by Herman Manson (@marklives) Gail Curtis has left advertising and her position as group CEO at Saatchi & Saatchi South Africa, after nine years with the agency. She departed in May 2014 but is committed to advising the agency through July. Her plans are to establish a new consultancy focused on mentoring women in senior management positions.

Gail CurtisNew leadership team for Saatchi

According to Curtis, a new leadership team will be taking Saatchi & Saatchi forward. The agency is currently in merger negotiations (in one of adland’s worst-kept secrets) and the new management team will only be announced after negotiations on the proposed merger have been completed.

Curtis started her career in advertising in the ’80s and worked at TBWA\Hunt\Lascaris, Ogilvy & Mather and the Interpublic Group:Lintas. In 1993, she helped launch The Old Shanghai Firecracker Factory; this was acquired by Saatchi & Saatchi in 2005 and continues to operate as an independent agency.

In 2005, Curtis was appointed as group CEO and regional head of the Africa Network at Saatchi & Saatchi. She oversaw the merger of Saatchi & Saatchi and SEO agency Synergize in late 2013.

Already involved in mentoring and training

Curtis is already involved in mentoring and training through the Youth Education and Training Initiative (YETI), which funds Imagination Labs in KwaMashu (KwaZulu-Natal) and Alexandra (Gauteng).

Her new consultancy will focus on mentoring women in business. She cites new international research by Strategy& (formerly Booz & Company) which shows that women CEOs remain rare in business — women made up just 3% of new big-company CEOs in 2013 (at a time when 60% of US college students, and some 40% of MBA students, are women) and only 5% of the chief executives of the world’s biggest companies are female. Women held 11% of board seats in the world’s top 6 000 companies. Worldwide, women represent more than half of university students and 40% of the workforce.

Strategy&’s 14th annual Chief Executive Study examines CEO turnover, and incoming and outgoing CEOs at the world’s 2 500 largest public companies. Key findings include that “companies have not been able to cultivate enough female executives in-house” and that women CEOs are more often forced out of their jobs, as opposed to their male counterparts.

Decline in women CEO numbers

Curtis points out the decline in the number of women CEOs in the SA advertising world in recent years. Locally and globally, there also seems to be a lack of women who are executive creative directors (some numbers have put it as low as 3%).

Gail Curtis Leaders TM, her new consultancy, will focus on executive mentorship, coaching, and change management, says Curtis, who adds that she would like to share her business experience and acumen with senior women leaders of today — enabling woman to take the lead.

Curtis hopes to reach out and help women in professional careers develop the right personal and management skills to succeed in business. She will also encourage women to empower other women.

Identify future leaders

She expects to work closely with corporates who have identified future women leaders inside their ranks. Curtis believes attitude,  humility, getting the best out of people, finding purpose, sharing, mental toughness in times of adversity and managing tough decisions to stay the distance are all important aspects to empowering women executives.

Strategy&’s research predicts that, by 2040, women will represent some 30% of the incoming class of the top 2 500 global CEOs, which indicates that mentoring women excecutives is a business imperative, argues Curtis, and one that business can no longer ignore.

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