chief executive post with Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide.

During his time with Saatchi he came under fire during his time on the New Zealand Rugby Football Union board after the All Blacks' disastrous campaign at the 1999 Rugby World Cup.

He was also at the centre of a political furore when Saatchi won a Tourism Board account from its rivals after a 1998 dinner party with then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

In his time Roberts has developed some big advertising concepts, including "lovemarks" and "sisomo".

At the end of 2005 he set out to add the word "sisomo" - meaning " sight, sound and motion" - to the dictionary.

The word came about when Roberts tried to encapsulate the attachment people had developed with screens. He wrote a book about the concept and wanted the word to be used as part of everyday language. It appears the website has been somewhat neglected by Saatchi since at least 2014.

His "Lovemarks" movement was more successful. In 2004 he launched the concept, which is used to describe brands and products that inspire "loyalty beyond reason". Products like Apple and Harley Davidson were Lovemarks, but Suzuki and Sony weren't, Roberts said at the time. Lovemarks was named one of the top ten ideas of the decade by AdAge.

Watch: Nicky Bell, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi New Zealand, discusses the benefits of gender diversity in the workplace in this 2015 video:

Roberts was part of the Telecom board from 2008 to 2014 and was deeply involved in the name-change to Spark. He credited himself for appointing managing director Simon Moutter.


Telecom's most controversial ad campaign was the "Abstain for the Game" which was pulled before it was launched to coincide with the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Roberts said while Saatchi & Saatchi was behind the campaign he had nothing to do with the ads, which asked All Black supporters to refrain from having sex during the tournament. The ads also featured Sean Fitzpatrick driving a pink fist and were leaked to the media and widely lampooned.

He was made Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to business and the community in 2013.

Kevin Roberts in a 1997 publicity photo for Lion Nathan.
Kevin Roberts in a 1997 publicity photo for Lion Nathan.

Statement by Kevin Roberts

"Fail Fast, Fix Fast, Learn Fast" is a leadership maxim I advocate.

When discussing with Business Insider evolving career priorities and new ways of work/life integration, I failed exceptionally fast.

My miscommunication on a number of points has caused upset and offence, and for this I am sorry.

I have inadvertently embarrassed Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis Groupe, two companies I love and have been devoted to for almost 20 years.

I have expressed my regret and apology to the companies for the furor my remarks and language stimulated, and I extend this to colleagues, staff and clients.

So that we can all move forward, I am bringing forward my May 1, 2017, retirement from the company, and will leave the Groupe on September 1, 2016.

There is a lot of learning to reflect on, and within the thousands of tweets, comments and articles there are many powerful and passionate contributions on the changing nature of the workplace, the work we do, what success really looks like, and what companies must do to provide women and men the optimal frameworks in which to flourish.

I believe that new thinking, frameworks and measures are needed to make more rapid progress on diversity in all its forms, in all professions and occupations. Hopefully, the focus on this serious and complex issue will gather momentum.
Kevin Roberts' career:

• 1969-72: Mary Quant Cosmetics, brand manager, Britain.
• 1972-75: Gillette, international products manager, Europe.
• 1975-82: Procter & Gamble, group marketing manager.
• 1982-86: Pepsi Cola, vice-president, Middle East.
• 1987-89: Pepsi, president and chief executive Canada.
• 1989-96: Lion Nathan, director and chief operating officer.
• 1997-2016: Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide chief executive.