How Lancaster gender row businessman rebounded from 1960s scandal

Kevin Roberts.
Kevin Roberts.

Hot-shot Lancaster businessman Kevin Roberts hit the national headlines this week when he was disciplined for comments about women in the workplace.

But this is not the first time the chairman of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi has had to cope with a setback.

Aged 16, Roberts’ dream of succeeding at Lancaster Royal Grammar School followed by university and a glittering career was in tatters.

He had been forced to quit after he got his girlfriend, a prefect at Lancaster Girls Grammar School, pregnant. It was the 60s and they had no choice but to marry and the school’s head decreed that he could not have a married pupil.

Kevin got a job at Storeys wall covering company, using his languages learned at school to work in the export department selling Contact, known to all Blue Peter devotees as sticky backed plastic.

At night he supplemented his £7.50 a week Storeys wage with one serving at the Lancastrian pub.

Norman Ellis, then head teacher of Ripley St Thomas School, knew Kevin through his excellence at rugby.

Knowing of the situation with school and Kevin’s crash in self confidence, he asked him to play for the Vale of Lune Colts and became his first mentor.

Roberts said in an interview with the Lancashire Evening Post in 2004: “That gave me a great deal of self esteem. Norman Ellis explained that there were other routes. I didn’t have to stay in a dead end job.”

Kevin was inspired to 
apply for a job with Mary Quant cosmetics in London.

He went on to become international new products manager at Gillette, then group marketing manager at Procter & Gamble, then CEO for Pepsi Cola in the Middle East, a role which made him a millionaire.

Roberts, who received an honorary doctorate at Lancaster University in 2009, was asked to take a leave of absence from his role with Saatchi and Saatchi after comments in Business Insider published on Friday.

His comments, in which he said the debate on gender bias in the advertising industry was “all over” were covered in many national newspapers and sparked much discussion on social media.

Read the full article on Kevin Roberts from the Lancashire Evening Post in 2004 HERE

Read Kevin Roberts’ interview with Business Insider with the controversial comments HERE