Harold Mitchell – the most significant player in Australia’s media agency world – is finally preparing to step down from the helm of the company he turned into Australia’s largest media buying agency.
Mitchell set up his independent buying shop in 1976, among the first in the world to break away from full service agencies. He later went on to list Mitchell Communication Group on the ASX before it was sold to Aegis Media, making Mitchell one of the global group’s biggest individual shareholders. Dentsu, the Japanese communications giant, bought Aegis earlier this year.
In an interview with Mumbrella’s Tim Burrowes, Mitchell sent strong signals that he will shortly be stepping back from the company whose brands locally include Mitchells, Carat, Vizeum, Vizual Jazz and eMitch. Asked about whether he would be part of the Dentsu culture, the 71-year-old said: “If I was 30 years younger I would… sadly it won’t be me.”
Mitchell said he intended to take up chess and learn a new language.
Today’s Australian Financial Review reports that Mitchell – with an estimated fortune of a third of a billion dollars – will make a formal announcement about relinquishing his role as executive chairman of Aegis Media Pacific “in early July”.
Other signals that Mitchell was preparing to depart came when he was inducted into the Melbourne Media Industry Hall of Fame last month. Mumbrella understands that during the presentation it became clear that his departure was weeks away.
And last week Mitchell wrote his final column for AdNews after contributing for 32 years.
Last month, the departure from the company of son Stuart Mitchell was announced.
The full five-part version of our video interview with Harold Mitchell is available on this week’s tablet edition of Encore, available on iPad and Android.
In the interview, Mitchell made clear that when he steps down from the dayjob, he intended to remain active including through philanthropy. The Mitchell Foundation funds programmes in health, education and the arts.
He said: “One of the things I learnt, maybe nearly too late but not quite, which is you’re better to balance your life. I’m well known in advertising, [I’ve been] successful in it, but I think, if that’s all that I did, I wouldn’t have been as successful. So I’ve understood that I should spread myself around many endeavours and things. I’m pretty good at the arts, so usually stay involved with that, advertising people generally are. My life is a mix of many things and hopefully will be for a long time to come.”
He added: “Many people say what will you do when you retire? A week ago I had my 71st birthday. It’s at a time when a lot of people should retire at 40, because they think they should. Not me, I started doing the things you do when you retire probably 20 years ago. So it was always easier for me, to have a balance of life”.
He said: “I’ve had a good life, but there’s a lot more to come. A couple of things I want to do – I want to finally learn how to play chess. I never did, I never had the patience, but I like winning so much, I want to find someone I can beat, straight off. It won’t be easy.
“Another thing I want to do is I want to learn another language. I want to learn Bahasa. Bahasa Indonesian is the language of Indonesia, and I just want to feel a little better and closer to what and who they are. It’s a journey we should all go on.”
Asked again about a formal retirement, he said: “Oh no, no, no, never. But I’ll get old and stupid. You need the energy of youth.”
Tim Burrowes and Courtney Robinson